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Opinion: The Amiibo Frenzy is Getting Ridiculous



The scene: it's right after the latest Nintendo Direct. I'm hunched over my laptop, humming with excitement over trailers for new Fire Emblem games. I love Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword was my first tactical role-playing game. I devoured every game in the series.

There were four years between the last two Fire Emblem games released in North America. I played 2013's Fire Emblem: Awakening like someone who had spent years trudging through the driest desert and suddenly came upon water. I played it through three times, only once on Classic permadeath mode, because I accidentally lost Donnel and there was no way in hell I was forging ahead without him and decided I couldn't bear to lose anyone else.

I am not a collector. I'm known to purchase the rare oddity of merchandise connected to video games and franchises I like, but I'm never of the mind to break the bank on them. I never cared for amiibo, but now they fill me with rage. It is the rage of someone who has loved and lost, through denial. If you don't care about amiibo, it's easy to dismiss others' fervor for them. That is, until you catch that fervor against your will.

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I knew Lucina and Robin, the Fire Emblem amiibo, were coming for months. I had already missed out on Marth and Ike the first time around, because I was so swamped with life things that I missed pre-order windows. I eventually shrugged it off, thinking, "I don't need to spend $26 on these when I bills to pay." Right? RIGHT?

Back to the present. The morning after the Nintendo Direct I walk into work at nine. My desk neighbor, editor Peter Brown, tells me that GameStop pre-orders for the new amiibo start at noon. He already has the GameStop webpage open to the amiibo section.

I mean, there's no harm in just pre-ordering them. I'll pop the site open around noon, grab a Robin and Lucina, and then learn how to main them in Smash to justify the purchase. No big deal. They look pretty, I love the game, I love the characters, so what's $26, right?

But also going up for pre-order at noon was Ness, a GameStop exclusive amiibo. I do love Earthbound... If I'm going to buy two amiibo, I might as well through a third on there.

Fast forward four hours. Peter and I are tense in our seats, frantically refreshing a web page that has been displaying a maintenance message for an hour. Peter is quiet. I am a loud, angry mess, shouting at my screen, groaning, frantically checking NeoGAF and the amiibo subreddit and Twitter for news of what's going on. People are already Tweeting that Lucina and Robin are completely sold out. I feel sick. I shout across the office to News Editor Justin Haywald, who is having the same problem. He stares sullenly at the broken GameStop webpage, shaking his head. I refresh Twitter again. I send my boyfriend this text message:

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But do I REALLY not care anymore?

In four hours I went from "maybe I would like these tiny plastic toys" to "I HATE EVERYTHING BECAUSE I CAN'T HAVE THESE TINY PLASTIC TOYS." But why? I'm normally a reasonable human being. But in the span of a morning, I went from feeling indifferent to amiibo to utterly outraged that I could not purchase the ones I want.

Most amiibo buyers fall into three types of categories: hardcode collectors that want them all, hardcore fans of certain franchises that just want one or two figures, and the casual who aren't that picky. I was firmly in the latter camp until the announcement of the Yoshi Yarn amiibo, which fueled my interest in the Fire Emblem amiibo and sent me into a tailspin of need. The people in the hardcore collectors and fans camps are the ones waiting outside brick-and-mortar retailers at 8 a.m. for a noon pre-order because this is their passion: they collect, it is their hobby. These tiny rare things enrich their lives. I argue that the hardcore collectors are more intense than the hardcore fans, as the hardcore fans aren't the ones spending $13 a pop on 50-plus amiibo.

But why are some of them so hard to find? Nintendo only manufactures a certain number of each amiibo. Therefore pre-orders of amiibo act differently than other pre-orders. Horribly, sadly, differently. Normally pre-orders are a way to inform retailers and companies how many units of a certain product to order. If the demand is there, the supply will increase. But with amiibo, it's like a restaurant reservation; there are a limited number of tables to sit at, so if you didn't make reservations fast enough won't be getting a fancy dinner that day, or in this case a tiny plastic toy.

Last December, Nintendo issued a statement saying the scarcity of some characters is deliberate. "We will aim for certain amiibo to always be available. These will be for our most popular characters like Mario and Link," reads the statement. "Due to shelf space constraints, other figures likely will not return to the market once they have sold through their initial shipment." Then and now, Nintendo has offered no further details on what characters will be harder to find.

I think Nintendo is failing to read its audience here. It's clear there's a high demand for all amiibo. Isn't the idea to get these out to the most number of people, so more Nintendo fans can have the full experience? People may be more willing to buy a game if they also have access to the amiibo that go with it. Isn't it better to enrich someone's playtime with Code Name: STEAM by making sure they can access Marth and Lucina amiibo? Wouldn't it just make more money for Nintendo if everyone who owned Super Smash Bros. could also buy the Villager and Rosalina? You would think it would be better if more people could play the game to its fullest limits.

Hold onto your butts.
Hold onto your butts.

Another thing that bothers me a bit about this whole amiibo craze: Hardcore collectors purchase amiibo and keep them in their boxes. They are never played with. And for every collector with an amiibo pristine in his box, there is a kid out there who really wanted to play Smash with a Fox or Ike amiibo and can't, because they don't have hundreds of dollars to drop on eBay.

Makes you feel kind of guilty, doesn't it? It's like that line from Toy Story: Toys are meant to be played with. It makes the whole thing seem really gross. I'm watching grown adults waste their energy on chasing toys; I'm watching them lose their minds on Twitter because they can't buy a Greninja figure. I keep thinking about the little kids at home that just want to play Smash Bros. with Greninja and can't because they didn't get in line at a GameStop at 6 a.m. to get one. The whole situation is weird to me. I'm not blaming collectors, but I do think eight-year-olds are probably less understanding about supply and demand woes.

There are two ways to point blame here. Nintendo's been feeding both the Wii U and 3DS with a steady stream of releases the past year, and it looks like 2015 and 2016 could be more great years for software. The company has embraced DLC, launched an online store, and been forward-facing in a lot of its more recent endeavors as far as consumers are concerned. Except when it comes to rare goods. Remember what happened with the Majora's Mask New 3DS XL? Nintendo was mum after the disaster, and they've been mum about the Wave 4 woes as well. There's aren't enough amiibo to go around, and Nintendo seems oblivious to this, like they genuinely don't know or care that their fans climbing over one another for tiny plastic versions of their most beloved characters.

As for that second point of blame, that's us. We did this. We did this to ourselves and we love it. We rail against Nintendo and retailers for squeezing us out of buying these toys, and we readily do it again and again and again. We allow this to happen. We stand in pre-order lines for hours, huffing and puffing about the wait and how we took off work to wait the entire time. We crazily refresh websites for hours, crashing an entire company system with our hunger for tiny Charizards. The amiibo fever exists because we make it so, passing it along to one another like kids on the playground pass mono. Stop placing your lives on hold to pre-order a plastic figure the size of your middle finger. That figure won't put bacon on the table or keep you warm at night. Stop waiting in lines for hours and just go to the store to get them when it's convenient for you; don't feed the hysteria.

But back to me. At 3 p.m. I gave up hope that I would get my Lucina and Robin amiibo. When Justin told me he was planning to get up at 4 a.m. for the Toys R Us online pre-orders, I sadly responded that I would not be joining him. In one day I had caught amiibo fever and completely burned it out, discouraged and disgusted at myself.

The day after the amiibo fiasco, I am exhausted. I don't own any amiibo and I don't know that I will ever consider purchasing one ever again, even if I think it's a cool addition to a game I own. I can't bring myself care as deeply as I know other people do, because the heinous, enthusiasm-killing atmosphere surrounding the amiibo market has driven me away.

Nintendo is limiting its amiibo market by limiting access to the amiibo people want; that's a lot of sad fans and a lot of dollars lost. People want certain amiibo because they love certain series, because Nintendo has created something that they enjoy and adore and they want to deepen their connection to that franchise. By deliberately making fans fight for a chance to buy an amiibo, you're dividing the community and your audience.

So please: don't get so riled up over amiibo. Although if anyone bought an extra Lucina, I will happily take it off your hands.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

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