If the mere mention of gaming makes you think of grungy teenage types spending weekends locked away playing 'Dungeons & Dragons', or your flatmate yelling at the TV screen as the virtual Fifa crowd chant ‘Sergio, Sergio, Sergio’, then you’re not alone. Or at least you wouldn’t have been a year ago. Fast forward to 2021 and after almost a year of no-contact policies across shops and no make-up testers in sight, a new wave of consumer is seeking solace in a more virtual kind of reality to get their beauty fix.
Whether you want to create your own avatar (complete with 2021's go-to bubblegum pink hair), snap up the latest Tatcha face mask drop, or even build your dream home, there's a game, and a virtual beauty offering, to suit your mood.
A Whole New (Virtual) World
Gaming has become the new frontier for beauty brands. According to data firm Nielsen the number of gamers in the UK has risen by 28 per cent during the pandemic. Clearly, while some of us were perfecting our banana bread baking skills and trying to win the seventh Zoom quiz of the week during the first lockdown, others were taking a virtual vacation courtesy of 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons'. Within the first two weeks of launching in March, Nintendo sold over 12 million copies. For those not au fait with the game, you're transported to sunnier climes and tasked with building your own home, planting trees and helping your furry neighbours out. Most notably, you can also tweak the appearance of your avatar, including your outfit, skin tone and hairstyle. Cue the beauty collaborations.
Last summer, Japanese brand Tatcha launched its Rice Water Cleanser by creating a spa and meditation 'Animal Crossing' island, while the likes of Glossier and Givenchy have also debuted new make-up offerings within the game. But 'Animal Crossing' isn’t the only game offering beauty brands a new platform to connect with consumers on. MAC Cosmetics teamed up with 'The Sims 4' to create twelve different make-up looks. The success of the collaboration was proved when the brand released a make-up palette inspired by the looks and it sold out within days. While gaming doesn’t offer the physical connection of an in-store experience, MAC is proof that the 2D fantasy of playing with products on screen is enough to whet our appetite (and put our money where our mouth is).
It’s a win-win scenario for tech brands too, as the CEO of luxury fashion gaming app DREST Lucy Yeomans explains: 'We have found that beauty is a great tool for incentivising game progression - we level lock certain hairstyles and make-up, so that people strive to advance through DREST and enjoy access to these coveted and highly expressive items.' When the app launched in 2019, there were a handful of beauty options to complement the fashion as part of the daily style challenges. Since then Yeomans has brought on board the renowned make-up artist Mary Greenwell and legendary hair stylist Sam McKnight to create seasonal looks.
Currently you can shop the fashion featured on DREST via FarFetch, and beauty is in the pipeline. 'We are in early stage talks with some of the big beauty brands and very much believe in virtual beauty inspired by real life looks as a concept,' says Yeomans. 'We are also looking to create special beauty photoshoot challenges that crop in more tightly on the face and really allow our users to discover and interact with specific products and colours.'
A Gaming Education
Although shoppable gaming is the most obvious way to reconnect with us (and our PayPal accounts), beauty brands are also using virtual reality as a way to start a wider conversation and create a more personal experience. Gillette Venus created in-game codes for 'Animal Crossing: New Horizons' which allowed gamers to give their avatars some real-life beauty concerns, including wrinkles, cellulite, eczema and rosacea. Elsewhere, Mary Greenwell sees DREST’s new make-up options as a way of inspiring and educating us too. 'I hope players will have fun as well as better understand what looks best on them in real life, so they can transfer what they have learned in the game to their own face - particularly if they find an avatar that looks like them or has a similar skin tone,' she says.
But how much of this is filtering down to players? 'Prior to lockdown I only really played "The Sims", but over the past 10 months I’ve downloaded quite a few games, including DREST, that allow me to flex my creativity and switch off from the daily stresses,' says Holly Fraser, a London-based writer and avid beauty gamer. 'Gaming gives me breathing space and a focus that can be both productive and meditative. It has been proven to help people with anxiety, it can calm the mind and take you out of the white noise of everyday life in the same way that reading can.'
'I’ll spend evenings using apps that allow me to test purchases - for example, seeing how a new sofa might look or layering culottes with a long coat and ankle boots,' adds Fraser. There is a certain magic to experimenting in a virtual reality and getting lost in the magic of what could work for your room, wardrobe, or make-up bag. While Fraser hasn’t purchased beauty products due to gaming specifically, she has indulged in some smaller interior items and as a result of DREST, bought a new coat.
As Fraser says: 'Games give ownership back to the consumer, you choose when you want to interact with a brand.' And, once you’ve had enough you can stop playing or find a new game.
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