Love ’em or hate ’em, the amiibo have been an unavoidable topic of conversation on gaming articles and their attached comment sections for the past few months. While no direct sales figures are yet public, as someone who works in gaming retail receiving daily phone calls and in store inquiries on what’s in stock and when certain figures are expected to arrive, I can personally affirm that yes, the amiibo hype is real.
The irony of this whole endeavor is that when first setting up the display for Nintendo’s newest figures, I fully expected these things to flop. Yet the continuing sales of these collectible and playable characters led me to think about the cause of their success and their place in Nintendo history. Eventually, I concluded that amiibo fit right at home with Nintendo, and in fact even embody the marketing mentality and philosophy that Nintendo has held for over 30 years. Before you cast me aside as another Nintendo fanboy, please read on. Trust me, there’s a method to my madness.
Not Innovators, but Perfectionists.
Let’s begin by winding the clock back to 1985. Nintendo had just released the North American version of the Famicon – better known as the NES – and quickly received tremendous financial success. Rewind further to 1983, where a massive gaming crash cost companies like Atari billions and left the industry to be pronounced dead. It’s important to remember that Nintendo didn’t invent the game industry, they simply perfected it (and in this instance brought it back to life!).
Now in 2015, juxtapose the image above with where Nintendo currently stands with amiibo. Not to say that the industry of collectible toys that interact with certain video games had died – ask the countless number of kids begging their parents for the newest Disney Infinity figure – but rather that Nintendo has once again shown up to the party fashionably late. The game company saw the appeal of these playable figures and improved the appeal with two major modifications.
First, the amiibo require no external reader and can be utilized with any Wii U gamepad consumers already own. This is a considerable step up from other competitors that rely on a tablet of sorts to read the game data of the figures. Second, these collectible statues are cross compatible with a slew of current and upcoming Nintendo games. The same can’t be said for competing companies who by creating new entries each year, make their old figures non-compatible with the new games and leave consumers cynical and upset.
With these elements in mind, I believe the introduction of amiibo to the Nintendo lineup is not the desperate attempt to latch onto a new demographic, but rather a business move that fits perfectly in line with what the company has been known to do for decades now. After all, in 2013 Shigeru Miyamoto, mastermind behind titles like Donkey Kong, Mario and the Legend of Zelda, famously stated that game developers should perceive their products like a toy company would, and Nintendo founder Fusajiro Yamauchi began the business as a playing card shop, so the company has always had a soft spot for tangible products.
A large part of what game journalists and blog sites have been reporting on is the evident scarcity of many of the amiibo characters. Historically, Nintendo has kept with a controversial tradition of under stocking their products; this was true with the SNES, the Wii, and in most gamers’ recent memory, the infamous GameCube Controller Adapter. In fact, upon the 1990 release of the Super Famicon in Japan, retailers only received 300 thousand of the 1.5 million that store owners and consumers had placed orders for.
But why do this? The first and easiest answer is that it would cause a hysteria among Japanese gamers, making the latest Nintendo product not only a rare and prized possession, but the headline of every game related story. The second reason behind Nintendo’s decision is a little more sly, originating as the company’s defense mechanism to protect customers from themselves.
You see, the video game crash of 1983 came about largely from the fact that seemingly every company around – even those with no place in the industry – wanted to develop games and gaming systems, many of which were of sub-par quality. This in turn oversaturated the market and created customer fatigue. Nintendo, whether right or wrong, saw it as their responsibility to ensure that gamers wouldn’t grow tired by having games and products thrown at them relentlessly: leaving them with little leaves them always wanting more.
Amiibo Future and Its Place on Wii U
While to some the amiibo launch may feel like a cheap or confusing effort on Nintendo’s part, it’s clear to me that through the company’s history of improving on preexisting concepts, their affinity for tangible products, as well as their longtime strategy of creating artificial scarcity for their products, Nintendo has a fully rational understanding of their newest product.
But where does amiibo go from here? As was mentioned before, what pushes these collectible figures over the edge of what other competitors can reach is their ability to work on multiple games. As long as software support continues to allow players the chance to add their figures into their favourite titles, the amiibo should live on comfortably on the Wii U and the forthcoming New 3DS. While there’s nothing yet to suggest it, the prospect of an Amiibo standalone game, perhaps a title in which you can drop Nintendo characters in and out of, woven together through a story similar to Brawl’s “Subspace Emissary”, would be an exciting venture. Until then, gamers can enjoy their amiibo through Smash, Mario Kart, and Hyrule Warriors connectivity and look forward to whatever Nintendo has in store for them next.
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