Skip to main content
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Xbox has its own nail polish now, as gaming companies welcome beauty deals

(The Washington Post illustration; Xbox)

While gamers have grown accustomed to advertisements for snacks like Doritos and beverages like Mountain Dew, the marketing deals that some companies are striking these days look a bit different. Beyond just producing action-packed trailers where the “Call of Duty” character Adler sips Mountain Dew Game Fuel against a backdrop of explosions, companies like Xbox and Nintendo are now releasing beauty products like nail polish and eyeshadow for gamers.

Last week, Xbox announced a partnership with OPI, one of the most popular nail polish brands. The deal, announced last week, brings new nail polish colors named after gaming references to cosmetics stores. OPI decided the seasonal colors, and Xbox worked with the company to come up with shade names like “Achievement Unlocked” and “Heart and Con-soul” to reference gaming culture. For their purchases, gamers can unlock in-game content in “Forza Horizon 5” and “Halo Infinite.” The unusual collaboration has raised eyebrows on social media, with some Internet users praising the creative design, and others expressing confusion or dismay over the idea.

While many of the most famous and recurring gaming partnerships, including fast food and energy drink brands, are aimed at men ages 18 to 30, the billion-dollar gaming and beauty industries have increasingly teamed up in recent years. Colorpop, a California-based cosmetics brand, worked with Nintendo’s Animal Crossing franchise last January to release eyeshadow palettes and glittery gold gel reminiscent of the island’s in-game currency, Bells. Xbox previously worked with Mac Cosmetics last October to create three Halloween looks, recreating characters from “Sea of Thieves,” “Psychonauts” and “Halo.”

“We’re in this moment of really overcoming that idea of the gamer being just that one demographic, that preconceived notion of the gamer being in the basement, and usually a man, 18 to 30-something," said Marcos Waltenberg, global partnerships director at Xbox. “It’s much more than that now. ... We’re now tasked with talking to a lot more people than we used to as a company, a few years ago.”

Last March, the L’Oreal-owned makeup company NYX launched a limited edition Tetris makeup collection, including an eyeshadow palette, lip glosses and lip liners.

“The Tetris activation was inspired by the Y2K trend... We created the collaboration to give Gen Z and millennial consumers the feeling of nostalgia for the addictive, iconic game,” said Nathalie Gerschtein, president of consumer products division at L’Oréal USA, referring to a trend that brings back early 2000′s fashion and beauty. “Historically, women and underrepresented groups haven’t been addressed in the gaming space and we want to be the catalyst for change. We see an opportunity to move beyond the traditional male gamer stereotype and further expand these communities, ensuring they’re safe, diverse, and inclusive.”

Not all product initiatives have launched without a hitch. Last October, Rachell “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, a YouTube Gaming streamer, started a blue-light skincare line, RFLCT, which was canceled after internet users questioned the science behind the claim that the products could protect skin from the blue light emitted from screens. Joanna Coles, co-founder of Ideavation Labs, which worked with RFLCT, when reached to share an update in January, declined to comment. In October, Coles said in a statement to the Post, "It’s hard enough for young women to start a business in a male dominated economy. I am confident that if a male gamer had come up with RFLCT he would have been roundly applauded.”

YouTube streaming star Valkyrae launches skin care line to controversy, ethical questions

In January of 2020, Benefit Cosmetics, which makes brow and mascara products, partnered with the esports company Gen.G to produce online shows about women esports players and streamers. Sephora and other make-up companies have invested in augmented reality to allow people to try on products like lipstick and eyeshadow remotely more easily. Too Faced, a make-up brand owned by Estée Lauder, released an eyeshadow palette in the shape of a gamepad on December of 2020 with shade names like “Easter Egg” and “Cheat Code.”

“Too Faced is tapped into Gen Z and Millennials from multiple angles, and we always aim to meet the customer where she is and where her interests lie. Gaming, and on a broader level, technology in general, is always inspiring and interesting to us and influences how we market our products," said Tara Simon, global general manager at Too Faced.

For OPI, collaborating with Xbox was a chance to reach a younger audience — Gen Z gamers. Over half of young women ages 14 to 21 are gamers, according to a 2018 survey conducted by The Post and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. Among teen and young adult competitive gamers, 39 percent are female.

OPI said that not only were gamers women, but nail polish users could be men. It sees the deal as appealing to women gamers and also to Xbox’s male audience.

“[This deal] allows us to reach a younger audience and appeal to the male demographic,” said Emi Moreno, senior marketing director at OPI North America. “While the gaming industry has become more inclusive, it is still predominantly male, an audience that has recently sparked interest in the nail industry. We’ve seen lots more men getting into nail care, whether it be simple, groomed nails or nail art.”

Mountain Dew, which has historically been a partner of gaming companies, said that it has targeted gamers for over a decade and that its ads have paid off. Seeing the beauty industry become interested in making new deals made sense, it said.

“The gaming community is growing every day, expanding to audiences well beyond what was once considered core gamers. Gaming really is a part of pop culture—the audiences for watching livestream gaming content and esports have exploded in recent years,” said Pat O’Toole, vice president of marketing at Mountain Dew.

League x Louis Vuitton. 100 Thieves x Gucci. Video game fashion is becoming a big business.

Most of the Xbox and OPI nail polish shades have already sold out online. Analysts said these collaborations are aimed at attracting a broader audience to games, and to reinforce to gamers that companies know what they like.

“A major game platform is looking to catch up for lost time by expanding beyond the traditional stereotypes of Mountain Dew and Pringles crossovers,” said Laine Nooney, assistant professor and historian of video games at New York University. “There’s a question about whether female gamers will respond to these kinds of brand partnerships in the reliable way men have. Do female gamers experience the same brand loyalty and construction of identity around gaming that men do? And if so, is this the right product?"

In previous years, small businesses sprang up in the vacuum of gaming-related beauty products.

Ardina Bacovic, 32, a chiropractor, runs a small business selling controller-shaped soaps and other video game-related beauty products. She currently earns about $15,000 a year selling soaps on Etsy and from her office, and plans to eventually open up a soap store.

“There aren’t as many good women-geared [beauty] products when you go out to shop," Bacovic said. "Another reason why I started doing this is because I would go to all these conventions, and often there would be a void that I personally felt for products that I wanted to come home with.”

The first soap Bacovic made was an NES controller. Since then, she has expanded her products to include a “God of War” themed beard oil, soaps in the shape of “Among Us” characters, an “Animal Crossing” body scrub, Sailor Moon lip gloss and more.

“Occasionally, I’d have requests but generally the soap comes out better if I’m already inspired by what I’m playing," she said. “So I was playing ‘The Witcher 3’ when I made like a Yennefer bar and then I made a Witcher bar, and the two bars of soap were dating on my sink for about a half a year. It was cute.”

Her business, Console Yourself Soap, relies on puns, handmade Gameboy, PlayStation and Xbox controller soaps, and help from her family.

“It’s a really niche market that I’m in, but it’s my community. I’m a gamer myself," Bacovic said.

Gamer gloves and compression sleeves: Does performance wear matter in esports?

While the Xbox and OPI partnership was greeted by some players with excitement, others online were skeptical and questioned if Xbox knew its target audience. Waltenberg said that Xbox takes online harassment and negative comments seriously and moderates the feedback it receives.

“Naturally, there may be people that come in and have something negative to say. That ends up happening, unfortunately, in our world. But it’s not something that we’re concerned about, I think we’re taking a firm stance that hey, we stand by this,” he said. “Even if we get some backlash from some individuals that may think that’s not something we should be doing, we’ll navigate that, we will hear that. It’s something that hopefully will continue to get better in our industry.”

The deal with OPI had been in the works since 2019, said Waltenberg, but the pandemic threw a wrench into preparations. To make the nail polish and controller collaboration happen, both businesses had to learn each other’s production cycles. They also collaborated on color names. One of the names, “Suzi is my avatar,” is a reference to OPI’s co-founder, Suzi Weiss-Fischmann.

“Beauty is, in particular, something that we’re focusing on," Waltenberg said. “But it’s an interesting trend that you see brands from all kinds of different categories really come into gaming, which is something that maybe a few years ago would have been a little more difficult. There were more barriers, or less interest from brands, when there could have been these preconceived notions of what a gamer is.”

OPI’s Moreno noted that there are over 1.4 billion female gamers worldwide, and that the deal caters to consumers who are interested in both gaming and beauty.

“The world is becoming more inclusive and what was deemed typical and the norm no longer exists,” said Moreno.