April 2nd, 2015 will be forever remembered as the day this whole amiibo craze went off the rails. Jigglypuff arrived on Target's website for a grand total of seven minutes before disappearing entirely. Then, Best Buy's pre-order stock went up - and down - just as quickly a few hours later, thanks to leaked retail SKUs on Reddit. And to cap it all off, several thousand GameStops around the country found themselves in digital gridlock as fans lined up and tried to pre-order Robin, Lucina, Wario, and other Nintendo favorites, and we watched as they slowly went out of stock in real-time. It personally took me two hours to walk out of the store with a Ness pre-order, thanks to GameStop's insistence on using its web in-store system, while not bothering to tell a legion of F5ing fans at home that amiibo wouldn't be available on its website until after in-store orders were completed. I have nothing but middle fingers for all of this.
How the hell did we get to this point? Europe and Japan don't seem to have the same amiibo stock issues that we do in North America. In fact, the only time they seem to run out is when we Americans import them all because we can't get our hands on them over here. But the relatively smooth sailing of the amiibo rollout in other countries highlights just how fucked we are in comparison. It's bad, and it's showing no signs of getting any better.
These issues (which will inevitably lead to the Great amiibo Riots that will sweep the nation) are caused by a combination of problems, a melange of stock issues and exclusivity deals that coalesce into nothing but sadness. Some will claim that Nintendo is driving up demand through artificial scarcity, which I'd vehemently disagree with, except that they've, y'know, done this sort of thing before. Remember how hard it was to find a Wii for nearly a year? Or how about all those neat limited editions that Nintendo makes a couple thousand of, and how they disappear entirely in seconds?
Now, there's no proof that Nintendo is doing the same thing with amiibo. Despite being a company that makes games about magical Italian plumbers who eat mushrooms to grow stronger, Nintendo is an incredibly conservative company, and its shareholders and upper management are (logically) risk averse. There was no guarantee that this amiibo craze was going to take off like it has, and it's entirely possible that Nintendo just didn't anticipate the demand. Couple that with the length of time it takes to make and ship new figures (as demonstrated by the Marth restocks coming six months after initial supplies dried up) and how spread out North America is in comparison to Japan and Europe, and yeah, supplies are definitely going to be strained. There’s also been a port strike going on that has effectively halted all Asian imports for months, forcing many companies to airlift their goods into the country. So yeah, while the stock shortage isn't caused by any one thing in particular, it certainly looks better to executives and investors to make a small amount of something and sell 100% of it, than it is to make a large amount and only sell half.
Stock shortages suck and all, but it wouldn't be so bad if every store had a fair shot at every amiibo. Just wait until they all go on Amazon and pre-order there, right? Well, not so much. Several stores have elected to choose a certain amiibo and hold it hostage as a 'retailer exclusive'. That Rosalina amiibo you're coveting? Better hope you pre-ordered it on Target's website within a five minute window at two in the morning, or waited outside one of its stores in the freezing cold for an hour, or you're shit out of luck. And of course, if you're pre-ordering online, you're beholden to each store's web servers, most of which simply aren't designed to handle a sudden influx of millions of amiibo-crazed collectors from all across the country.
Exacerbating this issue even further, information is just not communicated well at all. Jigglypuff randomly showed up on Target in the morning, only to disappear completely once word got out. Toys R Us posted its amiibo pre-orders around midnight PST, which was actually four-to-six hours earlier than originally reported. GameStop told customers to pre-order in-store and online the day before, only to change its mind to only allow in-store pre-orders the day of, but released that information in an internal memo. I only found out because I saw it posted on Twitter. Thousands more had no idea, and tried to pre-order figures online - like they were originally told - and brought the servers to a crushing halt.
This two-pronged assault has effectively destroyed anyone's chance at being a legitimate amiibo collector. If there was stock to be found, retailer exclusives wouldn't be such a big deal. But since stock is an issue, getting rid of exclusives means every store has at least a fighting chance at being able to provide something. Retailer exclusives serve no one but Nintendo, who are able to make even more money on less product with these kinds of deals. It's anti-consumer and it's bad for business. Look at GameStop: the store I was in couldn't make a single transaction for hours thanks to the server crash. GameStop potentially lost out on millions of dollars in transactions from other paying customers, and for what? Just to pre-sell a few thousand amiibo?
Currently, the only way you can be even a small-time amiibo collector is to get real obsessive about it. You have to study retail schedules, follow multiple Twitter feeds, and trawl forums in the hope that a retail insider posted some hot scoop on pre-order times. Fans of amiibo have become the saddest cult in the world, as we study arcane release dates and trade horror stories of our own experiences. You can walk into any amiibo line and find yourself surrounded by like-minded people, as you exchange light nods and sullen glances with each other. We all know your pain. Join us in this fruitless quest for plastic Nintendo toys.
It shouldn't be this way. If you look next to the amiibo racks, there are hundreds of Skylanders and Disney Infinity figures waiting to be purchased, and those companies continue to make money hand-over-fist on those things. If I want a Donald Duck figure, I walk into the store and give them money for a Donald Duck figure. End of transaction. Sure, if I want a special, super-rare Toys R Us exclusive variant, I can put a little more work into getting one, but it's just that: a variant. It's a special figure made solely for collectors. You can still buy a normal Donald Duck and have it work in-game like it's supposed to. But no, Nintendo continues to trot out how you can use King Dedede in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, or how you can use Shulk in Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, but good fucking luck actually either finding one.
And amidst all of this crap, this Byzantine labyrinth of stock shortages and exclusives and misery, you know who gets hurt the worst? The fans. The kids. The people who love characters like King Dedede or Marth or Mega Man who just want to have a cool little figure sitting on their shelves. The people who are more than willing to give Nintendo a bunch of money just to have some official Nintendo merch that also happens to do something cool in the games they enjoy. Those people are getting put through a physical and emotional wringer, all because Nintendo has horrifically mismanaged the fuck out of the amiibo roll-out in North America.
So, you know what? Until this whole stock situation gets under control, I'm done. My collection will sit on my shelf, unfinished, because it's not worth it. It's not worth waiting two hours in a store while my fiancée feeds our infant son in our car (I'm so sorry, honey, I had no idea it would take that long. You're amazing!). It's not worth dealing with the disappointment that comes from refreshing a website for a half-hour, only to have something disappear completely. And because everything is going to get sold regardless of site issues or consumer mistreatment, no one is going to learn a damn thing from any of this. So yeah, until I can go in a store and buy the thing without subjecting myself to retail torture, this amiibo fanatic is out.
Those Yarn Yoshi sure do look adorable, though.