Nintendo's Q1 financial results were some of the most uneventful in recent memory; we're not expecting a President's Presentation or Q & A as they aren't the norm for the company's Q1 reports. What the financial results brought were losses and low sales, which weren't surprising in the slightest; anyone following Nintendo will have known that there were no big 'hits' between 1st April and 30th June, at least not on a global and mainstream scale. Also, as Nintendo made clear not long ago - prompting a slide in share value - it won't benefit in a big way financially from the success of Pokemon GO. The silver lining is that Nintendo's projections for profits were left untouched, as it evidently has faith in the Pokemon effect on 3DS with Sun and Moon, while launch NX sales in March along with smart device revenues from Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem should also contribute.
Aside from the telling statistic that the first quarter of the financial year had no million-sellers for the big N in software, one other set of numbers stood out as alarming. The amiibo range only shifted approximately 1.7 million figures and 1.3 million 'card-types' globally in those three months, with the company's report acknowledging this was "mainly due to a lack of new titles that are compatible with amiibo".
First of all, let's address how disappointing that figure of three million is in a broader context. The table below is from the Q3 report in the last financial year, covering up to 31st December 2015; it's particularly useful as it shows quarterly sales since the range started on the market.
The card range was also held up as a major success at that point, even if the numbers were dubiously inflated by counting each individual card despite them being sold in packs of three. The cards for Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer were taken up most enthusiastically in Japan, however, with the figurines remaining the key product in Western territories.
In some respects, however, that Holiday period was a perfect storm for the range. The cards were relatively new, and there were multiple promising amiibo for different games, moving beyond the core Super Smash Bros. batch that had started it all. At the close of 2015 Nintendo highlighted "over 80 types" of amiibo being in stores supported by "over 25 compatible games" - lots of variety, plenty of games using them, and after troubles in the first 6-9 months on the market there were also improvements in stock supplies. They were easier to buy, more varied and more attractive than ever.
Q4 of the last year showed a slight dip from those aforementioned highs, but that would be expected for sales between January and March; overall momentum was still cited as high. Ultimately, in its year end results, Nintendo could highlight impressive growth for amiibo.
Of course, if amiibo sales hit a peak in Holiday 2015 thanks to major releases, diverse ranges and solid stock, Q1 of this year (1st April to 30th June) has been the opposite. Wii U and 3DS have had some enjoyable games in that window, but none that have taken off at retail nor put the amiibo range to its best use. We've seen amiibo in the likes of Star Fox Zero and Kirby: Planet Robobot, but not in a manner to blow the doors off. It's also worth noting that the recent new Splatoon figures won't have contributed to the Q1 results, either. Much like the game release slate, the amiibo part of Nintendo's business had a painfully quiet and largely uneventful first quarter.
The numbers are interesting though, and arguably prove a key point about the range and its merits. There is sometimes eager debate around whether amiibo are collectibles or video game accessories. Both is the correct answer, as it depends on each individual consumer, but these low Q1 numbers are a reminder that the 'collectible' part of the market is a limited part of the product's success story. Not everyone collects every amiibo to sit in their box forever - plenty, like this writer, have them sitting loose on a shelf to actually be used in games. They look nice out on display, but from personal experience I've bought roughly half of my collection because of neat tie-ins and features in games, and the other half because they look cool.
If amiibo is lacking one factor or the other - charm and collectability / video game compatibilty - then the range missed its potential. In the first 18 months or so of the range's existence its managed that balance well, up to the point its sales were boast-worthy up until the end of March 2016. These disappointing Q1 numbers aren't overly concerning, as such - April to June is a weak sales window anyway - but rather a reminder that amiibo can't coast along with minimal support.
Quite how amiibo evolves will be interesting, especially as we see whether Nintendo can take its early success and make it a long term part of its business. There are new figures on the way to accompany Mario Party Star Rush this year, while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will also have its own figures; we can only assume that the NX will support amiibo, too. One area that is still slightly baffling is that there's no announcement, yet, of extensive amiibo for Pokemon Sun and Moon. If any product could shift tens of millions of amiibo cards - in particular - it's Pokemon. Maybe that's a surprise that's yet to be announced.
In any case Nintendo is like every other major corporation - it likes making juicy profits and expanding successful products. The amiibo range has been a big win for Nintendo in this generation, so it seems highly likely that it'll be a notable part of the company's future - for those of us outside the walls of Nintendo HQ in Kyoto, we can only assume that exciting plans are in place for the next 12 months and beyond.