Many of Nintendo’s amiibo figures are downright adorable and, at first glance, may seem like nothing more than a goofy gimmick. Competitors best beware, though: with a year under their belt in the ever-growing “toys-to-life” segment as of Nov. 20, amiibo are taking no prisoners and are well on their way to dominating this hugely popular video game segment.
This should actually come as little surprise considering how wildly loyal Nintendo’s fans are. After speaking with Pierre-Paul Trepanier, general manager of Nintendo Canada and a self-described “amiibo uber-fan,” it becomes clear very quickly why these figures are primed to outsell the current toys-to-life leaders, Skylanders.
First, a quick primer for the uninitiated. Toys-to-life figures, such as the aforementioned amiibo and Skylanders as well as Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions, use special technology to expand and add features in video games. Players literally touch figures to a system, device, or controller, and characters, weapons, items, and more will instantly appear in the game being played.
When I began speaking with Trepanier, I expected just another buttoned-down executive; someone who would spew a whole bunch of statistics while talking about “synergies within the market.” Oh, how wrong that is.
It takes all of about five minutes for Trepanier to unabashedly geek out about all things amiibo – his favourite figures (he loves his Marth and Shulk), how cute the Yarn Yoshi amiibo is (SO CUTE), and what his family uses the most right now at home (once again, it’s all about Yarn Yoshi).
And that, says Trepanier, is why amiibo are selling so well, particularly in Canada, where the company has had to increase its supply numbers “from thousands to tens of thousands.” He says it’s not just kids buying them, and although Nintendo fully expected the hardcore fans to gravitate toward amiibo (which they did), he’s noticed over the last year that a much broader audience has been embracing them.
What that has lead to are sales “way beyond what we were expecting,” says Trepanier. That popularity, as Nintendo found out the hard way, was a double-edged sword. Some figures in the initial run of amiibo proved to be far more popular than Nintendo envisioned.
Trepanier says that few people at Nintendo ever thought the Wii Fit Trainer, for instance, would be in such high demand. Sure enough, that character and many others sold out quickly, and there were plenty of conspiracy theorists who were convinced Nintendo was purposely holding back product in order to create the illusion of higher demand.
Trepanier brushes away that notion immediately, saying the entire reason for Nintendo existing is to make fans happy by providing as much product as possible. He puts it quite succinctly: “We’re not happy when we can’t get enough product.”
Now that Nintendo has a legitimate hit on its hands, it’s clear the amiibo onslaught won’t be slowing down any time soon. The amiibo lineup may have grown drastically in the last year, but Trepanier says the manufacturing timeline for new figures is “fairly long” – in the ballpark of six to nine months. He notes that Nintendo is just as picky about the quality of amiibo as it is about its games.
Trepanier uses the Robin amiibo from the Fire Emblem series, the character is holding a spell book that even includes tiny runes on it. Trepanier says that kind of attention to detail may not be noticed by younger casual fans, but long-time players of the Fire Emblem series will see that and appreciate it.
As for the future, amiibo were featured prominently during Nintendo’s most recent Nintendo Direct video. A Wolf Link figure will launch with Twilight Princess HD for Wii U, and late 2015 and early 2016 will also see a Gold Edition Mega Man, Lucas, and Shovel Knight, among others.
Trepanier seems far less obsessed with sales numbers, and he insists Nintendo is perfectly happy to co-exist with other toys-to-life brands. The most important thing to him is that Nintendo hardware – specifically the Wii U and 3DS – is the number one destination for toys-to-life fans. He’s not shy about pointing out that the Wii U is the only current game system on the market that is compatible with every toys-to-life brand.
So if you’re an adult who’s a little shy about displaying your Animal Crossing Villager and Inkling Girl amiibo at home, just remember there’s a decent chance you’ll be the source of envy, and not the target for insults, the next time your adult friends visit. And you’ll always be the fun aunt or uncle or mom or dad.