Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what amiibo are. Even ardent naysayers of collectibles and figures acknowledge that they are a smashing success (pun intended) having sold over ten million figures to date. Many have been critical of Nintendo for not providing enough quantity at retail, as some figures were limited to just a handful at each store, and while it originally seemed like Nintendo just couldn’t manufacture supply to meet demand, it now seems like a distinct possibility that they knew exactly what they were doing. They created the latest beanie baby fad, and they are likely laughing about the whole experience, all the way to the bank.
Nintendo’s not new to the idea of carefully controlling the release of its products. From the beginning of their entry into the videogame market, they have carefully monitored all aspects of their distribution in a way that helps spark a buzz about their products. Under the guise of quality control, they limited the number of games that any one developer could produce, even controlling the physical medium of cartridges required to make their games. Today, as the buzz over amiibo has dwindled one year after their debut, it’s hard not to wonder if Nintendo took the same approach to their new line of figures.
Amiibo are special, there’s no doubt about it. This is the first time that Nintendo has produced characters of many of their classic franchises, and the opportunity to collect all of them in a set no doubt proved sufficient motivation for Nintendo fans to jump through hoops to acquire all the characters as they released. Nintendo knows this, and they capitalized on a trending demand for these figures by repeatedly parsing supply to retailers in such small quantities that many people found themselves waiting in line hours before a store opened just to get one, wondering to themselves at what point their time became so lacking in value that they would sacrifice their lives in such a way.
Production problem continued month after month, wave after wave, and while this lack of availability brought some frustrations with it, it also produced a fervor over these figures. Amiibo started commanding a premium on ebay, and for good reason, as people repeatedly shelled out many times what a figure was worth just for the privilege of owning their character as quickly as possible. Of course, this might not have happened had Nintendo mentioned their plans to re-release many figures, but of course they kept tight-lipped about such re-releases – why would they kill the phenomenon they had created? Occasionally rumors of restocks leaked now and then, but it was never convincing to the point of lowering demand.
In the beginning, it seemed that they would never intentionally not meet demand, and that they were leaving a lot of money on the table. Now, it doesn’t seem as clear. Collectors have lobbied for Nintendo to provide some sort of subscription service, even suggesting that they would pay more for each figure just to be able to participate in such a program. Keep in mind that’s not normally how such a program would work; theoretically you should get a discount by guaranteeing purchase of all items in a set, but it seems people would have been willing to forego that just to be guaranteed a seat at the table. Nintendo’s failure to create such a program seems slightly suspicious, unless they indeed were trying to generate more interest in them through increased demand. Which, if they did, it worked out brilliantly.
Now, one year later, Nintendo has re-released many of the more “rare” amiibo figures, and they line stores shelves in many towns. The excitement has come and gone, and it seems unlikely that this happened as a casualty of their approach, but rather as a direct result of their plans. Now that everyone knows about amiibo, their future use in games is secured for many years to come. And Nintendo’s happy. And collectors are happy. Well, except those that paid $100 for Villager a few months ago…those folks probably aren’t too happy.