I hate to make two Nintendo-centric posts in a row, but I’ve been meaning to talk about amiibos for too long. Of course, amiibos aren’t a novel item. They were inspired by the Skylander craze – a bunch of toys that could interact with a video game in ways that drove kids nuts. In my mind, the real amazing part about these toys isn’t their design or utility, though those are also impressive at times. No, what really interests me is how effective these toys are at marketing and pushing a singular brand among a very valuable demographic – children. So, today, we are going to look at how Nintendo has managed to tap into an incredibly lucrative market with these tiny little toys.
Skylanders introduced the model of combining physical toys and digital games, but I’d like to focus on the amiibos, as that’s the new thing right now. Everything Nintendo is doing, Activision has already done with the Skylanders and, suffice to say, Skylanders has made an amazing amount of money for Activision with its physical and digital push. For those not in the know – amiibos are little statues of famous Nintendo characters. These statutes have a sensor in their base that interacts with the Wii U’s Gamepad, and allows data to be transferred between toy and any number of games. This is a built-in feature of the Gamepad, signifying that Nintendo anticipated rolling out amiibos prior to the release of the Wii U, despite only having started upon the release of Super Smash Bros. a couple years later.
So, what these toys do is interact with games. For example: if you have a Mario amiibo, you can scan it into your system and make a custom CPU fighter for Super Smash Bros. This fighter will learn and grow as you train it on your game. When you’re done, you save the training and customization data back on the toy, which can be brought to somebody else’s house, where you can upload it onto their Wii U and fight with your friend’s amiibos. These toys also interact currently with Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8, with multiple upcoming releases which also accept them for various functions.
What makes the amiibos so amazing as a business move is how Nintendo has figured out how to capitalize on selling two products to consumers instead of one. From a business standpoint, this seems like a no no. It requires consumers to both purchase an expensive game (not to mention the system) and then begin collecting a series of toys. That’s a hard sell, but one Nintendo was in the perfect position to capitalize on. It also didn’t hurt that the concept was proven via Skylanders. What puts Nintendo in a great position is their huge history and immediately recognizable characters. People want Nintendo toys as it is. Making those toys do something else is irresistible for many. This is especially true with the $13 price point that amiibos sit at. This is just low enough that people are fine with impulse buying one – and when you’ve bought one, you’re already in Nintendo’s grasps.
You see, the concept behind these figurines is the exact same one behind Nintendo’s other sensation, Pokemon. People are pushed to collect them all. This would be enough to make Nintendo an ungodly amount of money, but they did something even more genius. What they did was make a scarcity. You see, some amiibos aren’t released in as large a number as others, nor are they printed further. This makes them collectors’ items. What’s interesting is that nobody expected this, thus people are starting to think that every amiibo may become rare. Accordingly, preordering has skyrocketed on the toys. It’s actually fun to go onto Amazon and see how much people are selling some Amiibos for. There is a real demand, and collectors will stop at nothing to get them all.
Which is to say, Nintendo has been targeting the Nintendo faithful, people who grew up with their games and are ravenous for more. That’s a pretty effective marketing ploy, but not the larger key to Nintendo’s future success with the toys. Bright toys, with memorable character appeal primarily to children. These are the people who are going to become the future Nintendo faithful, and the ones most likely to buy into the Skylander model. To a collector, that Pikachu amiibo isn’t worth much, but to a child, it’s a partner and friend and they’ve gone on many adventures.
And what’s so great about that is how it burns brand loyalty and recognition into the minds of these children. Everyone will know Mario and Pikachu and any other number of amiibos. So, when these kids are older at the video game store, or (more likely) browsing a digital store, when they see King Dedede’s face plastered on a game, they will be drawn to it through memories of their past with the amiibos. It all works very well in conjunction with Nintendo’s steadfast record of quality. They aren’t selling nostalgia to later sell bad products. They are selling nostalgia so people will buy their extremely well-done games.
The amiibos also synergizes very well with their big cross-over games. For awhile now, Nintendo has brought many of their mascots together for large-scale party games: Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario (insert sport here), or the obvious Mario Party. Adding a physical component to a game where people are expected to pick their favourite and route for them, is, once again, genius marketing.
The best part of it all is that it works. From a conceptual standpoint, there’s a lot that could have gone wrong. The amiibos could have released to no sales, and have been immediately dropped by Nintendo. This was a special risk since the Wii U has only recently begun turning things around. However, it does work. Nintendo has made over a billion dollars from the amiibos so far. What this means is we’re going to see more amiibos, more games that support the amiibos, and more frenzy surrounding them. Perhaps a cynical person would lament our consumer culture. Not me. I think this is exactly what the market needs and, more importantly, wants.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer