The Amiibo Bubble

5 Aug

Once upon a time, a company produced lots of cute little toys for a reasonable price. They were so popular they zoomed off the shelves, hitting eBay where prices skyrocketed. Rare toys reached thousands of dollars. People made a living off of that resale, quitting their jobs to make sure their fingers poised for online sales. Obsession gripped the market. Then the Beanie Baby Bubble crashed.

Oh, you thought I was talking about Amiibos? Well, everything above is true about the current Amiibo craze. Nintendo is pushing out its sixth wave of Amiibos and branching off into yarn plushy versions for the new Yoshii’s Wolly World. Right now you can find a golden Mario Amiibo on eBay for over $10,000. There are no signs that the craze will stop any time soon, either. This is good for anyone investing in resale, but sooner or later the bubble will crash – just like Beanie Babies and just like the housing market – and leave those who thing Amiibos are an investment holding a bag.

Alright, so some Beanie Babies are still worth a mint, but the average plush toy that rocked the 90s is worth about $0.50. So the $5 up sell on the Jigglypuff Amiibo isn’t too bad, but buying Marth for $150 was just a bad idea in the long run. In 30 years, maybe some middle-aged man nostalgic for his youth will want your Marth, but he probably isn’t going to pay more than $30 for it. Amiibos will go the way of the Beanie Baby unless Nintendo pops this bubble and fast.

It’s not impossible. Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, deflated the bubble forming around their trading card game (Magic). This has kept the game and company stable, letting them rake in profits year after year. The NPR podcast Planet Money did an amazing job on that story and you can find it here. The basics, however, are that Wizards didn’t exploit its players desire for really rare cards.  Instead, they devalued the most expensive cards by printing greater quantities of new cards and re-releasing some of the more expensive older cards. They did this without completely bottoming out the market (one card sold for $12,000 just a few months ago).

So what does Nintendo need to do? First it needs to acknowledge the problem. Amiibos should enhance gameplay in the many games that incorporate them on the Wii U. The current system encourages retailers to sell directly on eBay at skyrocketing prices and not for the retail value they would get on their shelves. Chris Kholer at Wired made this suggestion:

“Sell the entire new batch exclusively through its own direct retail site; give buyers plenty of notice about when it will be available; make sure said availability time is in a convenient window and not in the middle of a work or school day; sell them at precisely said time; and rigorously enforce a one-per-customer rule, scanning through transactions and canceling any attempts at fraud.”

Additionally they need to make the Amiibos more fun to play with, adding value to the figurines that has nothing to do with money. This will keep people interested in the Amiibos for more than just their collector’s value. Another suggestion would be to re-release some of the highest selling Amiibos, enough to make them easily accessible at retail stores.

The question is, are they going to do this? The last two Amiibo announcements have contained only three characters each (Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl, and Inkling Squid for Splatoon and three differently colored Yoshi plushies for Yoshi’s Woolly World) which will make it easier for customers to find the toys on the shelves instead of exclusively on eBay. Will this solve the problem? Unlikely. Especially when the Yoshi plushies only offer cosmetic game changes.

Whether Amiibos are just another toy bubble or a lasting gameplay feature is still unknown. Their fate is solely in Nintendo’s hands.


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