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The future of e-commerce will be “play” in branded virtual spaces where consumers can move around with others freely, according to Unreal Engine’s Sallyann Houghton.
Brands have greater opportunities in open virtual worlds, with a brand’s entire intellectual property, from collections to partnerships, able to exist in that space, says Houghton, business development for media, entertainment and fashion at Unreal Engines, the gaming developer owned by Epic Games, speaking at the Vogue Business and Yahoo Metaverse event. “All aesthetics are now possible from photo-real to stylised, so any brand or brand idea can be represented… You can have a level of interaction with your community that is not possible from a digital store.”
Epic Games’s gaming engine, called Unreal Engine, is available to external developers and is one of the leading back-end technologies enabling three-dimensional, photorealistic virtual experiences. Houghton works closely with media, entertainment and fashion brands to develop these projects.
“The future of e-commerce is play,” and Houghton predicts it will encompass “real-time, immersive, interactive, joyful, virtual worlds”. She expects virtual stores and branded virtual worlds will evolve to be in virtual open spaces, where consumers can move between freely.
“Epic Games and other tech companies are launching the tools creators need to build [open worlds] as quickly and as easily as possible. We are living in an age where the technologies that will underpin the metaverse are available and developing every day.”
Video game Fortnite, owned by Epic Games, has become a frontrunner in fashion’s digital world, adds Houghton. “Fortnite, with its 400 million registered players, oozes fashion and everything we love about it from self-expression through skins through to real-world collaborations that bring digital fashion into the world,” she said. “Its business model is largely based upon cosmetic items that contribute to expanding its ever-growing global wardrobe and pop culture influence.”
The gaming industry has more than 2.7 billion gamers worldwide, and luxury brands are tapping into it to attempt to appeal to a Gen Z audience. In September of last year, for example, Balenciaga became the first luxury brand to partner with the game, by designing and selling four virtual outfits (or “skins”), alongside accessories, weaponry and a virtual Balenciaga destination in-game. In November, luxury fashion brand Moncler followed that with in-game outerwear inspired by its recent collection with fashion brand 1017 Alyx 9SM.
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