Grow/Eat/Sell Your Apples — Video Game Economy in Circular Fashion
I had a lovely chat with Joanna Czutkowna last week about the ecosystem of responsible fashion and how it’s not that circular. You know how much I love harping on about the games industry, well it’s because we’ve nailed the cycle of purchasing and how it feeds back into the game. You might call it a circular economy, but when you understand that, you understand some of the impact that our little industry has on all your massive breakthroughs. One of the things that we measure our successes by is keeping the player engaged both design-wise and through carefully constructed loops for purchasing (which are always optional). The optional thing is the point because, in physical items like purchasing within fashion, sustainability breaks when we let our consumers shop around. If they can’t find what they want, we let them go. In games, that’s a no. That’s the difference between being top of the app store and being on the scrapheap and it can happen in the blink of an eye and we can’t allow that to happen.
For the uninitiated, in games, a regular loop economy looks like this:
I’ve put buy in italics because it’s not always a forced mechanic in games believe it or not. It’s nice to have but the focus is always on retention in our industry and, let’s say, those without a disposable income for games or those who do not see the importance of paying for anything in a game are not penalized just because they don’t buy something. Of course, for the game experts reading this, there is a little more to the loop, but it’s fair to say that this is enough to instigate action for the purposes of this discussion. In the circular economy we look for ways to instigate this action:
“Check out this brand new sustainable collection I’ve created. It’s sustainable, did I mention that?”
“Recycle, Reuse, Reduce.”
“Sweatshops are bad, fair labour policies are good.”
“Greenwashing is awful and look who’s the culprit.”
Ad infinitum. But I’m afraid, in my opinion as a consumer first (followed by game developer and avid fashion revolutionary,) there is no alternative that currently sets us on fire and drives us towards change from within the industry or from the outside looking in. But what about games? If the focus of an alternative is a literal different way, it could indeed be any of the above, but isn’t it better to take what we have to establish some good practice? As you know I recently produced the first real framework on metadata design for the Luxury and Art industries. A week prior to that Mark Murray produced a beautiful Circular Economy Dashboard that everyone should know and quote verbatim. The games industry has some amazingly good practice in how economies are kept inside of game studios, publishing houses and games (obviously). It is these economy designs that both keep the player immersed and support, protect and grow retention. Still unsure?
Imagine the player in my game is the clothing consumer in your industry. How are you retaining them as loyal consumers? See above, that much is simple, whether its games or fashion we have the same consumer behaviors more or less. The same question now to the garment producers and supply chain. And, how are you ensuring that the industry retains its policies for governance across a variety of supply chain methods and regulation? The same way, one would hope. Let’s break it down. I’m going to use Playrix’s Township as an example throughout this article, so please give it a play!
In games we grow or mine or explore for resources to allow us to earn. It could be apples or potatoes (which make food) or cotton and wood (to make clothing or weapons). In the real world, fair labour policies come first. Before we get to the wholesale market for textiles and material procurement the textiles have to be made. A fair wage and a fair process for earning (inclusive of TM) is subject to fair labour policy and arbitrage between COL (cost of living) and country. The moment a producer takes the upper hand, we have to test the cycle rigorously: we have to go back to the beginning and redress the earning/TM/COL apex and fix it. There are a lot of organisations and bodies who turn a blind eye because there is no alternative to exploitation. If there is no alternative to exploitation, go and find out why and fix it. Exploitation in any form is an unacceptable construct in human life, let alone the supply chain. You can be the change you really want to see, right here. And for game economics, the ability to grow or mine for resources to earn in-game is one of the greatest things we do as players.
The fashion/garment industry (as I’ve always known it) is an industry built on negotiation, like most industries. This doesn’t affect the EARN part of the cycle, in fact, it enhances it. If you want to make money (because you have to) or you want to break even (because you must) then the trading model is a tighter ship than possibly any of the other points made in this article. If we grow apples, we can make apple pies and we can trade those apple pies for other items in games. But we can’t eat other items (unless they are food). If we make apple pies but we don’t grow apples, we have to trade and that happens long before we exchange or buy. The same is applicable in the fashion industry and largely because of margins, sectors of the supply chain are focused solely on everything from dyeing to block cutting. What these businesses do is stay within their lane. They don’t try to do anything other than that for a couple of reasons — 1. They can become the leaders in their field by constantly practicing their abilities to mastery. 2. They understand the competitive analyses outside of their field and have calculated their risk. So if they (grow apples) create dyes they are able to either trade with textile manufacturers to produce coloured textiles or they colour their own and trade them (make apple pies).
In games, as in the first stage of the cycle (“Earn”) we use what we create as currency. It allows us, when we cannot trade for cold hard cash, to increase our resources without losing. Ok, ok, so in game, economic models rarely allow the player to fail, but some game economy models “nudge” the player into hard currency purchasing. Hard currencies are those bought outside of the game, ergo, if I run out of dollars in the game, I spend real world dollars to buy those game dollars. Exchange in a practical sense as part of our circular economy model in fashion/garment production is similar to how we do it in games. I don’t have something, I need something, you have it so I show you what I can exchange it for. Of course, this is pretty close to EARN because I can also exchange my goods for cold hard cash.
Exchange, in my opinion, is the key to organising the world of the circular economy and currently this is disguised as everything from responsible sourcing to greenwashing. I have old clothes and I take them to the retailer to exchange for credits or some kind of a loyalty bonus. But that’s it. THAT’S IT. I don’t find out what happens next, and I don’t care. Why don’t I care? In games the same construct is in place. We exchange with the NPC (non-playable character) and we don’t find out what happens to our apples. But if we exchange with our friends, we DO get to see what happens. So, am I saying that because I’m a lowly consumer that these massive retailers are not my friends? That’s exactly what I’m saying. And in those higher echelons of the supply chain do retailers get to see what happens to their exchanged goods? Nope. Everyone in this part of the loop is either the player or the NPC in the player/NPC relationship. Therefore, if it ends up in landfill, so what? If you want to change how this happens and you want to look behind the curtain, the exchange methodology should happen at clothing parties, in second-hand stores and sales and in careful and mindful purchasing in the first place. If you don’t care about your clothes as a consumer, don’t complain when they end up in landfill.
I get a bit sick and tired of reading about this section of the loop and the amount of ways people want to change this. This change will not happen until you, as a consumer, fully understand that you cannot see behind the curtain. This change will not happen until you, as a responsible garment manufacturer/retailer, stop pretending that exchange means socially conscious fashion. Exchange in the case of the manufacturer/retailer means landfill. But it doesn’t have to, if you use the game economy model properly you can be completely transparent, you have to want to (CSR doesn’t count).
The good golden rule of in-game purchasing is where the player “clearly sees the value in what they are buying” — this was coined by the genius of business intelligence for games and all round big thinker in game economics and data science: Jak Marshall, follow him. In games, I am a stupid purchaser, my purchasing choices are based on things like skip timers (which enable me to progress faster in the game) or resource management (which means I have to log into the game every hour thus increasing the game developer’s retention strategy — not a bad thing when it’s a good game). So in doing so, I thought about how the buy mechanic affects the garment supply chain and it’s big. Everything from cheap dyes to outsourcing AR try-ons is a false economy in fashion. Just like my purchasing power in games, but writ large. A bad purchase always leads to a massive fail in the entire economy cycle (for the player before the developer which affects both outcomes). As a consumer it affects my pocket and increases the bank balances of wasteful producers; as a fashion house it increases the economic margins and profitability in the industry (without a care for competition or consumption).
Buying should be a thing that helps us as gamers (and it definitely does), but also as a consumer it must impact us. The only thing that really does purchasing well is luxury. And even luxury has its own problems. So how do we view buying as a mechanic that enables rather than embarrasses. Anyone? We should buy better. Instead of my skip timer, I should use my hard earned in-game currency on purchasing more fields, more machinery, more resources to produce resources. In life, we should take some time to think about purchasing and the impact it will have on other sections of the cycle. Buying just because I can is not a solution to the problem, and buying against what I don’t have doesn’t work either.
Yet, we are continually bombarded with this sense of embarrassment buying because of seasons (that’s only one example). We do have seasons in some games, and we aren’t embarrassed into buying a halloween costume because it’s halloween, we are merely encouraged to buy because it enhances participation in side quests or seasonal puzzles. In fact, in games, most developers will work very hard to make you loyal by gifting seasonal experiences to you, but it is completely optional. In fashion, that is not an option. Seasons equate to profit: but imagine for a moment that there are no seasons and perhaps the “season” as in a game is something that happens for an hour, 3 days or a week? Game developers don’t have a problem in retaining their players if the design and economics are lined up so what’s the problem, really? Is it greed? It looks like greed. Is it complacency? It also looks like complacency. But perhaps, and my eye was drawn to an article shared by Andrea A. Abrahams last weekend, perhaps this is about fear.
The more we move into technology (and at a rapid rate in the fashion industry) the less we understand it so beacons of light that propose we think about fashion as technology are more likely to get my hard earned cash. They create an ecosystem that relies on the future, and that means that to a greater extent perhaps it relies on the consumer growing up and growing out. Gone are the days of Valentino, YSL and Gabrielle Chanel’s rigid design methodology: fashion houses are becoming much more agile in part because of their consumers. Those who resist the evolution of fashion and the supply chain might perhaps be the ones who are costing their own downfall by putting value on their own fears. That leads to a broken model that impacts market forces and the ability to level the playing field for everyone involved from the supplier to the consumer. So instead of feeding this culture, doesn’t it make better sense to look at the circular economy as a game with a loop? This loop is your business model, the technology is your agility and your ability to change the game in fashion.