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.
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.
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."
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.
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.