Amiibos have been out for just over a month now and are a huge hit for Nintendo. However, limited availability and very confusing messaging from Nintendo have made the hunt for these toys into an exercise in frustration for many. Read on to marvel at my brief descent into amiibo madness, and how I rescued myself from falling too deeply into the rabbit hole of "amiiwoes".
If you're wondering what these things are, Nintendo's new line of "toys to life" collectibles called "Amiibo" are small figures designed to interact with games on the Wii U and 3DS systems. These toys offer players the ability to save Super Smash Bros data to a figure or unlock specific content in other games, based on which amiibo figure is used. The launch line is branded directly with the Super Smash Bros name, however they work with multiple games that are out now as well as several coming soon.
I have to admit, when these were announced several months ago, I was not even slightly interested in them. I viewed them as kid's toys much like Skylanders or Disney Infinity. On top of that, some years ago my closet had become bloated with special edition garbage and crap I was never going to display, so I sold it all and decided I was moving on with my life. None of it was ever going to become particularly rare anyway, I figured. From then on, its been fancy cases and maybe an art book or two, but no more figures or other random trinkets.
Let's fast forward to late November. The first twelve of twenty-four Amiibos have been on shelves for a little over a week and the first signs of problems were starting to show. Three particular characters began to prove very difficult for fans to track down: Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. The other nine characters to come out were still in good supply, but these three could soon be found on eBay for triple their retail value, if not more.
That was all I needed to know at the time. My curiosity was piqued, so I checked around some of my local stores to see if any of them had an elusive amiibo in stock. As it turns out, none of them did. There were plenty of the "common nine" as others call them (amiibos like Mario and Pikachu who are readily available everywhere) but not a single Marth, Villager, or Wii Fit Trainer. I suppose I only wanted one because I heard they were becoming rare, but I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to get one, so I sort of forgot about them again.
Soon after, I learned that amiibos would give random items in Hyrule Warriors, which I've been playing a lot of lately. Knowing that they might give me a leg up on acquiring gear or faster leveling, I decided to check around and see which ones I could buy online. Lo and behold, GameStop actually had a Wii Fit Trainer available when I checked! The appeal of having a rare Nintendo collector's item combined with my lust for Hyrule Warriors gear was too much to resist, so I quickly placed an order. I told myself that at the very least, I could surely sell it and likely make a small profit if I changed my mind about keeping it.
As I waited a few days for my Wii Fit Trainer to arrive, the three amiibo figures that shipped in the smallest quantities had become nearly impossible to find in the US. I was actually very lucky to order Wii Fit Trainer online, because that model as well as the other two had been sold out online for days by that point. Members of the press had reached out to Nintendo about the increasing rarity of certain amiibos and if a restock would take place soon. Nintendo's response was vague and very non-committal. They didn't say in clear terms that any of the characters would come back, but stated that they "may return at a later date" which most would take as a very "no promises" kind of thing. At the same time this was happening, fans were also having a difficult time locating the new adapter that allows players to use Gamecube controllers with the Wii U for Super Smash Bros. Nintendo also addressed this and stated in very clear language that more of these adapters were being made and would be available soon.
Shortly after Nintendo put out this response to inquiries from the press, a Toys R Us employee allowed a picture of their in-house communications to be circulated on the internet. This basically consisted of a message stating that Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer would not be seeing any further restocks and were to be considered discontinued. This would turn out to be as close to official word from Nintendo as we would get that these things might be done after their initial run. After all, Nintendo has more games coming in 2015 that will utilize these, such as Mario Party. Knowing that Mario Party draws on a large cast of characters for each iteration, it’s a fairly safe assumption that new amiibos could launch that are tied to that game, making Super Smash Bros amiibos "last year's model" in a sense. Also keep in mind that Mario Party is just one game coming next year that will work with these. Theoretically, a new line could come for any of the compatible games next year, meaning stores would need to accommodate for their arrival by clearing shelf space, thus leading to the likely scenario where the Smash line of amiibos would be getting replaced.
Over the course of the next week, I found myself visiting the NeoGAF amiibo discussion more and more. I read countless posts from visitors telling tales of visiting their local stores and seeing them picked clean. Even very common characters like Mario and Samus were selling out at some stores. This wasn't the majority situation, but it was something I found interesting and made note of. As the week progressed, more and more people reported that "Fox" was becoming harder to locate and in some locations, Samus as well. Not only that, but the 2nd wave of amiibo figures was about to launch and speculation about which of the new models would be rare was running wild. My decision to purchase the Wii Fit Trainer when I did had suddenly become much more satisfying. Apparently, I'm a weird collecting hoarder or something because now this dumb toy that meant nothing two weeks ago was suddenly the luckiest gaming purchase I made this year.
So with this new perspective on amiibos, I began to consider that maybe I might want to take a look at the lineup and decide if I wanted to buy any more because they could very well be gone if I wait too long to make up my mind. I knew Link and Zelda both had useful and unique purposes in Hyrule Warriors and decided I wanted them both but would likely bow out of the amiibo game after that. Just a day or two later, fellow amiibo hunters began reporting that their stores had small shipments of some Wave 2 characters. Zelda, Little Mac, and Diddy Kong were popping up in stores and the reported quantities were absurdly low with most people saying they only saw one or two of Diddy Kong and Little Mac, or how stores that did pre-orders like GameStop had only received enough to cover said pre-orders. I decided to venture out and see if any of my stores had these new characters, since Zelda was one I definitely wanted.
When I got to the amiibo display at my Fred Meyer, I saw they had a bunch of Zeldas, two Diddy Kongs, and just one Little Mac. And that's when it set in. All the stories I had read about the limited quantities and the difficulty of tracking these things down had suddenly become real to me and I was convinced that this might be my only chance to buy the new characters. I scooped up the last Little Mac and one of the many Zeldas and headed for checkout. For whatever reason, I decided to hold off on buying Link, even though he was one of the two I wanted most. I guess I figured that he had been around since day one and that none of the stores I casually observed earlier had gotten anywhere near running out of stock.
Twenty-five dollars later, I had my first two amiibos in hand with Wii Fit Trainer in the mail bringing my grand total to $38. I didn't even want Little Mac before I went into the store, but seeing that it was the only one there, I suddenly had to have it. I didn't know if I would even open it, so I decided I would keep it in the box and just see what happened to the value over time. Maybe I would decide to open it one day, or maybe I would take advantage of the feeding frenzy on eBay. At this point I became curious about my other stores in town. I used my lunch break and a little time after work to drive around and see what I found at other Fred Meyer stores, as well as GameStops and Toys R Us. Nobody had any Little Mac or Diddy Kong figures. There were plenty of Zelda to go around, but Mac and Diddy were gone. This was the first day any of the new wave had hit shelves in my area and two of the three were already proving to be rare. That seemed crazy to me. Had Nintendo vastly underestimated the popularity of these things? Had there been a manufacturing issue that caused initial shipment projections to be under-delivered? The whole situation was beginning to fascinate me because I had never really experienced anything like this before. Usually, a collector's edition of a game will get announced and if you pre-order it, there's no problem. Not only that, but its generally understood that if you want one, you should probably pre-order it. No such indication applied to these toys until they were already on shelves and being immediately sold through.
After I got home, I began to feel like purchasing these things on a whim out of fear that they might be rare was sort of ridiculous. I didn't even own Super Smash Bros yet, which was arguably the game they would be most useful in, and buying as some sort of investment just sounded preposterous when I thought about it with a clear mind. I decided that I'd buy Link at some point down the line, but otherwise I would be finished with amiibos. That said, I was still fascinated by the amiibo distribution and continued to actively follow message boards and twitter accounts for updates.
So now we jump ahead again to late December. Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer have yet to be restocked in the states and are still selling for as much as $80 on eBay and Amazon. New figures that have only been out for a matter of days like Little Mac are selling for nearly $40 in some cases, no doubt due to the uncertainty of future availability. Its been a scalper's paradise, really. Fueling the fire were more reports of stores being sold out of Fox, who was considered a common character from the initial launch. I continued to watch my own stores and sure enough, Fox has left the building in my immediate area.
Adding to the consumer panic, Target opened pre-orders for their exclusive amiibo, "Rosalina & Luma" for which pre-orders completely sold out in just fifteen minutes. It was also at around 3:45 in the morning on the West Coast in the states. Yes, you read that right. It was 3:45 in the morning and pre-orders for an exclusive amiibo sold out in fifteen minutes. Somebody call Ozzy because we have officially boarded the crazy train.
Rosalina & Luma is not the first amiibo to sell out in pre-orders either. That particular one is definitely the fastest, but the GameStop exclusive figure "Shulk" has also sold out two months before its release. Even stranger is the situation with the Toys R Us exclusive "Lucario". Pre-orders have been open for a short time, but recently a very large number of amiibo hunters have been reporting in that they received an email informing them their pre-order has been cancelled by Toys R Us. Not only that, but there were also reports that orders for other amiibos got cancelled as well, even for common characters like Link and Mario.
The message boards were a mess. Hopeful amiibo collectors were scrambling to get answers as to why their orders were all cancelled. Then, as if this story hasn't been ridiculous enough, last week an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto was published on ABC News' website where he discussed a possible future for amiibo figures being replaced with cards. He stated:
"We're not making promises for certain figures, but the way "amiibo" is designed is that certain games can have "amiibo" specifically for that game. Other games can take advantage of past "amiibo" that developers want to make their game compatible with. In the future, we have the option, if certain "amiibo" figures are no longer available in stores, to release an "amiibo" in card form with the same functionality."
In my opinion, that pretty much confirms people's fears that these things will be gone after they sell through. On top of what I covered earlier with limited shelf space and the introduction of new amiibo figures for new games, we have Miyamoto talking about how Nintendo could release a trading card of sorts with the same chip inside. Note that he said nothing about manufacturing another run of the current line.
What we're left with at this point is just confusion, speculation, and preemptive hoarding, apparently. I think one could certainly read into that interview and take the Mario discussion as a confirmation that Nintendo are working hard on their next console already. Would amiibo figures even be a part of that future? Its possible that amiibo could end up being a small chapter of Nintendo's history that ends up encapsulated completely in the Wii U generation. If that ends up being the case, the likelihood of these being collector's items goes up considerably, I think.
Having read the interview, my pupils dilated once more and I headed out to the stores once again. I had to go buy my Link amiibo before he was gone! Nevermind that he would likely be on shelves for at least another couple of weeks, there was no time to waste! To my credit, I decided I did not care enough about Little Mac to keep him, so I listed him on ebay for a small profit once I arrived at the store. He sold immediately, which made me wonder if maybe I shouldn't have kept him afterall! Inside, I couldn't help but notice that Fox was still missing at my store. I briefly used my phone to check online and see if anyone still had him in stock. I'd probably need to order him right away! And that's where I realized what I was doing and suddenly felt ridiculous. I came to my senses once again and decided that while I was having fun watching the amiibo situation play out and enjoying a bit of the hunt myself, if I were to buy any more of these things it would just be a case of falling into the hype and collector insanity. I paid for the Link I had come for and resolved once more to be done buying amiibos.
I'm happy to report that I've kept my wits about me and am out of the amiibo game. I have three and when they aren't netting me free goods in Hyrule Warriors, they will serve as reminders of how I almost let impulse purchasing get the better of me and leave me with a bunch of toys I'd be too embarrassed to display as it would mean admitting that I bought them simply because I was worried they might be rare one day. Let my tale serve to keep you in check as well, fellow amiibo hunters! A little introspective might be exactly what some of you need as you find yourself parked outside of Target two towns over at 5 in the morning on a Wednesday.
Miyamoto Interview - ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/miyamoto-amiibo-zelda-mario-movie-27699825