Rosetta and Chiko: apprehended at customs (or ‘are too many people buying amiibos?’)
It’s 8.15 in the morning and I’m driving around the back streets of the town where I live looking for the Royal Mail Delivery office. It’s only open till 1pm meaning now is the only time I can go before I have to be at work, but I’m lost and soon I’m going to be late. Rosetta and Chiko (or to use their English names, Rosalina and Luma) must be around here somewhere.
Two minutes before I’ll have to leave I see an entire car park full of Royal Mail trucks. There’s a building next door, Rosetta and Chiko must be inside. I’ve got my card as well as the requested fee (£11.54, cash only). But now there’s nowhere to park. On closer inspection the area with the trucks is some sort of loading area with these big ‘no entry’ signs either side of the gate. Back the way I came was a shoppers car park but we’re talking a good five minutes walk away and I really can’t be late. And I can’t even see the door to get into the building.
I leave my car blocking the entrance to the loading area and run in yelling like some sort of madman. A nice post lady seems to understand my plight and points me to a secret door hidden behind one of the many identical red vans and I march on in. I’m not leaving without my amiibo.
Okay, so that’s essentially the end part of my ordeal to get the Rosalina and Luma amiibo figure. If you’re not sure what that is it’s basically a really rare one. In Pokékmon card terms it’s a Charizard, and if it was a Sega Saturn game it would be Panzer Dragoon Saga. As well as having to go to the delivery office I had to wait two weeks for it to arrive from Japan and pay extra for the international postage (totalling £17, compared to a RRP of £10.99) as it’s completely sold out in the UK. Then there was £11.54 worth of customs, which included a shameless £8 handling fee. So yeah, I literally spent my morning rescuing a princess who had been taken hostage. Unfortunately this climaxed in me paying the ransom to ensure her safe release, not me jumping over a giant turtle, hitting a big switch, and watching the turtle fall into a pit of lava.
Nintendo has currently sold 5.7 million amiibo figures. This is a huge number, but what does it even mean when demand has been left unmet? Rosalina has gained notoriety for being one of the worst to suffer from stock shortages, but newer amiibos such as Shulk and Ness look as if they will be equally hard to find. Other characters such as Villager, Little Mac and Wii Fit trainer remain rare too, and even the likes of Captain Falcon, Zelda and Fox have fallen victim to the shortage.
Of course this isn’t the first time there haven’t been enough Nintendo products to go around. Back in 2007 there was a Wii shortage, and games ranging from Wii Fit to Xenoblade were at times hard to find (Xenoblade still is). More recently there was a Pikachu edition 3DS XL, the Bayonetta 2 First Print edition, a highly sought after edition of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U that included an adapter for GameCube controllers, and a Majora’s Mask edition New 3DS XL that’s proving to be a little more limited than intended.
When we look at the issue as a whole (the issue being people want items, in this case plastic figures, but the shops don’t have them) there’s two possible causes for the problem. One is that Nintendo is underestimating demand and does not have the resources required to produce the amount of goods that the population requires. In order to satisfy demand they need to build a giant amiibo manufacturing station and probably employ some sort of child workforce to efficiently run it. The other cause is something we may find a little harder to accept: people are buying too many amiibos. What if Nintendo has actually made a reasonable amount (we know it’s at least 5.7, but probably nearer to 6 million) and the issue is that there will never be enough amiibos to satisfy our relentless hunger and greed for them.
In reality it’s probably a mix of both, although what’s notable about cause #2 is that it’s a problem without a solution, and insane popularity has recently created severe problems in other areas of the videogame industry too. Right now it seems that 2014 will be remembered as a year of disappointing, broken games that were rushed to release before suffering from crippling server issues. These are problems that are far from being resolved (Halo the Master Chief collection still doesn’t fully work, and we’re still waiting for the PS Plus version of Drive Club, for example). Without a drastic change in the way games are made, tested and released it’s in fact more likely that 2014 was simply the beginning of a much larger problem.
And that’s because the amount of people playing videogames is only going to increase. Demand will get bigger, better games will be expected to reach tighter deadlines, let more gamers play together online, and overall satisfy a larger and more varied demographic. And if a company decides to produce a range of figures based popular characters, well they should prepare for armageddon.
In the case of the amiibo figures the issues with demand are different to issues inside the games themselves, as were talking about items located in the physical world. Limited stock can sometimes be a positive thing, and many companies deliberately under stock products to help create buzz and excitement. By nature, a range of figures are going to be collectible, so it’s quite nice for them to actually have an element of desirability. I’m sure any parent frustrated at the inability to purchase a child’s desired amiibo would disagree with me on this point. ‘My kids just want the Villager’ is something I’m sure they might say.
Still, the other thing with the shortage of a physical product is that if you’re determined enough you can usually get what you want. For an amiibo this could mean importing from Japan, or paying a premium on a site like eBay. The downside here is you have to deal with scalpers who deliberately buy up stock to resell it for a profit. Even after customs, my Rosalina figure still cost less than it would have to buy within the United Kingdom.
In comparison, issues of demand in a virtual space give the consumer far less choice, and when you can’t get what you want here there’s nothing you can do about it. Perhaps this is how the real sensation regarding the amiibos got so out of hand. If Halo doesn’t work that’s too bad, if Assassin’s Creed keeps glitching out then that sucks, there might be another patch soon or whatever. But if the amiibo you want is out of stock on the GAME website, you can scout out your local retail outlets, try and grab a deal at an online auction, look into importing one from Japan, or simply queue up outside the shop before the next wave launches to make sure you don’t miss out again.
As more and more issues regarding demand are pushed out of our control it’s likely that people will continue going a bit nuts over that which they can effect. Disappointingly, the increase in the popularity of videogames has had this negative side effect, without resulting in better games. Instead we’re seeing a lack of innovation from the companies that are profiting most from this demand. A series that makes money year in year out is too big to risk trying anything new, and it doesn’t even matter if it’s finished as long as it’s out for Christmas. If it doesn’t work that’s too bad, there will be another one next year anyway.
Nintendo stands out as a company far removed from these business practices, and it’s perhaps not surprising that the amiibos have demonstrated how much people really love their characters. At the same time I can’t help but feel ambivalence for so many AAA games which are making huge sums of money from a similar demand. I’m sure that soon we will have to address the following question; are too many people playing videogames? If the answer is not just yet, then how long do we have left?