Nintendo is widely known as a video game company, despite its origins as a playing card and toy company. The Japanese gaming giant is returning to its roots with the wildly popular amiibo action figures: plastic, real-life versions of its most popular characters that work with games.
The toys are so popular that it’s nearly impossible to find them in stores, bedeviling potential buyers. “Some figures are sold out and are being sold at online auctions at premium prices — something which none of us had predicted,” Nintendo CEO and president Satoru Iwata said in a mid-February financials briefing. “I can say that amiibo has kicked off smoothly.”
Except it hasn’t. If you’re looking for any figures other than Nintendo’s most popular, you might be out of luck. Mario, Kirby and Link are widely available, while the likes of Mega Man and Donkey Kong can be very hard to come by. If you want something a little more obscure? Your best bet is heading to eBay or Amazon, where resellers are jacking up prices.
Looking for Captain Falcon from Super Nintendo classic “F-Zero”? He’ll cost you over $US40: around four times the original price of $US12.99.
Fans and superfans
Nintendo’s walking a fine line with amiibo. The toys are both appealing to young, new fans and longtime Nintendo loyalists. That’s exemplified by the sales breakdown of amiibo, care of Nintendo:
The chart to the left represents which characters sold best to retail stores — recognisable names like Link (from “The Legend of Zelda”), Mario (who needs no introduction), and Pikachu (from “Pokémon”). The chart to the right represents which characters sold best to actual consumers — it’s topped by relatively obscure characters like Marth (from the “Fire Emblem” series) and Villager (from “Animal Crossing”).
These are not the characters everyone is looking for, but they are the characters that matter most to Nintendo’s most loyal consumers. So, what went wrong?
Pre-orders and exclusives
Justin Bieber and Nintendo’s amiibo toys are not so different. OK, fine, they’re pretty different. But they’re similar in one important way: Both the Bieber and Nintendo’s amiibo are ruined by scalpers.
Nintendo announced five days ago that preorders were available for a handful of new amiibo. The crush of fans and resellers rushing to pre-order the figures crashed the website of the world’s largest game retailer, Gamestop.
“Due to very strong demand for the newest wave of Nintendo’s amiibo figures, GameStop is experiencing some technical issues with our website. At this time, we are accepting pre-orders of amiibo in stores only while we resolve these issues,” the company told angry fans.
Worse, several amiibo are exclusive to specific retailers: only GameStop carries fan favourite/cult classic character Ness, while only Target has Metaknight, etc.
The crush of fans descending on a single ticket seller often results in resellers (scalpers) getting the upper hand. Want to see Bieber at Madison Square Garden? You’re almost certainly forking over more than the original asking price of the ticket, even if you’re eagle-eyed and on top of the sale going live.
Nintendo could just create more toys, of course. The aforementioned Marth is getting a new production run as he corresponds to an upcoming game from Nintendo. The company’s official statement on making more amiibo is, essentially, “we’ll make more if enough people ask for them.” That’s a nice sentiment, but Nintendo’s burning its most loyal fans in the process.