Two years ago, Nintendo made waves with their Amiibo line and attempt to get into the lucrative toys-to-life genre. Combining quality figurines with the promised of in-game rewards, Nintendo fans like yours truly jumped at the collection.
Today, things have taken a different turn. The fan-fare surrounding them has all but disappeared. There are reports of reprints of the first few waves, but even I'm having trouble getting excited about it. Nintendo was poised to make one of the biggest touchdowns in their history, but they've managed to stumble right at the end zone.
Stacking them up:
The Amiibo line was a very smart move by Nintendo and combined their powerhouse IPs with quality collectibles. Many of the characters who were in Amiibo form had never had other toys of this quality; such as Captain Falcon or Wario. Nintendo's promise of integrating the Amiibos into their other titles with unique rewards had our minds wondering as to what this could mean.
Throw in the same marketing tactics that has helped Skylanders and Infinity at the time, and Nintendo was having one of their biggest successes in recent history. A big reason for the success was tying the Amiibos to their biggest game at the time: Super Smash Bros for the Wii-U. Players could train AI characters who could be stored in your Amiibo.
While 2015 was an amazing year for the Amiibos, things have all but cooled off for 2016. There are still Amiibos coming out and a few I'm interested in, but Nintendo is no longer pushing them.
Looking at the market and their decisions, there are several factors responsible.
1: No True Purpose
The allure of the toys-to-life market is that the figurines you pick up will have all kinds of utility with the games. Each Skylanders title has backwards compatibility with previous figurines. In Infinity's case, you could use your figurines in the toy-box mode.
The point is you're not just buying a figurine that sits on the shelf, but something you can use. The Amiibos have been awful in this regard. The only games that have used the most Amiibos have been Smash Bros and Mario Maker.
Even then, their utility is nowhere near as useful compared to the other games. Nintendo wanted to have their cake and eat it too: They wanted highly collectible figurines that people would want to collect, but they also wanted to give them value within their games.
The problem with this is a simple one: You can't have it both ways. In order to give the figurines value, you would need to give them unique bonuses/features like Skylanders.
However, you can't do that with limited production figurines that not everyone could get. Instead, we got inconsequential bonuses that you wouldn't really notice otherwise.
Skylanders was smart in this regard. While figurines did become rare (especially store-exclusive ones), you only needed one of each elemental type to get through all the content of the game. Extra figurines would unlock more content and rewards, but weren't needed to see all the gameplay. Having special editions of select figurines did raise collectability, but the regular variants would work just as well.
Our next major point is how Nintendo went in a different direction than the other toys-to-life games, and how it has hurt them.
The point of the toys-to-life genre is that you have a game as the anchor for the figurines. The game takes full advantage of your figurines and becomes a platform in its own right. With the Amiibos, Nintendo was the only console manufacturer to embrace the genre which got everyone excited. However, they have failed to capitalize on the potential in one key area: The anchor.
There has not been any game released that makes full use of their Amiibo line. Imagine if we had a Smash Bros-like platformer that you could use the different figurines on.
More importantly, that game could be the base for other titles like the Skylanders games, or be expanded on like Lego Dimensions.
Without an anchor, you're left with figurines that are just gathering dust on your shelf. Amiibo functionality has all but disappeared from the marketing points from Nintendo. Without having functionality, the Amiibos lose a major draw of the Toys to Life market.
3: Stretching Thin
For our final point, we have the most disappointing one. What has helped Skylanders remain the king of the market has been the brand's willingness to grow and explore new areas. Not only do you have the regular Skylanders, you have the Trap Team, Giants, racing and more. With each new game, the developers add or change the functionality and style of the Skylanders.
Not only does this make each series unique, but it gives them more utility. With Nintendo backing the Amiibos, it's been disappointing to see them not do anything special with them from a production standpoint. Other than the plush Yoshis and retro-line, there have not been any radically different Amiibos. Imagine having super-sized ones of characters like Mother Brain or Andross.
Better still: They missed a huge opportunity to have Amiibos designed around the final smashes of Smash Brothers.
Instead, we're getting the same-sized Amiibos despite being two years into production.
The Toys to Life market is just like the regular toy market by the fact that you have to keep growing for them to remain popular.
The Amiibos seemed to have gone the way of Pokémon Go: A massive success for its infancy, but has not been able to sustain themselves in the market. With word starting to leak about the Nintendo NX, will Nintendo let the Amiibos die a quiet death?
Surprisingly, I was expecting Microsoft or Sony to try and follow suit with their own toys-to-life entry following the Amiibos. However, after trying to use motion controls, I'm sure they're being cautious about following Nintendo again.
As it stands, it's looking like Lego Dimensions and Skylanders are going to be fighting it out for market control for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how these two platforms continue to grow, as we've yet to see how Lego Dimensions will grow from here.
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