27 November 2019 From Courier issue 32 (Dec/Jan 2020)

Fashion’s Candy Crush

Fashion brands are encouraging gamers to become digital stylists with the hopes of getting them hooked on luxury clothes. But can video games drive clothing sales?

 

When defending territory in Runeterra, the fictional world in which video game League of Legends is set, only one suit of armour will do: head-to-toe Louis Vuitton.

Earlier this year, the high-end fashion brand designed a range of skins for the game – which, at between $9 and $25, are cheap compared to the real-life versions – releasing them in the run-up to November’s World Championship final. The League’s winners not only got to take home the 32kg Summoner’s Cup; they also received a Louis Vuitton suitcase to take it home in.

Once dismissed as a niche subculture, gaming has now become the world’s most popular form of entertainment, generating an estimated $138bn in revenues worldwide in 2018, according to industry tracker Newzoo.

Digital dressing

It’s this now-mainstream popularity that former Porter editor Lucy Yeoman is banking on for her new fashion gaming venture. Her app, Drest, which beta-launched in September, is a cross between Candy Crush and the now-defunct fashion moodboard maker Polyvore.

Users scroll through a catalogue of designer clothes, picking outfits to satisfy various challenges (from dressing up a realistic-looking avatar for an elegant dinner to pulling clothing together for an editorial photoshoot). For every successful sartorial choice, gamers are rewarded with tokens, which can be spent on more digital dresses. If their wallets run low, they can make an in-app purchase to get more coins, or watch an ad to get them for free.

‘Drest harks back to my childhood when I used to play with those paper dolls, where you could try outfits on,’ says Lisa Chatterton, business manager at the Fashion Innovation Agency, who has tested the app. ‘It’s taking that to the next level. It’s like you’re playing a stylist-slash-fashion editor.’

Drest, due to launch fully in Spring 2020, has partnered with around 100 brands, including Gucci, Erdem and Stella McCartney, to feature digital versions of their garments. If a player sees an item they’d love to own for real, they can click through to buy it via luxury fashion retailer Farfetch – earning Drest a small commission in the process.

Avatar evolution

These aren’t the first examples of fashion brands playing dress-up with avatars. In 2012, fashion magazine Arena Homme+ ran an editorial featuring Final Fantasy characters wearing Prada; four years later, Louis Vuitton appointed one of them – Lightning – as a brand ambassador.

The concept has since evolved. Instead of seeing what fashion editors think avatars should wear, consumers are now willing to spend money on outfits for their digital characters. Earlier this year, Moschino partnered with Electronic Arts to create a Sims expansion pack, providing a wardrobe full of digital designer garments for around £8. Why?

‘If we look at the evolution of Instagram, humans have been becoming more synthetic because of apps like FaceTune and filters. At the same time, virtual characters like Lil Miquela [a fictional influencer with 1.7 million followers on Instagram] are being powered by CGI, making the synthetic look more human,’ explains Sarah McBride, a partner at Shrug Capital, a venture firm specialising in digital culture. ‘We’re at this nexus where we don’t [always] know if it’s a human or a CGI character – and Gen Z don’t really care.’

But some studies indicate that today’s teens are keen to escape to fantasy worlds. For example, a 2018 survey from the American Psychology Association found that 91% of teens reported feeling stressed and anxious, while 30 minutes of casual gaming per day can alleviate those symptoms. ‘We want to create digital representations of our lives, and you can do that through avatars,’ McBride adds. ‘And how do we express ourselves through this digital identity? Clothing is a great way to do that.’

The profit plan

In-app purchases, such as skins, now generate around $50bn a year in revenues for gaming companies. Drest, however, reckons it can also drive real-life sales by pitching itself to a slightly older demographic.

Yeoman, its 47-year-old founder, is confident that there are plenty of gamers out there who have the means to buy luxury clothing. She recently pointed out that 63% of mobile gamers are women. ‘I have found so many very, very chic women who love gaming; it’s their guilty pleasure,’ she said, adding that she has been inundated with Facebook requests to play Facebook app FarmVille from respected individuals in her network.

Even if a customer doesn’t go on to purchase the real-life clothes, brands will still appreciate access to Yeoman’s audience. ‘[Consumers still] get satisfaction in finding something they like,’ Chatterton points out. ‘People are more conscious of the way they buy things, and [this] almost gives you that same hit. You’re purchasing it within a game, but you’re not actually having to physically buy it.