Opinion: Can Amiibo Save the Wii U? – Part 2

Skylanders and Disney Infinity take up a lot of shelf space—in stores and at home. Their brands are front and center in this genre, and it becomes a question of whether there is actually room for a third, major-player brand to enter the market. Nintendo has not had a huge presence at retail in terms of their associated toys and merchandise over the past decade or so. Their characters may still be recognized, but how often do you see kids buying Mario-themed toys in the department store?

And maybe, just maybe, that’s actually a good thing for Nintendo. Look at it this way: Instead of seeing the lack of retail presence as a negative—ie. no one’s buying Nintendo merchandise, so who’s going to want a Mario figurine game?—maybe that just means their presence will present Nintendo products in a fresh way that garners attention. If it hasn’t been seen before, and they do it right, people are more apt to notice! We notice shiny pennies in the street if they weren’t there the day before—maybe Nintendo’s amiibo is that shiny penny about to drop at our feet.

There’s also the issue of cost. For those who decry the emergence of a third set of ongoing, game-by-game, expensive figurines onto store shelves, Nintendo has the equivalent of a gentle pat on the head for reassurance: They’re planning for the amiibo figures to work with multiple games, instead of the “generational” approach taken by Skylanders and Disney Infinity.

In the most recent investor briefing on the subject, Satoru Iwata explained that the figurines “are going to work with multiple software titles to be released in the future, and we are aiming to develop more software titles compatible with the figurines. Nintendo has a lot of well-known character IP that has originated in video games, and we have been regularly releasing titles from game franchises that make use of this character IP. This is why I believe a brand-new type of platform will be born when the character IP becomes compatible with NFP [amiibo].”

Yes, profits are important. Especially with Nintendo sitting where it is in the industry, needing to recover from several years of suboptimal revenue intake. With only so many characters in their catalogue (though there are many), this may put pressure on Nintendo to release more games using these characters—but with a figurine having the capability to cross between games and maintain its own data, cash-strapped parents and players who can’t afford a new set of brand new figures with every game have less to worry about. A whole new set of game content versus a whole new set of figures needed to play each game? From this author’s perspective, what Nintendo is planning to offer is, straight-up, better value for your dollar.

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With the amiibo being able to write data and support character customization, Nintendo may be looking at a new, strong brand for the company—consider the slew of indie games and small-studio releases on the eShops. Could these factor into the plans as well, perhaps providing crossover possibilities for small and large studios? And having these toys on the shelf, a new face in an existing market, will this make Nintendo’s products more visible than they might have otherwise been if we’d been sitting in a period of Nintendo-product market saturation?

Nintendo wants and needs to find that sweet spot they hit twenty, thirty years ago, where kids and adults alike saw and recognized Nintendo toys and products and wanted them. They’ve said since January that they wanted to boost the visibility of their IP, but until the amiibo announcement, we hadn’t really seen any tangible way they were planning to do to (the McDonald’s Happy Meal promotions around the globe don’t count).

And really, isn’t something like amiibo more exciting, useful, and beneficial to the consumer and Nintendo fan that a flood of Yoshi plushies or t-shirts? Nintendo has always been very protective of their brand and the image of their products—licensing out rights very selectively—and what better way to maintain control than by creating figurines for games themselves?

Iwata’s comments at the fiscal briefing only emphasize this:

“Both [Skylanders and Disney Infinity] are compatible with character figurines and have created an extremely large market for these products … our primary focus, however, is not to develop software that is compatible with figurines. Rather, we have been developing figurines since last year because we believe there may be different approaches or ways to appeal to consumers by using them, and this could also be one way for Nintendo to utilize its character IP.”

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It is entirely possible that this could be the move that revitalizes Nintendo and its dismal sales of the Wii U. With the recent, mild surge of Wii U sales after the release of Mario Kart 8 (which is one of the titles announced to be compatible with amiibo), and with Super Smash Bros. coming later in the year, Nintendo appears poised to climb back up into the position of being a viable player in the video game industry once again. A holiday release for amiibo could be the perfect alternative to the new Skylanders and Disney Infinity games (also releasing around the same time), providing parents with an option that—in the long term—may be more financially sustainable.

It also helps that there’s no need for an additional portal to use amiibo on the Wii U, since the figures will be read by the GamePad’s NFC reader. With the 3DS, there will be an additional portal coming out early in 2015, but from the start the Wii U edition should provide a more affordable option to parents and money-conscious adult players. We’re going to cross our fingers that Nintendo packages the early amiibo in a comparable way that makes sense, presenting their new figurine brand as a viable alternative to the competitors.

Of course, we can speculate all we want on whether amiibo will succeed and bring the Wii U the success and recognition it deserves, but only time will tell if Nintendo has chosen the right area in which to focus their endeavors. With a wide catalogue of characters who are highly recognizable the world over, this could be the right time to launch Mario back into the realm of global popularity. And perhaps even revolutionize the currently-dominated-by-two genre.

 

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Faith
Author: Faith View all posts by
Faith likes games and books and cake and writing and Lara Croft, not necessarily in that order. She also thinks a Skylanders cartoon show is a really, REALLY good idea...

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