By Stacy Suaya
In 1989, my dad and I were obsessed with “Dragon Warrior I.” One day when he was at work, I fought metal slimes for eight hours to surprise him with the most powerful wearable in the game: Erdrick’s Armor. I’ll never forget how proud he was. Cut to a month ago – I’m now a mom, rubbing the back of my boyfriend’s 7-year-old son, who’s bawling because he can’t wear his favorite skin in Minecraft due to a glitch, and refuses to play in the default “Steve” skin. Gaming tech has grown from 8-Bit to blockchain, and wearables have grown with it – from no market to a market that’s projected to be worth $50 billion by 2030.
This Sweatshirt is Made of 100% Pixels
It was Australian Open Week, so Sam Hamilton, the Creative Director of the Decentraland Foundation, explained via Zoom that a lot of avatars were walking around the virtual world with tennis balls as heads. “I see a lot of stuff like that,” he says. “People with heads as TVs or goldfish bowls. There’s definitely an element of fantasy in digital fashion.”
Digital dressing consists of hats, masks, headphones, hairdos, skirts, pants, sneakers and “back bling” i.e. shields, jetpacks and backpacks. And then there are novelty items like wings or hook hands, if sea quests are your thing. They typically exist only in games or digital universes, but sometimes, like in virtual sneaker brand RTFKT’s recent collaboration with artist @fewocious, there’s a physical version too.
The market is booming: As of this writing, the Decentraland Wearables store on OpenSea had 726,100 items for sale; $754,822 worth of volume has been traded. Single-item sales can also be stunning. Even back in the pre-NFT gold rush days, a Golden Ornithomancer Mantle of the Benefactor skin, made for the game “Dota 2,” sold for $1553.
What’s the draw? “It’s really fun to mess around with the different outfits and accessories, to express yourself, and laugh about it with your friends – like dressing up as a guy from the ‘80s. Avatars are usually what you want to look like,” says Franco Escobar, a 15-year-old gamer who lives in Los Angeles (and for about 24 hours a week, inside the pirate game “Sea of Thieves,” where he admires hats called “Unusuals” that can emit flames and sunbeams).
Digital wearables have utility beyond self-expression: They’re considered more sustainable than traditional fashion (no raw materials to buy, no overstock sitting in warehouses, no polluting, and no animals harmed). They won’t crowd your apartment, you don’t have to wash them, and they’re never uncomfortable. Those four-inch heels won’t give your hammertoes in the metaverse, some digital sneakers will make you run faster in certain games, and the right armor can still get you to the next level.
From Consoles to Crypto
My Erdrick’s Armor was a status symbol understood by two people (and had to be worn to defeat the Dragonlord, thus earning the game-winning Erdrick’s Sword). Today, kids admire their IRL friends’ avatars in the games. Escobar told me while some of the best skins and assets can be bought, they are generally earned by players who put the sweat and hours in.
That being the case, some gamers don’t want to buy anything. Some feel it’s a cash grab, especially as Web2 games like “Roblox,” “Fortnite” and “Minecraft” continue to evolve into blockchain-powered metaverses like Decentraland, Cryptovoxels and The Sandbox, which host their own games and quests with burgeoning marketplaces filled with NFT wearables. In December, a Twitter backlash formed when “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” developer GSC Game World announced they would introduce NFTs; they pulled the plug.
Regardless, the users and gamers are flooding in, and so are the big fashion and footwear brands ready to dress them. In August, “Blankos Block Party,” the first game built on the Mythical Platform, dropped a collection of NFT wearables by Burberry that sold out in 30 seconds. Nike just acquired RTFKT. Microsoft recently purchased Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion dollars, laying claim to “World of Warcraft” and “Call of Duty.” Balenciaga is currently working with “Fortnite,” and you can sport Gucci in “Roblox.”
Ready or not, there are going to be a lot of games to play and metaverse events to attend – accessorize wisely.
Be the Coffee
Mitch Todd, a 33-year-old former multidisciplinary designer for 7-11 quit his job last week to focus solely on building projects in the metaverse. He is already a popular wearables designer, with a two-week waiting list for private commissions. Todd started hanging out in Decentraland in July 2021, and shortly thereafter published his first collection of clothes. He recently started a monthly collaboration with Portion: their first together featured a moon boot design that sold out in four hours. Today, the boots are valued in the $300-400 range. Inspired by pop culture, fantasy and sci-fi, Todd wonders, “Instead of just designing an arm holding a coffee cup, maybe it doesn’t have to be human – the arm can be coffee.” He pauses to laugh, adding, ‘Be the coffee!”
Will talent pour over from big fashion houses and schools? Todd encourages people of all skill sets to enter the space, citing a need for creators of all backgrounds. And just like NFT art, there is usually a secondary market, giving designers a percentage of future sales (another hidden benefit: digital clothes appreciate). Decentraland hosts the first Metaverse Fashion Week in March, and Hamilton tells me that it will be epic and historic, with ten events every day.
At the end of my Zoom with Hamilton, he invited me to the Decentraland press conference which takes place in a few weeks and will announce all of the partners for Fashion Week. But… is my avatar ready? My boyfriend’s son might say it is a bit…well… “Steve.” So I am already browsing their marketplace: perhaps a new jacket, some wings, or maybe I’ll be the coffee.