Is the future of fashion in gaming?

Posted on 18 November 2019

As a basis for this piece, Emily and Fran attended a panel discussion at Lone Design Club on 11 September 2019 on "Why fashion should play in the gaming sector". Speakers included Morten Grubak (Executive Creative Director, Northern Europe, VICE / VIRTUE), Sabinna Rachimova (Founder & Creative Director, SABINNA), Jonathan Chippindale (CEO, Holition) and Roberta Lucca (Co-founder, Bossa Studios and Beta Lucca). 

Louis Vuitton recently announced that it has partnered with gaming giant, League of Legends, to design both an in-game clothing range that can be purchased by gamers for their digital alter-egos and also a complementary League of Legends-inspired physical fashion collection. With an estimated player count of 111m (in 2019), this collaboration is yet another sign that luxury fashion brands are looking to use the gaming market to access a more diverse, international consumer base.

It is clearly a huge opportunity, given the gaming sector’s extensive reach in terms of both numbers and demographics; YouTube's gaming channel has 83.1m subscribers, PewdiePie's channel has over 100m viewers, and, as of March 2019, Fortnite's registered player count reached over 250m. Further, in 2018, around 46% of US gamers were women and the average age for male and female gamers were 32 and 34 respectively (according to a study conducted by the Entertainment Software Association). This is a far cry from the usual gamer stereotype.  

As with Louis Vuitton, fashion brands have begun to explore this sector. It appears, in part, due to consumer values being increasingly prioritised towards the sustainability, quality and conscientiousness of fashionwear and the opportunities that gaming technology affords fashion brands to address these concerns (as outlined below).

Collaborations – the mixing of the fashion and gaming worlds

In-game collaborations between fashion brand and game developers are gathering pace.

Fashion brands have been collaborating with digital characters in the real world for some time. In 2012, Prada launched its new collection, modelled by Final Fantasy XIII-2 characters. In 2016, Louis Vuitton cast Lightning (another Final Fantasy character) in its Series 4 campaign. More recently, "Lil Miquela" – a purely digital Instagram influencer with over one million followers– "attended" Prada's AW18 show (as a series of GIFs, Instagram stories and a drone through which she gave Prada's Instagram followers a tour of the show space).

A large part of game developer revenue derives from the monetization of gaming's virtual world, often through the sale of in-game clothing ("skins") and accessories. Through micro-transactions, users can choose to personalise their avatars and establish an individualistic digital identity. Brands have jumped on the opportunity to sell to consumer's digital counterparts. Samsung, Honor and the National Football League have all previously partnered with Fortnite's Epic Games to sell digitally whilst, simultaneously, advertising their real-life physical products. Similarly, Moschino recently designed, for sale within The Sims, a digital collection inspired by its real-life designs.

Technology sharing – speaking to consumer values

Many see virtual dressing rooms as one answer to the fashion industry's "fast fashion" sustainability problem. They allow consumers to create their own personalised avatar by uploading photos onto which 2D or 3D computer-aided-design will fit a brand's products. A consumer can then choose to buy the item, either to be made to measure or supplied from existing stock. The hope is that virtual dressing rooms will reduce the number of samples created by brands, reduce mass ordering and wasted deliveries.

Last year, Carlings launched a purely digital clothing range, which removed altogether the need for physical items of clothing. Instead, an individual takes a photo, sends the photo to (in this instance) Carlings where its technicians “fit” their digital designs onto the customer’s photo. The customer can then directly upload these photos to their social media accounts. No clothing is actually made, offering a virtual solution to the increasing social pressure to post wearing something new every day. This is a sustainable step beyond the fashion rental market, which is currently providing the answer to this consumer demand. 

Legal considerations - how can these two worlds combine?

These new collaborations present a number of legal challenges. These include the following:

In-game collaborations

  • Who owns the intellectual property rights? Unless there is a contract saying otherwise, copyright in the underlying game source code, audio, graphics and design rights, appearing in a game are likely to vest in the game developer or studio. Therefore, to retain rights to their designs, fashion brands will need to address, in a contract, the ownership and use of the designs and any trademarks that feature too.
  • How can fashion brands maximise the benefit of an in-game collaboration? Brands may wish to negotiate periods of exclusivity to be able to sell their products in-game without competition for in-game sales and publicity from other brands, especially where a brand is promoting a limited edition. As seen in both games and the physical world, scarcity can drive demand and interest so brands may want to limit availability in terms of time or consumer location.
  • How can a fashion brand protect their works from counterfeit? Displaying designs in the real and virtual worlds provides opportunities for counterfeiting. Businesses may want to protect not only their brand but also designs both within the virtual and physical world by registering their trademarks or including, in any contract with a game partner, obligations on them to remove in-game counterfeit items and infringing users. Interestingly, blockchain technology may be an attractive solution to counterfeiting, as it may be able to assist with tracking fake products and authenticating the identity of the parties in the supply chain.
  • How can a fashion brand protect its image? Some games are notorious for their violence and "counter-cultural" values. This highlights the need for fashion brands to do careful and detailed due diligence to consider whether there may be a reputational risk for it in proceeding with the collaboration. Brands may want to ask themselves some key questions. What do they know about the game? Who can make changes to the game and for what reasons? How and when will the brand's products be used in-game? Who is the target audience and is this different from the audience in reality? Are children likely to use the game (if so, there are extra considerations around children's data and privacy rights as outlined here). Importantly, the appropriateness of a collaboration is relevant not just at the point of the collaboration but throughout its entire life cycle; brands may wish, therefore, to have a right to withdraw should things go wrong.

Out-Of-Game collaborations – how do you collaborate with a virtual world?

  • Who is your contracting party? When collaborating with a virtual model or influencer (like Lil' Miquela), who should brands contract with? Brands should contract with the person that owns or has the rights to exploit the intellectual property rights and social media accounts of the digital model. They should confirm the owner of the digital model and obtain all necessary protections (e.g., warranties and indemnities) as reassurance of this ownership. 
  • How to align your values? Morality clauses typically exist in endorsement agreements as a means of ensuring that endorsers do not act in a disreputable manner and embarrass the brand. As above, brands may want to due diligence the digital models (and their owning entity) before entering into any agreement but also ensure that morality obligations are imposed on digital models (and their owning entity) in any agreement, as additional protection, including rights to terminate in the event of a breach.
  • How can a fashion brand advertise its collaboration? Where a brand wants to publicise its collaboration with a digital model or in-game characters on its social media platforms or elsewhere, a license will be required from the owners of the models/characters for this purpose. Similarly, if the brand intends to use the trade marks of any gaming company in its adverts, it will need to obtain the appropriate permissions and licenses to be able to do so.
  • What else should brands consider? Brands should be conscious of how digital models may be seen to promote unrealistic beauty standards. Whilst this should not put a halt to collaborating, brands may need to make clear when they are using digital creations, so as to not be accused of misleading consumers or risk criticism from its consumer base.
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