Amiibo Headaches: It’s Time for Nintendo to Evolve


Amiibo have been all the rage of late, and for good reason: They’re adorable, affordable toys of our favorite Nintendo characters. Not only that, but they have added functionality in certain Nintendo games. What’s not to like?

Unfortunately, many things. But first, let’s discuss why they’re such a good idea in the first place.

It’s safe to say that Nintendo has the longest history in video games among the big three right now. Nintendo released their first home console, the Famicom (called the Nintendo Entertainment System two years later upon its arrival to North America), in 1983. They made some video games before that, including a few home versions of pong, but to most people their first big foray into the market was the NES. For 30+ years, Nintendo has been bringing fun games to enthusiasts from young to old. I myself grew up as a Nintendo kid, and have been playing Nintendo games for over 25 years.

During that time period, Nintendo has established core franchises through incredibly solid game design and catchy marketing tactics. By not oversaturating the market with rehashed annualized content from the same franchise (for the most part), they kept Nintendo fans clamoring for more. Heck, in the days of the NES and SNES, Nintendo held complete control of the publication process, even limiting how many games a third-party could produce for a Nintendo platform, and making publishers purchase actual cartridges straight from Nintendo. It was through this savvy marketing that Nintendo has been able to excite fans so consistently about their products.

However, while this practice of spacing out games may have worked wonderfully over the years, things are changing. It’s 2015, there’s rampant competition from Microsoft and Sony, and it’s tough to argue that Nintendo’s not losing the battle right now. While I don’t think they should start pumping out low quality rehashes just to produce more games – in fact, it’s their focus on quality over quantity that has sustained them – they do need to adopt a different philosophy to meet the changing times.

Take their recent decisions about advertising on Youtube. Their not-so-cleverly-titled “Creators Program” is not fooling anyone; they’ve essentially made a move to collect ad revenue from Youtubers who stream their games. Not just a small piece of the pie, either, as Nintendo’s asking for a hefty 40%. Whether or not they should be allowed to do so is the subject of another article. Personally, I feel they’re absolutely entitled to do this, but that it’s a bad decision for obvious reasons: Nintendo is turning down free advertising and instigating bad relations with consumers, both which to me are much more important than the 40% they’d gain by using this program. Admittedly I don’t have access to the numbers, and there is likely a substantial amount of money at stake, but regardless, they are creating negativity surrounding their brand. Prominent Youtubers, which Nintendo may not think are that important but which are becoming more important every day, go online to post rants about why they’ll never stream a Nintendo game again. It isn’t just that this might result in less free advertising on Youtube; this can result in actual hate for the Nintendo brand, which I argue is absolutely not worth the money. Another prime example of how not to handle distribution and advertising: Amiibogate.

OK, so calling it Amiibogate is fairly silly, but support for the amiibo distribution model is tenuous at best. As discussed earlier, Nintendo has done a great job of building excitement for their characters over the years. Almost everyone loves Mario, Link, and Samus, and we all wait with great anticipation for their next game releases. I started out looking forward to the next release of amiibo, but Nintendo’s consistent bungling of distribution has almost completely turned me off. Even though Nintendo does not have experience as a toy maker, there is no excuse for their handling of amiibo.

A lack of quality, affordable figures in the past has meant that despite loving many different franchises, I’ve never owned a Nintendo figure. They always looked “off” to me or else were too expensive, so despite having such a strong affinity for the characters and Nintendo itself, I never took the plunge. Since amiibo were introduced last fall, I now own 14 amiibo along with three other Nintendo figures. You might say this shows that amiibo were a great success, but in this case, the journey to where I’m at now was not one of pleasure.

No, it’s been a constant struggle from the beginning. From the first wave, certain figures sold out so quickly that it seemed like they were never even stocked at stores. After people became wise to the demand, subsequent waves of amiibo were plagued by preorders selling out almost immediately after being available, not to mention the figures being offered for sale at strange seemingly random times without almost any advance warning.

There was a point where I thought that Nintendo might be limiting supply to generate buzz, but after witnessing the backlash from fans, I no longer think that’s possible. Or, if it is the case that Nintendo intentionally held back supply, then it’s turning out to be a bad move.

Nintendo has posted several tweets about amiibo of late that almost seem to intentionally push at Nintendo fan’s hot buttons. Releasing a colorful image talking about the great new Meta Knight amiibo after it was sold out within minutes of release, suggesting that people should go out and get one? Not smart. A similar mistake was made after the announcement of new waves at the April Nintendo Direct; a complete mishandling of preorder sale times means that hardly anyone got the ones they wanted before they were sold out upon going up for sale the following day. There have even been stories of fans who left work to preorder from a Gamestop location in person, only to wait for two hours and walk away with nothing. Then Nintendo’s brilliant social media person decided it was a good idea to ask fans on Twitter what amiibo they were going to get at Easter, which of course provoked a plethora of angst in comments, including many, many non-family-friendly obscenities, which is very un-Nintendo.

These supply issues also mean that Nintendo consumers are unable to take part in DLC specific to figures that are not readily available. Granted, there’s not a lot of these problems at the moment, but there certainly will be in the future if Nintendo doesn’t provide more stock. What happens when a devout Nintendo fan can’t find their favorite character’s amiibo and simply can’t unlock content related to that figure? More bad feelings about Nintendo will result.

Bottom line here: Nintendo, I love your company. You’ve been a major part of my life. But please stop jerking us around. You’ve got us hook, line, and sinker. Just provide the products we want, and we’ll give you lots of money – it’s that simple! It’s in your best interests to do a better job meeting demand; with the evolving social nature of technology, you really don’t have much of a choice if you want to keep the same affinity us fans have felt lo these many years. These amiibo headaches are wearing us thin.

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