Amiibo are a curious thing to me. They have limited functionality, are promoted with cheesy commercials, and lost quality from the prototypes shown at E3 this year; yet, they still seem to be all the talk in various gaming circles. Many figures are hard to come by, while many retail stores in the U.S. have gone through recent debacles with pre-ordering the little NFC figurines. With so much chaos surrounding the little money-makers, I still find myself with four figurines sitting in front of my TV, while I have another four I’m looking forward to in wave three in February. Wait, I will end up with eight amiibo? What’s wrong with me?
This got me thinking: why is amiibo so popular, and this can’t last, can it? I’ve concluded that amiibo can be a long-lasting, recognizable source of financial profit for the gaming company, if they take some proper steps in the next year. Nintendo needs to add value to functionality, create amiibo specific games, and further branch into different IPs.
Add Value to Functionality:
As of right now, amiibo is rather limited in functionality. There are currently only a few titles that use amiibo at all: Hyrule Warriors, Mario Kart 8, and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. Some other titles have been confirmed or hinted at to use amiibo at later dates, such as Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Zelda U, and even the third party One Piece: Super Grand Battle! X . But is this enough? Let’s take a look at the actual amiibo functions within each title.
In Hyrule Warriors, you are allowed to use each amiibo once per day to unlock items (rupees, materials, etc), while the Link and Zelda amiibo unlock specific weapons in the game that cannot be obtained any other way. This is ok, but doesn’t seem like enough to entice gamers. In Mario Kart 8, the amiibo only unlock themed outfits to be used with only the Mii drivers on the console. In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, the amiibo act as trained CPU fighters that can be catered to whatever fighting style the player wants. This is the most functionality between the three titles, and I’ve rather enjoyed training, fighting, then eventually getting destroyed by my amiibo (such a proud trainer, I am!)
This isn’t enough to justify the NFC side of amiibo, though. Especially considering things like this when looking at how the amiibo can function between games in the future. Nintendo needs more to entice those gamers who don’t care to just own neat figurines.
Here, I would suggest selling the DLC for games (like Hyrule Warriors and/or Mario Kart 8) with an amiibo. For instance, for both DLC packs (when ordered together) in Mario Kart 8, it is $12; if Nintendo were to include a DLC pack with, say, a Mario amiibo, they could sell it for $14 each. I would be fine with even $20 for an amiibo with a single DLC pack, since the Mario Kart 8 DLC packs have a substantial amount of content. For those who don’t care about the added content, now they have a nice Nintendo figurine for a price somewhere between a Skylanders or Infinity figurine.
Create Amiibo Specific Games:
This is where Skylanders and Infinity make their money. Well, at least the foundation to make their money in the massive amounts of figurines they make. At each store I visited when looking at the amiibo sections (I address this later), I found children and families instead flocking to the enormous Skylanders/Infinity sections. Why? Because of excellent marketing and base games to start with (ie – Skylanders: Trap Team).
This concept coincides with the added value to functionality, in a way, but is much more than just that. In doing this, kids get to play as these characters in which they spent their parent’s hard-earned money on. Though this won’t necessarily pertain to older gamers (who might just view this as a cash cow), this would tap into the younger market, and could help Nintendo out with selling other titles.
For instance, an easy fix would be to make a sequel to an already existing IP that would work well with this; develop a Nintendo Land: Amiibo edition/sequel. There are plenty of mini games to be had which can utilize/show off the GamePad, while getting kids and families reacquainted with Nintendo’s loveable characters. This would be good in two aspects: this could bring in more money (in the same vein as the Skylanders and Infinity games) and could get kids who grew up with Xbox/PlayStation to develop a love for Nintendo like so many of us nostalgic older gamers. I couldn’t see this method taking up too much extra manpower to complete, with the limited file/save usage for the amiibo being the only obstacle to truly overcome.
Further Branch into Different IPs:
By developing a title specifically around amiibo usage, then young gamers can become more familiar with what older gamers already know: the various characters exclusive to Nintendo alone. This helps to include Nintendo as a household name again for video games, along with Xbox and PlayStation, the way it used to be back in the 90s. Yes, people still know of Nintendo, but let me ask: when a parent refers to a console now, what do they call it? Back in the 90s, even if someone picked up a Sega console, parents (who didn’t know any better and/or didn’t care) would say something like “Johnny is playing that dang Nintendo thing again.” That word, “Nintendo,” had become synonymous with video games. In current times, it has been replaced with words like “Xbox” and “PlayStation.”
Getting more [good] exposure, with the usage of amiibo, for Nintendo characters will help to wedge Nintendo back into the mix. In addition, the collectors, like myself, will have even more possibilities to add figurines to our collection, adding longevity and an allure for amiibo. Then Nintendo can start throwing more obscure or lesser known characters (I would greatly enjoy a King K. Rool amiibo!) into production, all meaning even more sales.
My concern is this: kids aren’t as attracted to amiibo as they are with Skylanders and Infinity; in fact, they seem to be more popular with older gamers who want to collect figurines. How do I come to this conclusion? With a story and an opinion.
The other day I was out getting the final gift for my wife, just in time for Christmas. I decided to stop by a few places along the way to see what amiibo retail stores stock; I stopped by Best Buy, Target, and Toys R Us to try and cover a decent span on retail stores (each catering to various age groups). I also want to note this was on the weekend, a little bit later in the day, so many kids were present. At all three places, I didn’t find any kids huddled around the amiibo sections. In fact, I found the opposite: older gamers, both male and female, searching for any elusive figurines to add to his or her collection. One of the gamers, a male about my age (29 years old), struck up a quick conversation with me.
“Which one are you looking for?” He asked.
“Well, I was just looking at what they stock, though I would definitely buy a Little Mac right now if they had it.”
We both chuckled, and he then said, “Yeah, it’s tough finding them all. Toys R Us seems to have the best selection, though.”
We then said our goodbyes, and moved on. This wasn’t some young child pleading for mom and dad to buy an amiibo; this was a figurine collector, looking to complete his own personal collection. I’m willing to bet that any functionality with software was simply an added bonus for him; not a large reason for purchasing an amiibo. But the question becomes this: is there a large enough group in the West who will continue to buy amiibo and make them as popular as they are now?
Something else that points to amiibo being focused towards the “collector” group, whether on purpose or by accident, is the actual construction and build of amiibo. During a conversation with Phazon4G on Twitter, he made a couple good points:
@BowerTendo If you have calm and behaving children, the Amiibo will be fine. But I wouldn’t throw them around or make the figures fight irl
— Phazon (@Phazon4G) December 20, 2014
@BowerTendo Anyway, they aren’t really made for young children imo. Very fragile, but very detailed for people like us.
— Phazon (@Phazon4G) December 20, 2014
When he says “us,” he is speaking of those who are collecting/obtaining figurines. I was already looking for decently priced, nice quality figurines to fill up my “man cave” at home when amiibo was revealed. However, how many others are like us, wanting to get some neat Nintendo character figurines?
If the answer to that question is “a lot,” then amiibo will last for a long time; it’s longevity fueled by those of us hunting for any that we don’t have in our collection yet. If the answer is “not a lot,” then Nintendo needs to work on the three points brought up earlier. Will amiibo last, or will it be the latest passing fad, which was [smartly] released around Christmas time? Without adding value to functionality, new IPs centered around them, or branching further into IPs for more characters, amiibo will be gone in the next couple of years.