Ready, Player One? Gaming’s Influence on Fashion to Persist

Fashion and apparel players have begun to level up their game with pixel-perfect partnerships in the video games industry.

The player-focused digital experiences proved to be one of the hottest technology topics at Fashion Group International’s (FGI) technology-focused conference at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) earlier this month. More than 250 attended the event, where industry leaders converged to discuss emerging technologies’ place in the future of fashion, apparel and beauty.

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Cole Wassner, CEO of Wassner Management Group, which helps facilitate digital partnerships for fashion brands, said that excitement is due to the ways in which the public perspective of gaming has transformed in recent years.

“Gaming has really changed over the past five, 10, 15 years. It used to be…that eight-year-old boy in his basement who would play, and that was the target. But now, essentially, everyone is a gamer. Everything has more or less become gamified, whether it’s fitness through an Apple Watch, or even the shopping experience with a lot of different brands,” Wassner said.

That shift has resulted in a critical change in how many companies have begun to think about gaming, both from an internal perspective and from the consumer angle.

David Ballin, senior director of brand heat at Puma, said for brands that rely on cultural influences to reach consumers, keeping up with changes in the way people consume content has to be at the forefront of a business’ strategy.

“We—and all our competitors in the footwear space and athletic apparel space—operate in pop culture. That is the macro engine for all of the stories and programs that we create. Gaming is now becoming a major part of pop culture, where before, it was a subset; it wasn’t necessarily front and center,” Ballin said.

2023 data from the Entertainment Software Association shows that 62 percent of U.S. adults play video games, and the average video game player is 32 years old. Forty-six percent of gamers identify as female, while 53 percent identify as male.

Wassner and others expressed that the term “gaming” includes more than console games like Call of Duty or FIFA. It also includes mobile games, like Candy Crush or Covet Fashion, and PC games like Roblox and the Sims.

Caitlin Shell, the chief brand officer of Brandible Games and business development director at Tilting Point, said gaming brings a unique advantage to brands because of the loyalty of its audience.

“There’s so much magic in gaming, and what I mean by that is gaming and mobile games, which is the space I work in, has such a power over retention,” she said. “Players come and they stay and they interact and they come back much more than an app or an e-commerce site. It’s what we call stickiness…and it’s because it gives you these magical moments, these dopamine hits.”

The ESA’s data shows that 75 percent of gamers spend at least four hours a week playing games, with the average player using games for nearly 13 hours a week.

That video games capture users’ attention for nearly 8 percent of the week, on average, could be valuable for brands trying to meet consumers where they are.

“If you think about Gen Z and new consumers…they have been very conditioned to buying things through gaming experiences. If you think about Fortnite—skins and things like that. Going forward, their expectation is different than millennials or anyone older,” he said. “For brands like mine, in order to continue to engage with those consumers, we have to understand where they are, and we have to deliver the product through the channels in the ways that they digest them.”

Ballin said Puma has an ongoing partnership with Pokémon Go to give consumers a “deeper, richer, more engaging consumer experience than just buying something off the wall.” In 2022, Puma released a collection based on Pokémon’s most iconic characters.

According to 2023 data from Comscore, 55 percent of gamers said in-game product placement makes their experience feel more real. That same proportion of gamers admitted they want to see more rewarded ads in their experience. A rewarded ad gives players an in-game bonus for sitting through or interacting with an ad—for instance, extra lives or currency to spend in the game.

Though not everything can be gamified just yet, Shell said, brands should start to consider how gaming can influence technology and future activations for consumers.

“People just don’t want to buy something. They want to buy something while being entertained by this person who is on this video dancing and telling them about the product, or they want to have a gamified experience where they spin a wheel and unlock something…and then they want to buy it. So it can’t just be shopping; it can’t just be social; it can’t just be a game. It kind of all has to come all together,” Shell explained.