Nintendo chief Satoru Iwata laid out a course for the company's Amiibo toy line during a recent investor briefing that will see the NFC-powered accessories getting smaller, more numerous and more capable when paired with Nintendo software.
The most interesting aspect for game developers is that Nintendo sees these figures (the initial wave of which retailed for $12.99 apiece in the U.S.) as a cheaper alternative to packaged games that people may be more willing to purchase between tentpole releases.
"Consumers may feel the hurdle has been lowered to buy [Amiibo] one by one without seasonal gaps," said Iwata. "I think Amiibo can contribute to maintaining active use rates of Nintendo platforms by periodically bringing fresh topics to the applicable software through releases of new Amiibo figures."
The figurines already unlock content in games like Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors; going forward, Nintendo intends to expand their role as physical "content keys" by (among other things) releasing a free Wii U app that will let people play trial versions of NES/SNES games when they tap select Amiibo against the Wii U GamePad.
Iwata also noted that Nintendo will fulfill its plan of releasing Amiibo in card form later this year, and reported that the company shipped roughly 5.7 million Amiibo worldwide as of December 31, 2014.
The U.S. and Canada account for roughly 63 percent of all Amiibo shipments (chart embedded below), and Nintendo says it has sold roughly 70 percent of all Amiibo shipped worldwide -- with the exception of Australia, where Amiibo have managed to hit a sell-through rate of 90 percent.
For more on what Amiibo means for the future of Nintendo, and where it may go from here, check out this post-launch analysis.