The Amiibo craze has continued to aggregate on the back of their collectability and rarity alone. Now’s the time for Nintendo to add a new dimension to their line of figures.
There are currently 18 near field communication creatures here staring across the carpet from their shelf space. Most of them are straight from the Nintendo pantheon of recognizable mascots – three versions of Mario, two of Yoshi, Pikachu, Legend of Zelda characters etc. Pac-Man and Sonic are just visiting this gaming landmark and Splatoon Boy is still working on gaining membership, but all are welcome given their level of visual detail and appeal. Of that 18, only Pikachu and Fox are free from their plastic chambers, and still collect dust in their copious free time.
Nintendo’s line is not only the second-newest contender in the NFC figurine business (Lego just started with Dimensions), but is also the runt of the litter when compared to genre giants Skylanders and Disney Infinity. A runt only their number of figurines that is; the Big N has already a massive, profitable chunk out of the market. As of December 2014, Amiibo had already surpassed Activision’s billion-dollar franchise and equaled Disney’s in the midst of Avenger’s fever seeping from Infinity 2.0. More recently, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima gave an update that these hand-crafted pieces of nostalgia had sold over 21 million units worldwide since launch and 800,000 within the US throughout October 2015 alone.
Discounting the cards, there are currently 87 Amiibo either already out or coming soon, putting them a bit behind Disney (100+ figures) and well behind Skylanders (344 figures). The unit-moving power of some of the first faces people recall when gaming is mentioned trumps not only a well-established entertainment Monstro in Disney but also a fellow gaming and money-making giant in Activision. Despite their Wii U issues, no one can sling character-based product like this centurion fun factory named Nintendo.
But transition is spinning the compass of the Big N these days. Their first Direct presentation since the death of former president Satoru Iwata just happened with plenty of good will in its wake, but 2016 sits as a gigantic, flashing question mark at the moment. The position that the company has situated itself clouds both questions and answers until one topic is prepped for discussion: NX. A vast majority of their plans undoubtedly revolve around this new piece of hardware that remains shrouded for fear of competitive thievery, but 2016 is coming on schedule despite Nintendo’s own. The public will be hearing all about these clandestine features and new angles the NX will offer soon enough.
One of those new angles, given how transitory so many company ideas are at the moment, should directly and simply address Amiibo. There are 20 games with NFC functionality across Wii U and 3DS currently with 12 of those being either in a mostly or entirely read-only state that can only add something to the game, not save anything to the figure. And the majority of those additions are cosmetic which, to be honest, isn’t all that different from Disney Infinity given that most of the characters have the exact same move set. Infinity does, however, have its own ecosystem for creative possibility with their massive roster of highly-recognizable faces. Lego created one as well in Dimensions and their separate play sets, and Skylanders offers yearly playgrounds for their newest and weirdest creations to frolic.
That has to be the next step for Amiibo: an ecosystem for these creatures to call home. And looking at the NX, DeNA partnership, and the company’s mobile ventures, Nintendo could make this engorging section of their portfolio a harbinger of brand loyalty.
Imagine the NX launching with their new Club Nintendo replacement active, and Amiibo are the fuel that help it run. The New 3DS and Wii U, as well as most smart devices, already have NFC readers to connect your figurines to Club Nintendo 2.0, making NX the hub where your points/coins and play experiences can blend together. Scan a brand new Donkey Kong figure on your phone and receive a reward for your purchase much in the way the old program worked, plain and simple. Connectivity between all devices with a central hub would weave an extended ecosystem that follows you with your 3DS or phone, and continues the Nintendo tradition of rewarding those that love their games and products. These 18 creatures could then become coins and prizes, if not digital incarnations inside the new NX itself, and have an entirely new dimension added to their ownership that increases their standalone value.
There are more than 21 million Amiibo out there, but I’d be willing to bet the vast majority are sitting either unopened or hardly used. To an Activision, that might not matter; Nintendo is one of the rare companies that wants to change things beyond the initial purchase, encouraging players to re-engage with their software and hardware as much as possible. Your platform is set, Nintendo; your characters have penetrated homes everywhere and become collection standouts. Now is the time to give them a real, focused purpose across your hardware family. Your company shouldn’t be satisfied with just another one-off NFC game. Nintendo’s next step for this army of plastic-wrapped computer chips should just be as simple as bringing some more Amiibo out of their original packaging.