[Gaming fashion label Musterbrand tells Gamasutra that its vision for lifestyle merchandise goes beyond video game tie-in garments -- CEO Knut Jochen-Bergel talks game- integrated e-commerce for users to buy characters' outfits and more.]
When the Hermes-OTTO International company unveiled its new Musterbrand subsidiary, dedicated to partnering with video game companies to develop clothing lines based on popular franchises, it was exciting news for fashion-conscious gamers -- but the group's thinking beyond pop culture items and into the intriguing prospect of a marriage between the virtual and the real world.
Musterbrand president and CEO Knut Jochen Bergel would know -- his background is in games, having been previously vice president and general manager for Codemasters' Central Europe operations from 2004 to early 2010.
He headed central Europe sales and marketing for Tomb Raider
in the past as well, and it was that experience that showed him how much of a market for merchandise there was around games.
When he met the Hermes-OTTO group by coincidence, he shared with them his long-considered idea for thoroughly-considered clothing lines in partnership with game publishers, and the group was on board. Partnerships with Konami, Sony and Square Enix soon followed.
But in order to have success at such an initiative, it's important to reach the audience where it plays -- online and in the games themselves, so it's unique distribution tactics on which the group is focused.
So far, the sales performance of the recently-unveiled Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
line through its web hub have been "amazing and more than we ever expected," says Jochen-Bergel -- suggesting the group's vision of merchandise e-commerce shopping integrated directly into major games is quite viable.
"We're working on technology to really enable the gamer to buy inside the game," he tells Gamasutra. "We're thinking about the future of monetization and item sales... the consumer already has a payment account installed. It's become more convenient to update his character or buy new digital items -- why can't they buy the physical item as well?"
By the end of the year, Musterbrand envisions users being able to purchase items for their character in-game, whether that's a jacket or a piece of furniture for the character' environment -- and simultaneously purchase the corresponding physical object for themselves. Accessories, decor and other objects that appear in games are intended to be made available for real-life purchase by the players.
"You can decorate your real world as you do your virtual world," says Jochen-Bergel.
Although "geek" stereotypes for game fans become ever less relevant as the audience expands, it's a fair assertion that "gamer clothes" have tended to focus more on the game itself -- t-shirts branded with logos or characters -- rather than on keeping in step in the fashion world.
"I think traditional merchandise is kind of ... it is 90s, it's dated," says Jochen-Bergel. "I don't think the leisurewear audience is willing to be a billboard for somebody anymore." With the Peace Walker
line, Musterbrand intended to echo the designs of the game's characters, and when they brought samples to Hideo Kojima in Tokyo, tailored to the franchise, the team was enthusiastic.
"In particular we all want to take the collection beyond merchandising," says Jochen-Bergel. "Not just a T-shirt, and not just the same kind of thing available for every franchise. That's how we approached it... influenced by the design and style of Metal Gear
And production of all items is designed to be modular and customizable, so when, for example, Kojima Productions releases a new title in the franchise or an update to an existing one, the merchandise options are easy to update.
"We play the games, and we know what's requested and we think we know what the audience is looking for," says Jochen-Bergel. "And we always try to take a step backward and virtualize [items]."
The next title on Musterbrand's announced plan is Deus Ex 3
, where users will be able to purchase and wear items from the game. "In the future, we'll provide designers, and work with [game developers] together and dress characters in a way that you can do some product out of it. Which, again, doesn't have to stop with apparel -- it can be something else, or promote the big brands inside the game."