A virtual Gucci handbag sells for more in the game Roblox than its real version. As part of our deep dive into the world of gaming, we look at the possibilities of fashion brands in digital worlds where players are willing to spend serious money to create their own unique identities.
You’d think the virtual worlds of Animal Crossing and League of Legends would be the last place to find Louis Vuitton, Valentino or Marc Jacobs. And yet they are there. Fashion houses, traditionally catering to an elitist minority, now wear their collections on millions of gaming avatars. Seemingly a strange pairing, the migration of high fashion to games is actually a well-thought-out move that will open up a whole new world of customers for them.
Roblox is an online gaming platform where users can immerse themselves in any of 18 million virtual worlds created by independent developers. In the first quarter of 2021, it had 42.1 million daily active users in 180 countries. Contrary to popular misconception, 44% of users are women.
In Roblox’s many worlds, players can buy various items in the avatar store using the game’s currency, Robux. It was in this space that the Italian fashion house Gucci decided to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
It created the Gucci Garden game, consisting of various themed rooms as conceived by the brand’s creative director Alessandro Michele. Visitors, wandering through the rooms, could purchase exclusive virtual Gucci items for their avatars. One item proved particularly popular – a limited-edition virtual Dionysus Bag with Bee, which Gucci was selling to gamers at an initial price of 475 Robux (the equivalent of $6). But just like in real life, users can resell digital items if demand is high. That’s what happened with this bag, which resulted in one user selling it for $4,100 – $800 more than the real thing.
The hype around high fashion brands on Roblox is not limited to Gucci, Givenchy and Stella McCartney have also recently released collections for the platform.
“Users dress up their avatars for virtual events or to show off the latest in virtual fashion, and these collaborations are hugely popular,” said Christina Wootton, Roblox’s vice president of brand partnerships.
“Individual avatars of people accompany them everywhere on the platform, creating an identity recognizable to friends, and we see how much community members like to express themselves this way. Branded events can include limited-edition virtual items or collectibles that can be purchased or earned during events, and within days millions of people will be wearing these new items on the platform, showing them off to their friends or wearing them to special events.”
We Are Pi, a global digital agency, conducted research showing that young people view virtual worlds as an important space to shape their identities and experiment with different brands to find their favorites, which inevitably carries over into the real world.
“The potential for fashion brands to make money in these emerging game worlds and metaverse is enormous,” says agency head of strategy Mark Lester. “Fortnite has already created a multibillion-dollar skin-selling industry, and that’s just the beginning.”
The idea that gamers would pay big bucks for “skins”-another word for what a digital avatar wears-was something gaming executives were slow to take seriously. In 2019, Scandinavian fashion company Carlings proposed to creative agency Vice’s Virtue the idea of creating a collection of virtual skins for games. The company’s CEO called it “the weirdest encounter of my life.”
Several years later, CEOs and marketing directors are finally taking notice of this growing market, which is worth an estimated $152 billion. Louis Vuitton launched a collection of skins for Riot Games’ League of Legends, and Marc Jacobs, Valentino and Anna Sui created exclusive collections for Animal Crossing.
“Sixty-two percent of UK adults played games during the pandemic. In fact, we should have long since forgotten that gamers are some kind of niche segment of society. “The gaming industry has become so massive that ‘gamers’ are pretty much everyone,” Lester adds.
“Mainstream marketers don’t always live up to that reality, and there’s a generational gap in the understanding of gaming. But we’re finally starting to turn the corner. Mainstream marketers are realizing that gamers are not some separate new group of people that they need to target. Rather, games are an integral part of the leisure time of people who are already buying their products.”
Roblox’s Wootton says some brands are now building metaverse-oriented marketing teams, similar to the digital and social teams that have evolved over the past decade.
Some game market pioneers have realized that the rules of this new market will be written by game developers. Just as Apple controls its app store and gets a huge share of all revenues, game developers may decide to charge fashion brands a significant fee for selling on their platforms. So some have decided to forgo partnering with gaming platforms and instead experiment with creating their own virtual worlds, which they own.
Earlier this year, Burberry launched B-Bounce, an online game that can be played on the brand’s website or on a large screen installed in Burberry’s flagship store on Regent Street in London.
The game’s protagonist, a deer, can be dressed in various monogrammed outfits, and he gallops through different worlds, where players try to gain as many “jump meters” as possible.
Elsewhere, Hermès decided to offer its own version of the traditional French lawn game, horseshoes. In the game, players tried to win points by throwing horseshoes as close to a peg as possible in various strange and surprising conditions, culminating in a final throw at the digital version of the company’s famous headquarters on rue Faubourg Saint-Honore.
Fabien Le Roux – head of strategic planning at BETC Etoile Rouge – says we’ll see more brands like Burberry and Hermes trying to merge the physical and virtual worlds.
“There will certainly be more secondary features that will become mainstream, like livestream shopping, and that will become part of every brand’s business and communications ecosystem, even luxury brands,” he says. “There’s no secret: If people like to spend time in a place, brands will spend time there, too.”
As for Roblox, he’s gearing up for a wave of luxury brands to launch their collections on his platform. His advice to any marketer ready to enter the world of gaming is to take the time to understand the community.
“It has to be authentic and part of what the community is already experiencing on the platform along with its social circles. Brands coming to the platform should enhance the shared experience of our community without interrupting what they’re doing,” Wootton says.
“We encourage brands to come up with their own, exciting ways to interact with their products or touchpoints. For example, users might see branded items from the latest fashion show while browsing our Avatar Marketplace, or take a virtual train ride to the location of a movie to be a part of it during the premiere – that kind of experience would seem natural.” Our community spent more than 3.2 billion hours on the platform in April 2021, and there are many ways to make their time on the platform even more interesting and engaging, and that’s what we’re focusing on with our brand partners.”