Nintendo's Amiibo Problem: Low-Stock, Scalpers, and Poor Communication

Nintendo's Amiibo launch has been good for the company, but bad for the average consumer.

Analysis by Mike Williams, .

If you intend to collect all of Nintendo's Amiibo figures this holiday season, you're walking into a minefield.

Amiibo is Nintendo's first shot in the relatively-new toys-to-life category established by Activision's Skylanders franchise and arguably improved-upon by Disney's Infinity platform. You buy figures, you put them on a proprietary NFC (near-field communications) reader, and things happen in the game. In Skylanders and Disney Infinity's case, the figures unlock specific characters in their respective titles. Nintendo is taking a different path, allowing the Amiibo figures to unlock various additional content across Nintendo's Wii U software lineup.

Nintendo takes on Activision's Skylanders.

You can think of toys-to-life games as having physical DLC. It's not much different from buying new characters or content digitally, you just need a physical object in this case.

Nintendo promised to use its characters in more than just gaming titles at a financial results briefing in May. At the time, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced what would eventually become Amiibo.

"In the January Corporate Management Policy Briefing, I talked about our policy of actively utilizing character IP," said Iwata. "To establish new and growing areas through the active utilization of character IP, it is important for Nintendo to take risks ourselves and come up with interesting ways to use our character IP. In other words, other than using character IP in Nintendo's video game software, we need to start a new business that will someday become one of our core activities."

The plan has worked out so far. Amiibo figures launched alongside Super Smash Bros for Wii U, a game that has a decent amount of Amiibo interaction. Last week, Nintendo said that Amiibo sales were "approximately equal" to sales of Super Smash Bros for Wii U (710, 000 units). Leading the pack were Nintendo mainstays Link, Mario, and Pikachu (in that order). If you care about the bigger Nintendo figures, you're probably doing a-okay. I even picked up a Samus figure to throw on my bookshelf.

The first wave of Amiibo figures.

If you care about the second-tier characters, including Fire Emblem's Marth, Animal Crossing's Villager, the Fii Fit Trainer, or even Diddy Kong, your luck probably hasn't been as good. Those figures were ignored in the first round of sales and you could find them on store shelves picked clean by the Black Friday rush. Since they were lesser known characters, Nintendo apparently decided not to manufacturer them beyond launch. At some point though, people did buy them. That meant once Marth, the Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer were out of stock... that was it. Essentially those figures, and lately Diddy Kong, became limited edition figures.

The problem was no one knew they were limited edition. When people figured out that the stock out on shelves was it, scalpers stepped in. Now you can find the figures on Ebay or Amazon for $60 to 80 a piece. People are obviously angry about this, so they asked Nintendo when they could expect restocks.

"We will aim for certain Amiibo to always be available," Nintendo replied in a statement. "These will be for our most popular characters like Mario and Link. Due to shelf space constraints, other figures likely will not return to the market once they have sold through their initial shipment."

At least these guys are safe.

The statement didn't much to mollify fans, partially because Nintendo neglected to explain which figures would be done-in-one. An updated statement wasn't much better, lacking any information clarifying if those characters would be coming back in stock.

"Some Amiibo were very popular at launch, but be assured that we have not discontinued any," a company spokesperson told GameSpot. "It is possible that some Amiibo in the United States, Canada and Latin America may not be available right now due to high demand and our efforts to manage shelf space during the launch period, but may return to these markets at a later stage. We are continually aiming to always have a regular supply of Amiibo in the marketplace and there are many waves of Amiibo to come. The distribution and availability of Amiibo in other regions around the world may be different."

If you wanted those figures, but wanted to wait for the holiday rush to die down, that seems to be too bad. In contrast, I've been collecting figures for Disney Infinity 2.0 - I'm a decently big Marvel fan - and I haven't had any trouble. Iron Fist or Groot may not have been in-stock when I went to my local Target or WalMart, but a week later I was able to find them. Even Disney Infinity 1.0 figures that were released last year are still available at retail.

Nintendo is still working out the kinks of being a toy distributor. They went conservative with certain figures in this first wave and Jeremy doubts they have any Wii Fit Trainer, Marth, or Village figures in warehouses. The company did announce that the three figures were back in stock at the Nintendo World Store in New York earlier today, but that stock has since sold-out. Those Amiibo figures are just gone and Nintendo seems completely unprepared for the demand.

Which of these Amiibo figures will be well-stocked?

The problem moving forward is Nintendo's vague statements have made people afraid for the availability of figures outside of the first phase. Scalpers are now in full swing; assuming that limited stock of second-tier and retailer-exclusive figures means there's profit to be made.

Rosalina is a Wave Three Amiibo (coming February) and exclusive to Target. The retailer launched pre-orders for the figure today and they were sold-out in under an hour. That leaves GameStop's Shulk and Best Buy's Meta Knight in contention. Toys R Us' Lucario has already joined Rosalina in "Sold Out" land.

Nintendo has a chance to rectify the Amiibo supply issues with these forthcoming waves, but the retailer-exclusive figures aren't instilling any confidence in consumers. The company's lack of communication means there's no indication whether Wave Two and Three figures like Pit, Sheik, Sonic, or King Dedede will suffer the same fate as Marth, the Villager, and the Wii Fit Trainer.

For casual buyers of Amiibo, the launch has been terrible. Disney Infinity is making hot cash money partially because the figures are always available; when someone wants to buy them, they can, and that money goes directly to Disney. With Amiibo figures being gone for the time being, exorbitant prices mean money that's not going into Nintendo's pocket. If I'm paying $60 for a Wii Fit Trainer, that means I may not have the money to pick up a Mega Man or Captain Falcon (who am I kidding, I'll always have money for Mega Man). In addition, resellers have resorted to selling the Japanese Amiibo figures to keep up with demand; demand Nintendo could be filling themselves.

Amiibo is in its early days at Nintendo. Let's hope the company can learn from its mistakes and actually provide supply to meet demand.

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Comments 22

  • Avatar for Elliot-Gay #1 Elliot-Gay 3 years ago
    Given the Wii U's troubles, I gotta imagine Nintendo was playing things on the conservative end in regards to Amiibo production. On the one hand, that means stuff is sold out and things have greater demand. On the other, stuff is sold out and there's no telling if they'll meet demand or not.

    I suppose such is the problem with a game developer going into toy production all of a sudden. What surprises me though is that Japanese studios/publishers/devs are no stranger to toy production. Even the nichiest of the niche game releases will probably get a figure or two. I know that Amiibos are inherently different in some key ways, but it still surprises me that Nintendo seems so unequipped to deal with the situation.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @RyougaSaotome Yeah, you're dead on about them playing it safe. But most game companies have external parties do their manufacturing and fulfillment — Nintendo even licensed Mario and Zelda characters for Nendroids and Figmas. This is different, though, as Nintendo is taking the burden on themselves for Amiibo.

    Amiibo quantities don't seem to be an issue in the UK and Japan, which probably shouldn't be surprising. Nationwide distribution is much less of a challenge in those very small countries than it is here.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #3 link6616 3 years ago
    I can attest to the fact in rural Japan getting any of the figures is relatively trivial. But that gamecube adaptor is just impossible to track down...

    I feel Amiibo will be a dangerous collection for me, I already have Peach Zelda and Link, and am eyeing off Wii Fit Trainer...

    Sonic, Rosalina, Megaman and Pit are also going to happen... Maybe Shulk too...
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  • Avatar for Daedalus207 #4 Daedalus207 3 years ago
    I picked up a Samus Amiibo for myself at my local Target about 2 weeks ago. I was curious about the Amiibo concept and figured I could spare $13 on an experiment. They had one Wii Fit Trainer on the shelf. I thought about buying it for my friend who "mains" Wii Fit Trainer in Smash Bros, but I wasn't sure if he already had one or not. Fast forward to today and this article, and I guess I should have bought it when I had the chance, huh?
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #5 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    My biggest problem has been the lack of clear communication from Nintendo, both to the consumers and the retailers. Clearly they weren't very serious about the street dates, because Toys R Us locally had half the Wave 2s on the shelf two weeks ago, and anecdotes from around the web seem to confirm that it wasn't an isolated incident.
    I get short packs with toys. But this is just stupid. That "shelf management" has just resulted in empty spots, filled with other amiibo by retailers that, given the time of year (it IS Xmas, after all), don't want half full shelves while Nintendo decides to ship more product.
    Personally, I'm still kicking myself for not just buying the whole damn lot of them on launch day. I was the only one at my local Target that first morning, and had my pick of the lot. I skipped Wii Fit Trainer because who would possibly want a yoga instructor for a fighting game, right? I'll grab it whenever. It's not like they'll sell out, right?
    Crap spackle.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #6 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @NiceGuyNeon Thank you. Why force me to shop places I don't want to, when all I want to do is give you my money?
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #7 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @NiceGuyNeon I take the retailer exclusives as another sign of Nintendo's conservatism with this venture. Retailer exclusives for toys are a lot like console exclusives for games — items that couldn't make it as a wide retail release get propped up by a healthy guaranteed order from a single retailer. This allows the manufacturer to justify production on that piece at a fixed, affordable, safe quantity without fear of having to buy back unsold stock from multiple sources.
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  • Avatar for dimasok #8 dimasok 3 years ago
    I still don't understand why anyone would want to collect ugly, Nintendo characters that look like shit anyways. Now if you were talking about the expensive bishoujo figures you can find on AmiAmi or any of those sites, I'd understand. But this shit? Give me a break.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #9 link6616 3 years ago
    @dimasok the 1250 yen price point is a lot less than those other figures you were talking about?
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #10 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @dimasok But the figures you're favoring are only that, figures. As the opening of the article says, this is more akin to physical DLC. Try as I might, none of the pieces of my "toy" collection are unlocking additional outfits for Mario Kart 8, or weapons for Hyrule Warriors.
    As far as their aesthetic value, I think they do a fine job of mimicking the appearance of the characters in-game, and aren't really intended for anything beyond that. I suppose at THAT point you could call those models "ugly", but that more of a value judgement, and less a statement of fact.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #11 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    I believe Nintendo has created an artificial scarcity to bolster a sense of rarity for the product, thereby fanning the flames of consumer perception of worth towards these trinkets. It wouldn't be the first time this company has done such a thing. Out of stock amiibos will be back and scooped up excessively by their demographic as planned.

    (Personally I'm waiting on a zero suit Samus before I bite.)
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #12 mobilesworking 3 years ago
    It's easy to be cross with Nintendo over supply issues, but their conservatism (more like risk aversion) is entirely understandable. Am I the only one surprised by the runaway success of Amiibo? Doubtless Nintendo wanted to avoid a scenario in which unsold Amiibo moulder in warehouses by the crateful.Edited December 2014 by mobilesworking
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #13 mobilesworking 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish It also keeps retailer relations nice and cordial. Social capital to spend the next time Nintendo needs a retailer to play ball with some piece of promotion. I'm buying a Shulk figure from Gamestop, for example; but you can be sure I'd buy it from Amazon if I could.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #14 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    I was already boycotting Amiibo because of the whole "$15 unlock codes for content that's already included in the game" thing (NFC chips simply do not have enough storage to actually house any DLC, and even if they could, they couldn't do so for all future Nintendo games in perpetuity); day-one on-disc DLC is crap when everyone else does it, it's crap when Nintendo does it as well.

    But now I can add "incompetent distribution" to the list. At least, I choose to believe that instead of the also-possible "deliberate artificial scarcity", given Nintendo's needlessly vague response to the situation. Lots of "may" going on in there, which is nonsense given that they have the numbers.
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  • Avatar for alexirish93 #15 alexirish93 3 years ago
    @Exhuminator They did that with the Wii, most famously. The big difference there is that they didn't put out one single shipment of the Wii and then discontinue it forever. That's become the case with even Wave 2 amiibo. What is the purpose of advertising something if no one can buy it?
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #16 Daikaiju 3 years ago
    I did manage to snag a Wii Fit Trainer, but it was buried behind several Pikachu and DK. The only ones I'm lacking from S1 are Marth and the Villager. I honestly thought there'd be more Villagers due the AC connection.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #17 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    @alexirish93 The thing is Nintendo can manufacture and produce another shipment of first wave amiibos if they choose to. I believe the "discontinued forever" is a ruse.
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  • Avatar for docexe #18 docexe 3 years ago
    @mobilesworking Yeah, I understand the risk aversion in this case. This new venture was unproven and if they ended overproducing figures, their finances and retailer relationships would have suffered. Besides, those characters are relatively obscure. I doubt they imagined they were going to sell their full stock of them, especially in America.

    Still, rather than outright cancel production after the first shipment, you would believe they would wait until the end of Christmas to decide which figures were going to be a one-time deal based on demand levels.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #19 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @mobilesworking That's where the "poor communication" comes in. Being conservative is fine, but when you realize you've underserved the consumer, your statement should be "we've heard you. We'll be reprinting X, Y, and Z in future waves to fix the issue."
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  • Avatar for mobilesworking #20 mobilesworking 3 years ago
    @MHWilliams I'm in full agreement re: communication. Looking back to the Tomodachi episode from earlier this year, it's clear that Nintendo has a long way to go in addressing its fans' concerns. Edited December 2014 by mobilesworking
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  • Avatar for fredgreen06 #21 fredgreen06 3 years ago
    The situation sucks but I have to admit its been fun amiibo hunting.Edited December 2014 by fredgreen06
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  • Avatar for kevincrandall53 #22 kevincrandall53 3 years ago
    @fredgreen06 As someone who went off the deep end on Marvel's Super Hero Squad toys several years ago, I saw that this could get bad for me. I had Villager and Wii Fit Trainer in my hand on Black Friday, but didn't pull the trigger. Somehow, my Gamestop here in Alaska had a Pit on the shelf. I didn't hesitate that time. Like fredgreen06 said, it has been fun Amiibo hunting.

    I currently don't have a WiiU, since we decided on getting an Xbox One "for the kids" for Christmas, but the WiiU will be the next console we buy. Possibly once we get our tax return. As it stands, I have Link, Samus, Wii Fit Trainer (JPN), Villager (JPN), Pit, and Diddy Kong.

    Honestly, the temptation has been there to sell a few of these guys/gals to be able to get a WiiU early, but I don't want to be that guy. My kids can be content with getting the adapter for their regular 3DS' for now. Who knows when that is coming out here in the US though?
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