The Amiibo Cautionary Tale

Is Nintendo flying too close to the sun with its red-hot toy line?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 04/14/2015 07:00 8 Comments     ShareThis

I didn’t completely know what a cautionary tale was until I came across the term in a Brian Michael Bendis comic. It was either Ultimate Spider-Man or Daredevil (honestly, it was probably both), and it got me curious. So I looked it up, and came to realize a cautionary tale is exactly what it sounded like: a story that cautions anyone who reads it to not repeat its events and circumstances. What was more interesting for me was when I found that crime and mystery writers have a real thing for them. For writers who are fond of spinning mob yarns, cautionary tales tend to relate the exploits of a crook who made too many mistakes, and ended up paying for them in the worst way. They messed up so bad, in fact, that the story of their fall is told to other mobsters so that they don’t do the same thing, themselves.

The way Nintendo is handling its distribution of Amiibo so far, I can’t help but feel like I’m being manhandled by a bookie over a debt (at least when it comes to the secondary market!). I’m worried Nintendo is in the middle of its own toys-to-life cautionary tale. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Amiibo does for the games that the figures are compatible with. Leveling up Amiibo for Smash Bros. is a thrill, getting extra content across multiple games like Mario Kart 8 and Mario Party 10 makes the toys a serious value, and even if the things are just shoved on a shelf, they look cool as heck. The problem I have, and the reason I’m worried about Nintendo, is the issue of availability.

I understand that might sound a little crazy. I know Nintendo is selling its Amiibo toys to the tune of millions of dollars so far. There’s little to no sign that fans are growing tired of Amiibo. But I’m worried about the long term. Really, the semi-long term. Going to pre-order Wave 4 at GameStop the other day was an utter nightmare. I stood in line for over an hour trying to get all my orders in, eventually having to leave and pass the baton to my sister, who in turn waited forever and never even got to complete the process. Which wouldn’t have been so horrible, save for the fact that if pr-eorders didn’t get in that day, it meant not getting the majority of the desirable Amiibo like Ness or Lucina.

Why am I being punished for being a loyal customer? I buy just about everything that Nintendo puts out, whether it’s systems, software, or peripherals. Yet my reward is a line of toys that I couldn’t buy the majority of from a brick and mortar store if I wanted to, to say nothing of online outlets. GameStop (not to harp on that chain alone, but I haven’t been to Toys “R” Us or Best Buy to deal with whatever madness is happening with them) even upped the insanity by not allowing anything but Internet orders of the figures. Which meant that rather than being able to plunk down five bucks to reserve an Amiibo and then pay it off over time, or save to pay it off all at once when it comes out, I had to have the money for everything then and there. With multiple Amiibo being released at once, that’s a lot of cash to come up out of the blue. Joined with all the other problems that revolve around Amiibo from a buying standpoint, it was an unacceptable thing to hear.

Japan might get to bask in a line of Captain Falcon and Wii Fit Trainer merchandise or whatever, but for those of us not living in Nintendo’s homeland, it’s been a rare and wonderful thrill to have a bone thrown our way with the Amiibo of some of our obscure favorite characters. Unfortunately, the absolute misery of trying to procure said Amiibo is a true slap in the face. If it’s going to financially cripple Nintendo to make more than a handful of Villager Amiibo, then maybe it shouldn’t be in the business of making the things to begin with. I’d rather live in a world without a gold Mario Amiibo rather than one with only enough available for devious internet swindlers to resell. It sounds whiny, maybe, but the current reality is that if I want Meta Knight, I have to pay upwards of three to four times the cost of what the thing is worth. That’s just foolish.

It’s worked to this point, admittedly, but what about when Yoshi’s Wooly World comes out? What kind of hoops will fans have to jump through to get the three yarn Yoshi Amiibo that will be compatible with the game? What happens if Nintendo decides to start doing more specialized Amiibo for new game launches, or more obscure retail exclusives? I might just be stewing in my own venom. It’s possible that the completionist collector like myself is in the minority and the rest of the people buying Amiibo don’t care if they can’t get them all. Still, there are logistical problems that will continue to arise beyond merely amassing all the toys.

Features in games are being built around all these different Amiibo, and the harder it is to get them, the more consumers will become irritated not being able to access everything in the titles they’re purchasing. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. is an early example of this already. All three of the Fire Emblem Amiibo that can interact with the game are (or will be) hard to come by, which all but renders any buzz about their functionality moot. Marth is supposedly going to be restocked, so maybe Nintendo is trying to be proactive about this, but until it’s known how many of the things will be hitting shelves, this reissue of the toy could still be destined to become a premium eBay buy like the first run was. There’s a glimmer of hope with the promise of Amiibo cards, but how will they be sold? Do I have to buy a pack of random ones hoping I get a particular character I’m missing? Will they be individual purchases, and if so how limited will they be compared to the actual toys? The chance that the Amiibo cards fall flat because of the issues I listed above is very real, and very troubling.

Amiibo should be about fun. It should be about going to Target, or Walmart, or Toys “R” Us, or wherever and just finding the character a fan wants and snatching it up. There’s a miasma that’s slowly swirling around Amiibo that I’m worrying will strangle the whole line to death. I physically dread the thought of hearing something has sold out in a matter of minutes, or not getting any kind of buffer room to pay for it all. Seriously, how many Nintendo fans are out there who love Ness but are going to have to live without what is basically the one thing outside of his game with his face on it? There are bigger problems in the world, but it doesn’t change the fact that if Nintendo doesn’t get this situation straightened out now, it’s veering into some dangerous terrain that it would do well to avoid.

8 Responses to “The Amiibo Cautionary Tale”

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    So true. I missed out on preordering Shulk, another Gamestop exclusive, so I had to pay almost 4x the price to get him off Amazon, straight from Japan. He’s the only one capable with Xenoblade 3D, and he cost almost as much as the game itself! I gave up finding anything in stores, and while almost everything is available online, given the prices, you have to ask yourself, how much do you really want it? Is it really worth it?

  • 3 points
    AR-Cade says...

    I believe that Nintendo is doing the right thing with Amiibo, Amiibo are hard to collect to make it more challenging and fun for the consumer to collect them all. I think this way, Nintendo makes more money to make more games. Its pretty simple if you think about it, Nintendo is just good at what they do. And I don’t think we should complain or be upset that some Amiibo are hard to get a hold of, we should just try really hard to get them when they first come out.

  • 402 points
    geoffrey says...

    I explicitly refuse to pay more than retail for any of them, so I’m fully resigned to the fact that I’ll never have the complete set. Which is better for the wallet, I suppose. That said, I will still cut people who get in my way to get the Splatoon set and Yarn Yoshis.

    Right now the only rareish ones I have are Ike, Lucario, Rosalina, and two Gold Marios (and I suppose to a lesser extent Mega Man), all of which I got at retail.

  • 222 points
    PanurgeJr says...

    I understand the frustration; I’m pretty sure I’ve missed out on the Splatoon trio and feel it too. But there are two things to consider. First, Nintendo is not the only one deciding how many amiibo to produce; they are reacting in part to retailer orders. Second, with the Wii U not doing so well and 3DS not making up for it, they have to watch things like inventory that much more closely. They can’t afford to undersell and have a large stock on hand. That means risking underproducing.

    • 849 points
      ejamer says...

      Although I understand the business arguments you make, as a consumer it doesn’t help me feel any better about the way the whole fiasco has been handled.

    • 402 points
      geoffrey says...

      I don’t blame Nintendo, I blame the absolute ineptitude of retailers.

      With the implosion of Target in Canada, Rosalina went multi-retailer here. Best Buy and (the now defunct) Future Shop both posted that they would be putting Rosalina online at 1:00 am MST whatever day it was. Future Shop didn’t push until 1:42 am, she didn’t actually show up in the search results right away for a ton of people (you had to have somehow known their SKU code for her and manually entire it into the search bar) and sold out almost instantly. Best Buy didn’t post her until just after 7:00 am (yes, 6 hours late).

      With the wave 4 preorders that just happened, EB Games (basically the Canadian Gamestop; same parent company) pushed them on their website lateish AM, without bothering to bolster their servers any. The (apparently surprising, since they’re clearly idiots) server load brought their entire web server system to a crawl for multiple hours before outright crashing and putting itself into maintenance mode. The also decided it would be a brilliant idea to do their in-store preorders on Good Friday, since opening up orders for pile of massively hot ticket items on a holiday is a wonderful idea. And they STILL managed to oversell them, and now they’re arbitrarily cancelling orders.

      When Walmart Canada posted their Gold Marios (he too wasn’t an exclusive here), for a good stretch of it, he was showing as available on their webpage, but when you hit the Add to Cart button, you got a completely useless “Could not add to cart” error message. No error code, no explanation, basically just a giant middle finder.

      The only company here that hasn’t completely mangled an amiibo launch so far is Toys R Us, and even that is more or less because they put a small number online and send the rest of them (often times unannounced) to their stores. So you better hope you happen to be there at the randomly correct time, but at least they’ve never oversold or had their webserver implode.

      I’m not saying that Nintendo is doing a wonderful job of providing stock, because that’s clearly not the case for all of them. But the entire amount of my rage about amiibos is completely directed at retailers and their clear inability learn that these things are a hot ticket item, that they need to prepare their servers accordingly, and actually stick to launch times when they go and publicly declare them.

  • 849 points
    ejamer says...

    Nintendo is happy, because they are selling through most of their product as quickly as they can put it on shelves.

    I’m not, because most of the Amiibo figures I want are less popular – and thus either difficult to find or very expensive. This creates a huge disincentive to buy games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker where cool content is locked behind owning a specific Amiibo. Very frustrating.

  • 81 points
    Anthony Pelone says...

    So far I’ve had some luck in snagging the rarer amiibos. I managed to track down fair prices for Villager/Wii Fit Trainer and nabbed pre-orders for Ike, Lucario, Shulk, and Ness. Ness in particular had my heart racing since they suddenly changed pre-orders to being in-store only and I wouldn’t get there until two hours after they began, but luckily he was one of the only two left!

    It’s definitely annoying, though. At least Nintendo’s aware of the problem, but who’s to say they can fix it…?

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