Talking Point: Nintendo's Ambitious amiibo Plans - Pros and Cons

An exciting platform with lots of unanswered questions

Earlier this year, as part of a major presentation following Nintendo's annual financial results, Satoru Iwata unveiled the Nintendo Figurine Platform, which was then announced with some style as amiibo during E3 2014. The initial E3 reveal focused on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, though a follow up gave a little more information to state that the toys will work across multiple titles, admittedly with no tangible explanation of how they'll work.

In fact, the general theme around amiibo is one of mystery. We know what they look like, even enjoying a close look in some attractive booth demonstration, but much of what we know is conceptual or related directly to Super Smash Bros. on Wii U. We talk up and believe that amiibo could be a huge platform for Wii U this Holiday season, and also on 3DS in 2015, but that's based on limited information.

As we're now surely just a few months away from these toys / collectibles arriving in stores, we've decided to weight up the pros and cons — or positives and uncertainties — so far, based on the concept and marketplace they'll drop into.

Pros

Nostalgia and Brand Power are Powerful Motivators

Nintendo has made clear that it'll be exploring new opportunities to promote its brand and broad range of IPs, and amiibo is the most powerful representation of that to date. The range revealed so far is ideal on that score as it's branded for Super Smash Bros., a series that thrives on bringing together an improbable and diverse cast, in which Mario can battle with the Wii Fit Trainer, or Pit can face off with Captain Falcon. The inclusion of third-party characters shouldn't be forgotten, either, and as Nintendo's goal is to release an amiibo figure for every character in Smash Bros., we can realistically hope for Mega Man, Pac Man and Sonic to make an appearance.

For devoted Nintendo fans, the amiibo toys — especially due to the charming and impressive quality in the demonstration figures — are potentially a dream come true. This writer has no interest in the Skylanders or Disney Infinity toys, but has already earmarked at least half a dozen amiibo figures that will be impossible to ignore. We suspect that applies to plenty of others, too, so combining those cool toys with features in various games through the GamePad is very welcome. With its characters so recognisable to multiple generations of gamers, Nintendo has a real opportunity to tap into that nostalgia.

One toy, multiple games

Activision and Disney have made a lot of money from their respective toys-to-life franchises, but Nintendo seems to be trying to find a balance between maximum profits and affordability. There'll be plenty of toys that'll cost a fortune to collect, but the company has already promised that a single toy will work across multiple games, while their function in Super Smash Bros. is as an optional extra to assist in battle. There's no sense yet that not buying any toys will detract a great deal or limit content in the game.

As the diagram (above) from Nintendo's initial pitch shows, amiibo toys should be cross functional across multiple games, a point emphasized at E3. While a Smash Bros. Mario may have special abilities in that game, there'll be default Mario abilities in subsequent titles, all part of the concept of providing value for money; no portal is needed on Wii U, either.

More Than Standard NFC

While existing titles and their toys store data and allow characters to be carried around and dropped into games, Nintendo is promising a little more depth in the NFC toys for amiibo. The E3 presentation emphasized that Smash Bros. toys, for example, can be used to assist in battle, used as opponents or even set into viewable matches with other NFC toys. That figure will level up and learn from its fights, and there'll also be customisable moves and training options. The key point Nintendo's keen to push is that, through customisation as an example, you're able to determine and dictate the data that's saved, opening the door to various possibilities across other franchises.

A Promising Line-Up of Support

As a reminder, the following games will all support amiibo functionality in the future:

3DS Sales Will Help Drive the Platform

The focus this year will be all about Wii U, with Nintendo no doubt hoping to use the new attraction to also drive attention towards the home console. We shouldn't forget that next year will also bring a peripheral that will allow amiibo toys to be used with the 3DS, which will open up opportunities similar to those outlined above to the portable, useful in giving the system a greater push as it moves (probably) into the latter half of its generation.

Cons

Nintendo's Been Slow to Build Anticipation

It's slightly concerning when we consider that the amiibo range is potentially only a few months from release, assuming targets are hit and it arrives alongside the 'Holiday' Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. We're moving into mid-August and we've heard nothing about the platform since E3 in June; beyond unanswered questions, which we'll come to, it leaves Nintendo less time with each passing week to build excitement about the range. It needs buzz in the mainstream market, which can help encourage retailers and prompt them to buy a lot of stock and reserve shelf space for the range. Nintendo has to get moving.

Use of amiibo in Other Games is Still a Mystery

We have a decent idea of how amiibo will work in Smash Bros., but as for other games we have little idea. Considering the fact that the other confirmed games are Mario-themed or in that 'universe', will a Samus figure — for example — work in some way? What will we be able to do with an amiibo figure in Mario Kart 8? We don't know, and that taps into the issue above — Nintendo's taking uncomfortably long to explain further, and we can only hope that the details will be worth waiting for.

Managing Expectations Will be Tricky

We've commended Nintendo's plans to support multiple games with amiibo toys, but unlike the focused offerings from Activision and Disney that brings some serious pressures. Just this week some expressed disappointment when it emerged that amiibo is unlikely to be usable (retrospectively) in Hyrule Warriors — it wasn't actually stated definitively, but it's highly unlikely and implied. We were surprised anyone though they would be on the table for the Warriors spin-off, but that shows how expectations don't always sit well with reality.

With any major first-party release Nintendo will be asked how it'll use amiibo. What about Splatoon, or The Legend of Zelda? Is Nintendo going all in with amiibo, or will they be dabbled with in occasional releases? Either way, the admirable model perhaps puts pressure on the company's developers to shoe-horn features into games.

It's a Seriously Crowded Marketplace

If you go into a specialist game store or even browse a games section in a larger outlet, odds are good you'll see Skylanders and Disney Infinity toys. Nintendo's trying to horn in on that shelf space, also competing with this year's fresh releases. Parents will be watching budgets and will surely be picky, and children may want to continue with their existing favourites. This can be countered with some of the positives we've outlined above, but it's a legitimate challenge for Nintendo. LEGO is even jumping in with its 'Fusion' range of sets that'll integrate with smart device apps, so there are a lot of big players fighting over the interactive toy space; Nintendo's not even confirmed how much the toys will cost — there are speculative pre-orders online — beyond them being comparable with rivals.

Pricing and visibility are vital, which remain uncertain and unknown factors at this stage.


Overall, Nintendo has plenty in its favour in making amiibo a success, but there are also some serious obstacles and challenges ahead. A priority, we'd suggest, is getting the word out as soon as possible.

Are you optimistic and excited about amiibo? Let us know in the poll and comments below.

Are you optimistic about success for amiibo? (451 votes)

Definitely, I think amiibo will be a big success

23%

I am, even if there are a few minor and niggling concerns

41%

I'm not sure right now

21%

Not completely, I have doubts that need to be eased by Nintendo

10%

No, I think the platform will struggle

6%

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Are you excited about amiibo? (433 votes)

Yes! I can't wait to buy and use some figures

48%

I am, though need a few more details before I really dive in

26%

I'm firmly on the fence and need to be convinced to buy them

12%

Not really, but I'm open to hype that'll change my mind

7%

No, I have no interest in amiibo

7%

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