What started as a regular fireside chat with a good friend of mine, Kelly Vero from Nak3d, quickly spiralled from having no fixed agenda to being a lively debate about how digital product creation (DPC) and gaming – a space that Kelly has been involved in for 30+ years – are on a collision course.
We discussed what’s been driving these sectors to collaborate more openly and with greater focus than ever before. This was a high-energy discussion, sharing lots of ideas around the topics of DPC-3D and gaming – so much so that we agreed it would be interesting to capture and share our thoughts on what’s likely to happen when these two worlds – which The Interline first started writing about in 2020, in a two-part series – converge.
Kelly and I have been involved in our respective worlds of gaming and 3D fashion and apparel for long enough to have witnessed evolution and revolution, several times over. And we’ve also seen the acceleration of hardware and software solutions enable both sectors to deliver amazing high-fidelity ‘life-like’ results. In recent years, Kelly has worked much closer to the fashion sector, which is how we met, and she now oversees the technical workflow inside Nak3d – which is a games-first fashion content engine turning physical apparel to digital items with the push of a button.
During our 2-hour long chat, we discussed many topics related to the world of fashion DPC-3D and gaming ecosystems that have been ever-evolving—and I’m sure we’ll pick up again in future articles; but for now, we started by exploring some of the main motivations for why fashion and gaming companies are starting to partner together, including the downstream and upstream use-cases that together make up what we call the digital twin.
Before we jump into the details, let’s share some of the differences between DPC-3D in the fashion and gaming sectors. If we roll the calendar back to circa 2001, [TC]2, an offshoot of AAMA (American Apparel Manufacturers Association) developed a body scanner that Fashion brands and retailers used to conduct Britain’s first national sizing survey called SIZE UK. The survey consisted of leading High Street brands and retailers that each invested around £80,000 (approximately) to conduct a national site survey.
Then, in 2002, the body scanners were used to scan 10,000 Americans (SIZE USA) which was the first significant study of the size and shape of Americans since the original ASTM study during WWII. ASTM, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is an international standards organisation that develops and publishes voluntary consensus technical standards for a wide range of materials, products, systems, and services.
These surveys enabled fashion designers to use the survey data to develop avatars that resembled human body measurements related to their target consumers. In the late ’90s, the original DPC-3D Avatars in Fashion resembled square-pixelated-shaped robots more than humans! We’ve come a long way since those early days of DPC-3D and have now arrived at a point where meta-humans are almost indistinguishable from real human photographs.
That massive leap in fidelity was the reason that Kelly and I went on to talk about the rise of Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman technology, which was developed initially for the gaming sectors and is based upon scans of real people’s faces with a vast range of facial features and skin complexions.
The challenge for the fashion sector is that MetaHumans are based on a person’s facial rather than whole-body scans. With the announcement of the partnership between CLO Virtual Fashion and Epic Games (who own the Unreal Engine), perhaps we will start to hear of new developments that will help to combine body measurements from fashion’s DPC-3D ecosystems and gaming’s MetaHuman faces, coming together to deliver the full Virtual Twin?
And it’s not just Kelly and I talking about these futures; here’s a direct quote from Simon Kim, CEO of CLO Virtual Fashion. “We strongly believe that digital garments will play a significant role in the future of digital entertainment and metaverse platforms,” he said, “We are building toward a future where we imagine the digitization of everything, the convergence of Fashion with entertainment and the metaverse. Our visions are aligned, and we are committed to building the future that we envision.”
We hope both companies will address the issue of connecting body and facial scans to create a complete human virtual twin that reflects realism!
But before we get too deep into the modern era, though, Kelly and I spent some time talking about the basics:
Mark: So, what is a games engine, Kelly? And why is it suddenly so important to the fashion industry?
Kelly: It’s a software development program or environment that we initially developed to create video games. Today, game engines are used for visualisation (as with the development of fashion digital twins), collaborations, and more. Unlike the fashion use-case, game engines focus on loads of things all at once: characters, mechanics and dynamics in games—such as sound and high definition art whilst handling millions of lines of code with ease and rendering to near perfect physical quality!
Mark: Yes, and the fashion industry is now playing catch up with rendering, not only in making the product itself look picture perfect but also in placing the garment or wearable item into a realistic background to support product marketing.
Kelly: How has fashion technology aligned with the evolution of DPC-3D to use game engines?
Mark: It’s clear to me that both the fashion and video games sectors are starting to recognise the potential to reach new audiences by tapping into each other’s customer bases but these industries have been comfortable doing their own thing up to this point.
Kelly: Yes, but collaborations with fashion brands allow games companies to engage with individuals who may not be your traditional gamers but are interested in fashion and pop culture.
As you can see, we agreed that both fashion and gaming solution platforms will eventually offer integrated ecosystems that share common assets, and file formats, enabling designers from both worlds to coexist and share digital seamlessly. These joint developments will enable fashion brands to licence virtual twins to gamers who can then choose their brand identity, worn on their avatars within the games they’re playing.
This is something that even casual observes will have heard being promised already, so where is that vision actually up to?
Kelly: A couple of luxury brands have tried to minimal success, largely due to their narrowed campaign vision where most brands are working on a platform-by-platform or game-by-game relationship. The proliferation of fashion as games content means that the sharing of common assets means a faster route to market for assets. The fashion sector will be able to reach a more significant market audience, both in the physical and digital worlds. Isn’t that exciting?
Mark: It completely changes the way we think about fashion, moving it from the physical development process to effectively going digital first.
Kelly: Where games have always lived and gamers know what to expect!
The other key consideration in this coming-together of industries is the principle that fashion and gaming DPC-3D ecosystems must work together to help designers from both industries sectors (Fashion & Gaming) to produce life-like, accurately measured hi-fidelity digital fashion garments, footwear, and accessories that will be used seamlessly across both platform-ecosystems. Popular games like Fortnite have collaborated with renowned fashion brands such as Nike, Louis Vuitton, and Balenciaga to create exclusive in-game outfits and accessories, so I asked Kelly what she believed would come next:
Mark: How should fashion get started?
Kelly: Working in formats that work between platforms is a great first step because it’s easier to digitise brands and apparel when the shared language is a digital one.
Mark: Is the games industry open to working with the fashion industry?
Kelly: Absolutely! At Nak3d, that’s exactly what we’ve been doing since we started. My background in the games industry means that I can help to identify where fashion can thrive in the sector, and likewise, fashion brands help us to reach new marketplaces.
From Unreal Engine and Unity to digital PLM systems and design tools, then, fashion collaborations are not just about making garments. They create opportunities for gaming companies to align their brand with well-established and influential fashion brands—this creates additional revenue streams for both parties. Phygital collaborations often generate hype and demand among both gamers and fashion enthusiasts, leading to increased sales and brand profitability. Fashion collaborations often generate hype and demand among both gamers and fashion enthusiasts, leading to increased sales and brand profitability as well as improving engagement and retention for players and consumers.
Fashion is the driving force in bridging the gap between the gaming world and mainstream popular culture where trends and influencer culture have a significant impact on consumer behaviour—from cosplay and esports, to virtual fashion shows and AR try-ons; technology is there for us to use rather than take our creativity away from us. It’s a tool, not a way of life… Well, not yet, anyway.