From the moment that Nintendo debuted their little plastic amiibo figurines, the company has had no idea what it wanted to do with them. At the beginning, Nintendo was elusive. We did not know all that much about the mystical figurines. Apparently, if you were to touch one of these amiibo to the Gamepad while playing Smash Bros., an AI version of the character would pop up. You could then train the amiibo, which increased its level and supposedly the amiibo would learn based off of your very own fighting style.
But, we did not really know what amiibo were supposed to be. How many games would feature amiibo? How much data could each amiibo hold? Could you use one amiibo in a lot of games? There was a clear lack of direction within the company. If there was one thing we did think, it was that this was not just going to be more DLC.
In the coming months we learned more and more about these new amiibo things. Nintendo built the hype around the figurines, and once the amiibo ended up finally releasing in November of 2014, the figurines were an astounding success. Nearly impossible to find within stores, many amiibo were sold for double, triple, even ten times what they were worth at MSRP. The Nintendo nation had amiibo fever, and for a while it did not look like the hype was leaving anytime soon.
Come February 2015, fans stood for hours outside of local Targets waiting for Rosalina’s launch. Later that year, the same fans were venturing from Toys R’ Us to GameStop to Target to Best Buy on the same day to snag every last amiibo.
Where are those crowds now?
With the near conclusion of the Smash Bros. set of amiibo, it is very clear that Nintendo lacks a direction for what amiibo are and where it wants it to go. At first, Nintendo claimed that the toys were not made to be collected. In one interview, James Honeywell, the head of consumer marketing at Nintendo UK, said that the company never expected collectors to jump on board. It seemed like Nintendo was expecting gamers to buy the figures for the functionality.
“What we hadn’t anticipated was the number of collectors wanting to get them all,” said Honeywell. “This has seen demand exceed supply in some areas.”
Looking at Nintendo’s amiibo release schedule now, it seems like functionality is the last of the company’s worries. The company released two separate colors of the R.O.B. amiibo figurine. This summer, Nintendo is releasing two separate Isabelle amiibo figurine, compatible with just the terrible Nintendo release Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival and the more manageable, but still mediocre, Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. The company is launching new colors of Splatoon amiibo, offering no new gameplay functionality. Alongside these, Nintendo is releasing Callie and Marie amiibo, which will unlock “fresh performances” in game — whatever the hell that could mean.
If anything, it seems like Nintendo is releasing amiibo now solely for collectors. The company has no direction for their new product line. Moreover, amiibo are no longer the commodity they once were. Whereas Smash Bros. amiibo still sell for full price — often even more than that on secondary markets — other amiibo sets are discounted at high rates. Animal Crossing amiibo can be found for as cheap as $5 a piece, leading me to regret my day one purchase.
Scariest of all for Nintendo is that amiibo sales are great for now, but they are beginning to stagnate and even decline. Just take a look at the following amiibo sales chart.
Speaking of Nintendo,
Here is a look at their Toys to Life (amiibo) shipments for both physical figures & cards. pic.twitter.com/ldBtAbWjuY
— ZhugeEX (@ZhugeEX) May 19, 2016
Amiibo sales last quarter were tied for the lowest number since their debut. Supposedly, these numbers would include the Wolf Link amiibo, which was packed in along with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD.
If Nintendo wants to keep its money-maker amiibo figurines relevant for the rest of 2016, let alone into the NX’s lifespan, the company needs to convince gamers why they need to own amiibo — something that it has not yet convincingly done. Kirby: Planet Robobot is an excellent example of the company’s mistake. The company is launching a brand new line of amiibo alongside the game; the amiibo add in special copy abilities and new looks for Kirby. But, without any sort of meaningful interaction, how could Nintendo possibly expect these amiibo to fly off of the shelves? If anything, these amiibo will end up in the same bargain bin that we can now find Animal Crossing figurines.
From day one, Nintendo lacked a clear vision for amiibo, and that is rather unfortunate. As someone who has gone out and purchased every single last one, I am wondering why I even own them. Did I just buy these figurines as collectibles, because I sure am not using them in any cool way in-game.
Moving forward, Nintendo must figure out what it wants its amiibo line to represent — because at this pace, amiibo may soon go the way of Disney Infinity.