My Consternation With Amiibo

It all starts with the e-Reader. I bought the e-Reader because honestly I thought it was a great idea. At the time collectible cards was still near its height and here’s a way to add stuff to games easily. In particular,  it seemed built for games like Pokemon and Animal Crossing which had lots that they could add to with custom pokemon or clothing that you might be able to download given the right card. It failed miserably. I got a few packs, but overall it seemed fairly difficult to buy any of the packs of e-reader cards, and I had no interest in the Pokemon TCG so I never really bothered with that set.

Then there is the Mii. I love Miis, they are extremely popular to this day. However, they also never were used quite as much as they were promised initially. Their limitations being used in Nintendo’s casual games like Sports, Wii Fit, or Nintendoland. When Nintendo put them in Mario Kart 8, I thought it was both surprising and strange considering it is way more fun to play a classic mario character than your mii anyway, but it is still a nice touch. Nintendo rarely opened up the Miis for use with third-parties which is really a shame because I remember reading articles with various third-parties expressing interest. Honestly, I feel that they should have opened up the API to allow anyone to play with them but Nintendo considers Mii an IP and as such they want to protect it, but in so doing they are limiting the promise of what Miis could have been. On top of that, with a new console they totally could have added in new outfits and features for the Mii to advance them even more, maybe even a slight update on graphics… but no. Miis got ignored, even gimped considering there isn’t an online stage that you can go and view and download other people’s creations anymore.

And this is my concern with Amiibo. In theory, I like it way better than I like Skylanders and Disney Infinity that came before. I mean here, instead of being stuck into a weird game, they almost act as universal DLC unlockers. Meaning, you unlock DLC in multiple games just for owning a cute little statue. When I think that I could unlock a character in Smash Bros that learns to play based on how you play with it, or a new suit in Mario Kart, or an item in Hyrule Warriors… I think this is a great concept.

I think about how these could be used in the future. I mean, like the e-reader before it, Amiibo seems to be tailor made for Animal Crossing which I have no doubt will launch on the Wii U in a couple of years. I also feel like it would work well with Mario Party which is out next year I believe… Maybe add new characters in the game that normally aren’t there? Maybe a helping system. Maybe a learning playstyle similar to Smash Bros. And what if Nintendo eventually put out a central Amiibo game. Maybe Amiibo World or something, similar to Skylanders and Infinity where owning the figures makes a difference on the characters. Coupled with the upcoming New 3DS that has support for Amiibo scanning, and we could also see support for games on that system so that opens it up even more. Nice touch Nintendo.

But then I think of, compatability with games. This concept works way better the more games that the Amiibos work for, and considering we are already at nearly 50 announced figures in the next 6 months, you can’t expect every Amiibo to have something in every game. But this lends to the problem of how many games can you expect each amiibo to have features for? Already there have been many reports that Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer are discontinued. And because of that, the value of those Amiibo has sky-rocketed. What then, presents Nintendo with the responsibility in the future to have a game that gives owners of Marth a little love? Will Marth only have compatibility for Super Smash Bros. and that is the whole reason why they discontinued it? Villager was a strange one to me to discontinue just because of how perfect Animal Crossing is for this… why didn’t they keep him out until that game came out? Will Village have support in Animal Crossing? It would make sense. Will we only see support in games where the characters are actually present like we see in Smash Brothers and Hyrule Warriors? Or will we see more little trinkets like Mario Kart 8? Wasn’t it a bit of a waste that they decided that all those fun outfits in Bayonetta of Nintendo IPs were included with the game for free instead of as Amiibo add-ons? I mean I’m not complaining but would have been some nice support there.

Then there is third-party support. Nintendo themselves has mentioned that they have already been talks with some third-parties and I have seen reports elsewhere (not sure where) from the third-parties that they are interested. But then, this is the same sort of talk we heard with Miis and we all see where that led us. And if, eventually, third-party games did support Amiibos, how would compensation work? I would guess Nintendo makes about $5 per figure from sales.1 How much would Nintendo give to Sega for including support for Mario Amiibo? $.50 per figure sold? $1.00? Or would they base it on usage of the Amiibo within the game similar to how Spotify pays musicians? For instance, that $5 per figure is put into a giant pot and if players use the amiibo in your game 20% of the time and other games 80% of the time, you get the $1 per figure. And will Nintendo be willing to pay others for using Nintendo’s IP? The fact that we will be seeing Mega Man and Sonic amiibos in February alone I find astonishing and I look forward to seeing that. I wonder how much of a share Sega & Capcom get for those. And I wonder how many more third-party amiibos we might see in the future?

There are a ton of questions right now with Amiibo even close to a month after their release and still not much solid. I like them, but I worry about them. I don’t know if they will get the support we all kind of hope for or if after this initial push it just kind of dwindles away. I don’t know if the current level of support will be the final level support that we can expect going forward. (Each Amiibo may have support for two or three games and that is it.) Right now Nintendo is really selling a hope and a dream. And unfortunately they have not had a great track record with this type of experiment. This one seems to have the most promise. It gives you something far more concrete in the terms of ideas than the e-Reader, and also provides an income the way that the Miis could not. But will the sometimes fickle Nintendo follow through? That remains to be seen. At the very least we will have some cute little figurines to enjoy even if the games don’t really turn out.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Do the math… $14 per sale… retailer will take $7. Let’s assume $2 per figure for advertising and production. $5 seems about right.