I like Amiibo in theory, I have many of them. But locking content behind them has to stop, immediately if not sooner.
I have no inherent dislike of Downloadable or even Additional Content.
Like any idea or concept, there are good examples – Hyrule Warriors a notable example where it further enhanced a game that was already content-rich. And there are games like Evolve which divvy-up the content and sell it to the players for sums of money whilst the main title is rarely worth the initial asking price on its own. When we talk about Downloadable Content and Additional Content, you have to concede that there are always two sides to the discussion and multiple examples on each particular side which justify a particular viewpoint.
Amiibo was Nintendo’s answer to the Toys-To-Life fad that was kicked off with Skylanders, and futher enhanced by Disney Infinity. The notion that a figurine could then be used in a digital landscape to offer perks, bonuses and costumes was a simple take on the formula which has been very successful for Nintendo as a company. There’s no question that Amiibo has been a genuine success and generated a lot of revenue for them at a time they probably needed the extra income. And if it were just a few costumes, like in Mario Kart 8, I’d certainly not consider that “essential” content, or anything someone would be missing out on.
The problem is lately, Amiibo has moved to walling off extra content behind the figures.
For the record, I have the three-pack of Splatoon figurines and the extra single-player challenges that come with them are actually really enjoyable. But therein is a criticism; you HAVE to buy the Amiibo to have access to this content and the additional outfits and perks those outfits allow, and those Amiibo are becoming increasingly more difficult to come by. Nintendo simply hasn’t made enough to satisfy market demand which extends beyond that of its Wii U and 3DS platforms.
Traditionally, additional content of this kind would have had a set fee you paid to download it and play it. As a digital download, an extra you pay to have access to, there is no limitation on that content and as such, the price remains constant. A £13 Season Pass for Mario Kart 8 would be £13 on the day it was revealed, or two weeks or two months later, even two years later. The only numerical limit on such content is dependent on how many copies of a game have actually sold, which means that for Mario Kart 8, that’s roughly 5.8 million users. If even about one-sixth of those buy the content at £13, that’s still about a million multiplied by £13, equating to the ballpark of £13 million. I like easy numbers.
Amiibo is limited by its physical quantity, of which is very limited. This means Nintendo can indeed help set the initial asking price – usually about £10-£15 per figure – but beyond that, when the supply is exhausted, they have no control over the numerical valuation of these objects. This ends up with the digital content they unlock being valuated alongside the physical scarcity of the toy they’re attached to, and we have seen Amiibo double in price and indeed, quadruple in price in some instances. The prospective market, seeing desire and seeing limited quantities of that product, move in to snatch up the scarce resource and sell it back to the actual market demand for higher prices.
If this was just the toys; I wouldn’t mind so much. I like to collect these things, but it’s not a do-or-die thing. If someone is scalping an extra 200% off the original asking price, I can do my usual thing of flicking them the finger and walking away. But – and here’s the thing – if that object also has actual content or the ability to unlock content that is on the disc? That’s a problem. Nintendo is letting a middle-man effectively in many instances dictate the asking price and therefore value of their own actual content. Nintendo is not seeing an extra penny of that money, and watching on as their own customer base is being cajoled into parting with extra money just to obtain a shiny thing in their game.
That’s a poor state of affairs. And Nintendo, today, further emphasised this with the Shovel Knight Amiibo – which we are told will unlock a co-op mode inside their versions of this Indie hit. Once more, we have content which will no doubt have to be patched in, if it’s not already in the software, and the customer will scramble to obtain a limited quantity of figurines in order to enjoy this option in their game.
If anything, I’d say this is the worst possible outcome for Nintendo. It’s true that the likes of Amazon UK have taken a dim view of the speculative market and sought in the last few weeks and months to get a little more consistency in terms of pricing and valuation, but the prices of various Amiibo are still fluctuated and differentiated on their own scarcity and level of desire. You can pick up a Dr. Mario for £10.99, but a Shulk (from Xenoblade Chronicles) will set you back £35.90. And whilst yes, Shulk has functionality for more than one game, the actual product is likely no more expensive to produce in the long-term.
Personally, this has really made me quite dislike Amiibo as a result. As toys, as objects of desire, I get that valuations on market scarcity happen. I still have a collectors copy of the PSX classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and that is worth a fair bit these days. But that’s a false equivalence; as valuable as the game is, it’s still the full game plus the additional music CD and art book. Amiibo are, for many, simply keys needed to unlock desirable content in a video game. Doom keycards. Each one unlocking a different door, and each one increasingly more challenging to obtain as time goes on.
But it has to stop. Nintendo, oddly, seems to have almost solved its own self-made crisis with NFC Cards. Collectable card packs which have an NFC chip in them. They’re cheaper to make and sell; cards are inherently inexpensive objects, they require less bulky packaging and less fiddly manufacturing and so on. But for the moment, they seem to be limited to the upcoming Animal Crossing spin-off. I can’t agree that’s a good place to leave them. It has to be expanded, because cheaper and more readily available options should be made. It would certainly help ease some of the Amiibo demand, possibly even stabilising prices.
Because as crazy as it is to say it, I wouldn’t MIND the expense of Amiibo or their scarcity if there were other options available that allowed this content to be accessed. It would be perfectly okay to have figures that increase in value over time, as is the way of many figurines. But these are figurines that gate content. Content that is, as a result, limited by the amount of Amiibo that people can access and afford. At a time it seems we’re heading quickly for yet another market recession (China was heralded not too long ago as the future big gaming market when it lifted a video games ban; how quickly things change…), the thing people will drop are frivolous extra expenses. That is all Amiibo is; an additional expense, DLC tethered to a physical product, content that is already on the disc as well.
I’d urge Nintendo to find alternatives. Amiibo may be a success; but success at what cost? Nintendo will be pushing the next console generation in the coming year, and the last thing they need is a market becoming increasingly irritated and frustrated over limited quantities of toys gating their content. Which is beginning to happen. After so long rebuilding their company and pushing high-quality video games that many of us simply want to play, it’d be silly to throw that goodwill away over what is, at the end of the day, a bunch of plastic figurines.
Nintendo can and has done DLC and Additional Content brilliantly this generation. Don’t assume Amiibo is the future, because it really isn’t…