Nintendo's range of amiibo toys has been a commercial success, shipping over 10 million units (at the last count) and giving the company a much-needed additional revenue stream during a time of considerable turmoil and upheaval. However, the amiibo story hasn't been entirely positive, with some figures proving to be impossible to find in stores and scalpers having a field day as demand effortlessly outstrips supply. The end result is damaged consumer confidence and frustrated fans, and while Nintendo is finally taking steps to remedy this situation, it's clear that the public hunger for amiibo is insatiable - and into this boiling storm of dashed dreams and disappointment we have the world's first device for cloning and distributing amiibo data, though a device solely for backing up data from figures you own has previously been released.
We reported on the existence of Amiiqo recently and predictably the story gained a lot of interest. We've since gotten our hands on one of these devices and decided that a unique feature was required not only to explain what it's all about, but also to look at the circumstances surrounding its creation and whether or not it's something you should consider supporting yourself by making a purchase. Is Amiiqo promoting piracy? Does its mere existence mean that amiibo sales are going to plummet? Or is it an answer to the problem of archiving amiibo data? Hopefully by the end of this piece you'll be able to make up your own mind on the matter, but first, let's take a closer look at this thing.
What exactly is Amiiqo?
Amiiqo is a plastic disc about the same size as the base on an amiibo figure. It's a rather unremarkable item, with the only notable features being a button - which we'll come to in a bit - and a sticker, which on our unit was subject to a rather unfortunate printing error which hardly seems acceptable on something which costs £50 / $80 (Edit: since this piece was written the price has dropped to just under $50). There's a hole in the middle of the disc, but we're not entirely sure what purpose this serves. Because the Amiiqo uses NFC tech - just like amiibo figures themselves - it doesn't require power to operate, so there's no battery inside and therefore no need to open up the device.
The disc is capable of storing up to 200 different amiibo "images", and these can be fresh, unaltered images or backups of figures you've already levelled up in Super Smash Bros. on Wii U or 3DS. Using the companion Android application, you can dump amiibo data to the device for storage - a prime consideration when you take into account that Nintendo doesn't currently allow any way of "banking" your amiibo data, and amiibo figures can only store one portion of "write" information at any one time.
How does it work?
The Amiiqo itself acts just like an amiibo toy, and when placed on your Wii U GamePad or New Nintendo 3DS touchscreen will imitate whichever amiibo character is currently loaded as the default. Up to 200 different amiibo characters can be "banked" at any one time, not that you'd want to because the only way to cycle through each figure is to hold down the Amiiqo's button and tap it on the sensor. The power drawn from the console allows the device to switch to the next character in the bank's queue, but it's a fiddly process which means you'll probably want to keep the number of characters banked to a minimum. Also, outside of the Android companion app, you have no way of knowing which character comes next in the queue.
Controlling your bank of characters is all done via this free-to-download application, and it goes without saying that you'll need an Android handset with NFC capability as well. Tapping the Amiiqo on to the phone shows the amiibo data currently banked on the device, and edits are carried out in the app. Changes are only actioned when you tap the Amiiqo a second time.
Using the app, you can actually dump data from your existing amiibos in .bin format and load them onto the Amiiqo, which is of course one potential use of this item - storing all of your precious amiibo data in one place without having to carry around those expensive figures. Of course, a less ethical application is that amiibo data obtained online can be loaded onto the Amiiqo, completely removing the need to purchase amiibo figures. It's also worth noting that's not possible to write data back to a normal amiibo figure that you've previously dumped for archiving - at least, we weren't able to. This makes the notion of using the device as a way of managing your amiibo data a little hollow - sure, you can dump and retain your progress using this device, but it will remain on the amiiqo forever and won't be able to be copied back to the amiibo which generated it.
So there's the basics. To outline the positives and negatives of this controversial device, we're going to have a little debate. Editorial director Damien McFerran will play part defender, part devil's advocate, while Editor Thomas Whitehead will put forward the case against Amiiqo. Court is now in session - keep it down at the back, please.
The argument in favour
I love the amiibo concept, and I've done my bit by collecting a few figures here and there. I love what Nintendo has created with this unique take on the toys-to-life concept, and - unlike rivals Activision and Disney - I appreciate the fact that Nintendo has ensured that these toys have longevity by making them compatible with multiple games. The figures themselves are also great, boasting plenty of detail and character, and I think this has been instrumental in their success at retail; even grown adults who don't own a Wii U or New 3DS are buying these toys, as they represent characters that they were in love with as a child.
And therein lies my point regarding the Amiiqo, a device which some have accused of promoting piracy - when you buy an amiibo, you're not just buying its functionality and connectivity with games, but rather the toy itself as a physical collectable. As someone who has limited space at home and a wife who simply wouldn't tolerate a shelf packed with plastic knick knacks, my amiibo collecting days are effectively numbered unless I want to shove them all in a drawer out of sight. However, I crave the delicious unlocks that these figures provide - Captain Falcon's costume in Mario Kart 8 is needed to get the full effect of the iconic Blue Falcon kart, while the Splatoon toys - rarer than rocking horse droppings in my part of the world - grant access to loads of new challenges and items. Like a petulant child who notices the candy jar is just a little too far out of reach, I want all of this stuff, but I don't want to have to line the pockets of some opportunist on eBay for a plastic figure which is useless to me after I've used it to access such unlockable goodness.
Having said all of that, if I knew tomorrow that I could walk into my local video game store and buy a Splatoon amiibo for the recommended UK retail price of £10.99, I'd do it without hesitation, despite my previously-asserted stance on pointless plastic figures. However, because I know that no store in a 100 mile radius has these things in stock, Amiiqo suddenly becomes a more viable alternative.
You could argue that the Amiiqo is therefore the ideal device for people like myself, who, without it, are unlikely to purchase any more amiibo toys. It offers a way of getting access to bonus content which I might otherwise miss. Until Nintendo follows through on its promise of cheaper - and abundant - amiibo NFC cards, then this really is my only realistic option. The straw that broke the camel's back for me was the aforementioned Splatoon amiibo, which - as I previously mentioned - seems to be impossible to track down anywhere for a reason price. Why pay through the nose online from a scalper when I can get an Amiiqo for the same price and avoid such disappointment in the future?
I know I don't speak for everyone, and I am in a small way depriving Nintendo of potential cash by accessing features I should, by rights, be paying money for. However, it seems false to lump this in with software piracy, which involves entire games being downloaded without exchanging any money. Amiiqo doesn't make a physical amiibo toy appear in the palm of your hand, and I'd argue that most collectors just want a cool-looking Link or Samus to put on their bookshelf, rather than the NFC unlocks contained within. With Amiiqo, you're essentially getting a very small part of its value, which is the functionality within games - games you've already had to pay for separately, it should be noted. As such, the Amiiqo's appeal to hardcore amiibo collectors is limited, as they arguably desire the toy more than the functionality, which, in most cases, is merely a sweetener.
I argue that Amiiqo is a product of its time - Nintendo has failed to keep up with demand and as a result there are many people who now resent the fact that portions of their games - purchased with hard-earned cash - are off-limits purely because they aren't prepared to sell a kidney to buy a lump of plastic from unscrupulous resellers. As such, it's a valid response to a situation which sadly should never have happened. Oh, and it also means I don't have to endure the prospect of a cupboard full of toys which I never use.
The argument against
As I sit here looking every bit like Keanu Reeves (not really) I feel compelled to keep my side of the argument simple. Heck, I'm barely going to talk about game industry ins and outs, because it's a basic ethical perspective.
All people should, as part of their human rights, receive fair treatment from the the law and - in a better world - have key essentials to live; I'm talking about the nitty gritty of water, food, a decent place to live and an opportunity to get by within a fairer society. Many don't have those things, but this isn't The New York Times or The Guardian, so I'm hardly going to get into that in any detail right now. My point - and I do have one - is that some people of privilege (which anyone with internet access and a computer reading this most assuredly is) have warped ideas of what we deserve to enjoy, wanting to pay little or nothing for life's pleasures. Illegally downloading TV shows, movies and video game copies without paying for them is theft, then, plain and simple. I'm not saying punishments for this should be harsher or anything like that, I'm just calling a spade a spade.
So, using a cloning device to create, distribute or download amiibo data is piracy, it's theft and it's mischievous. Damien deliberately showed Falco amiibo data scanning out of the device in an image as a reminder of what this thing really is - that figure won't even be on sale until 20th November. Not only does Amiiqo come loaded with data for an amiibo we don't own, it's for an amiibo that no-one should own.
Bearing in mind that Damien's taken the bullet of defending this device, I have the easy job. I can get on my high horse and say it shouldn't exist, and that there's a reason it's sold on shady little websites and not by major retailers. It steals Nintendo content and let's anyone use it, facilitating the darker side of the web.
As highlighted above there can be a tendency, I've noticed, for some people to want a lot of stuff for nothing - "it's unfair", "I can't afford it", "I don't approve of amiibo so I'll be a rebel and enjoy them for free". That's all rationalising something that's ethically wrong. I quite like amiibo, but now I've figured out their limits I'm picky about them, only buying those I simply must own. Sure, I'd love the Splatoon content from that game's amiibo, too, but I can't find the figures for less than £20 each online, on a good day. I've decided I don't think that's a fair price - and I have limited funds for these sorts of things - so I don't have them. Never mind, life goes on, I can live without it.
I could, of course, help myself to the data on the toys to unlock the game's content. But here's the thing, I don't consider myself a thief, and I think if someone makes a product they're entitled to receive payment for it from customers. If I don't agree with the price they set I don't support it, but I don't get to enjoy it either. That's fairness.
Amiiqo isn't designed primarily for backing up existing files (another product called PowerSaves is, but does slightly naughty stuff like boosting a figure's stats), it's just a minor feature that happens to be included. It's designed to let you use data and access content for amiibo you don't own. Enjoy the content without paying Nintendo - that's not ethical.
That's my perspective on this product. It is what it is, there's no lipstick that can make this pig more attractive.