PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) has zero style to it. Aesthetically, it's the most run-of-the-mill military-inclined shooter you can imagine, right down to the gun fetishizing. (Thanks to many hours in PUBG, I know the difference between a SCAR-L and an AKM. I'm ashamed.) That military fetishisim is beside the point: PUBG, loot boxes stuffed with unique gear and all, isn't a fashionable game.
But it's trying to be, and the market is responding to it.
A few days ago, I was playing PUBG with some friends; one of whom was sporting ridiculous harem pants—pants with a dropped crotch area. A few years ago, this was a relatively popular trend in the fashion world. (I always thought they looked dumb.) My friend said on the Steam Marketplace, they retailed for about $40 or so, but he couldn't sell them for at least another few days, as per Valve's "wait a week to sell" marketplace rules. That week came and went, and when he went to put the pants on the market, their retail value had dipped low. While at its peak in early January it was $40.21, by now on January 19 the pants were sellable at a small rate of $8.71.
Ironically, yesterday Waypoint published a similar story about these flimsy rates and a person's plan to sell an item, only for the "market" to crash spectacularly. Their clothing item had a much greater value than my friend's Zara-like trousers: they retailed at an insane resell rate of around $1,000. While I have no idea where the rich soul is that would spend $1,000 on virtual clothes, it was an eye-opening tale; one familiar to the current world of PUBG's ever-fluctuating marketplace. Of course, the story has an unhappy ending. The market dipped, and the item's value was nowhere close to a staggering $1,000 anymore. It was like the poor player's winning lottery ticket got swept up by the wind.
It's a baffling thing, given the nature of PUBG. 100 players drop on an island; sometimes in squads or duos, often alone; and they set out to kill each other with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a disappearing parachute. Clothes are hardly a good in the land of PUBG; they don't serve any tactical advantage aside from the Gilly Suit, which is only attainable in bright red crates that drop periodically across the map. Still, during a round of PUBG, players inevitably change their clothes according to what shirts, pants, and shoes litter the desolate houses they loot. I usually won't exit a match dressed the same as I did entering it. That leads to the lobby, where players have the option of using their in-game earned Battle Points to get loot boxes; what's inside them is sometimes a scarcity, where the perks of reselling kicks in.
The items in loot boxes were never too good. Around PUBG's inaugural Invitational, loot crate "keys" were sold for a special Invitational Crate containing exclusive gear. (During this time, I got a white tracksuit akin to character Kitano's in the film Battle Royale, and have never taken it off since.) This was the first peek at the potential of a more "fashionable" PUBG: a PUBG where players actually cared about the clothes on their backs, not dirty old t-shirts.
To me, the pivot reminds me of H&M, a fast-fashion store chain with locations across the world. Their clothes are notoriously cheap (and controversial, given why they are cheap). Sometimes, H&M steps outside of their usual fast-fashion mindset to cultivate a higher-end collection, with more expensive prices to match. People line-up early when the higher-end collections drop, the stragglers usually are put on sale months down the line, and the process repeats. Sometimes, people only line-up early to be a scalper and peddle the clothes at an inflated price online; an inverse version of PUBG's random loot boxes randomly honoring players with the chance to resell on the Steam Marketplace. H&M has sold collaboration-collections with fashion designers and houses Erdem Moralioglu, Karl Lagerfeld, Comme des Garcons, Alexander Wang, and dozens more.
I doubt PUBG has an Alexander Wang collaboration coming anytime soon, but the semblance stands: PUBG's trying their hand at upping their fashion game to mixed results. Even if the clothes are aesthetically mismatched against the inherent style of PUBG, regardless, the audience is responding. Like all marketplaces, the resell value for specific clothes drops and peaks in equal measure. If PUBG Corp. continues on this path of additional cosmetics and "key"-locked crates for even more exclusive gear, it'll only get more cluttered, more confusing, and more tempting for reselling for the luckier loot box openers.
Yet, PUBG's fashion sense still feels downright goofy. Whether it's the new drop-crotch pants of my friend or the Assassin's Creed-esque hooded leather jacket buried in the Desperado crate, there's no cohesion to the style as there once was in the game's early days. Gone are the promises of sensible, boring clothes, and with PUBG Corp. expanding their aesthetic horizons to biker gear, spiked gloves, and hell, even a faded anime-emblazoned tanktop, it's a weird, jumbled time in the world of needless PUBG fashion that you might toss away the second you loot a building or net a Gilly Suit.
I miss when PUBG's clothes were resigned to what you'd find in your boring uncle's closet: ugly baseball caps and t-shirts and cargo pants, the sort of practical clothes you should be wearing when taking a trip to murder island for a killing-and-hiding-in-bathrooms spree. While I'm usually averse to these kind of attitude-less games, especially of the multiplayer variety, PUBG's accessiblity in not being too arcade-y nor too army-simulation-y like Arma was its biggest draw. It had no personality, and it needed none. Now it's seemingly patching on a personality in post, through livelier clothes and sometimes off-color graffiti in-game; and it's a disjointed vibe. It doesn't work for PUBG, and I wonder if it ever will. In the meantime, I guess I can sit idly, waiting for something like Splatoon: Battle Royale for an adequately fashionable undertaking that feels a little more at home.