Nintendo wants more people like me. I’m a fanatic. I love their games, characters, and worlds, and I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. When Nintendo announced their line of Amiibo figures, my first thought was at how 6 year old me would have been flipping out about them. Today, I’m thinking about how disappointed 6 year old me would be.
My first introduction to Nintendo came in the form of Super Mario Bros. for the NES, which I played at my neighbor’s house. Coming off of the Atari 2600, the NES blew me away, and I simply had to have one. Little did I know that the Mushroom Kingdom was just the tip of the iceberg. Inside the box for my friend’s NES came a poster that opened my eyes to the worlds of Nintendo.
Just look at the first row on that poster. Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Kid Icarus. Then, as you look down, you see Donkey Kong, Punch-Out!!, Kung Fu, Pro Wrestling, and they all have check boxes next to them. I wanted to try them all, and if Super Mario Bros was any indication, I wanted to visit all of those worlds. As time went on, I got my hands on as many Nintendo games as I could, and with each game came another poster, loaded with new titles for me to check out. Not only that, but I discovered Nintendo Power, Nintendo calendars, little Nintendo PVC figures, Nintendo Cereal, Nintendo cartoons, and much, much more. I wasn’t just a Mario fan, I was a Nintendo fan, and I couldn’t get enough. I visited those worlds, I dressed as those characters for Halloween, and I was sold on the brand for life.
These figures in particular were the coolest thing in the world for me. I had a few Mario’s, Luigi, and the Princess. And boy oh boy did I want the Link, Little Mac, and King Hippo. I dreamed of what Samus, Pit, or Donkey Kong figures would look like. Sadly, I never got the Link or the Mac, and Samus and Pit were never meant to be.
And so it went. As time went on, Nintendo of America stuck with some brands, introduced new ones, and let others fade into obscurity. Slowly, Nintendo went from being a brand with limitless worlds to the company that makes Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon. Nintendo games that weren’t those three properties started to become fewer and farther between. Nintendo had let their diversity sit on the sidelines in favor of the surefire hits. Every now and again we would be treated to the worlds of games like Metroid Prime, Punch-Out!! Wii, and Kid Icarus: Uprising, but more frequently than not, you’d see the latest New Super Mario Bros. or Pokemon game.
Enter the Wii U. Nintendo has been stepping outside the box a bit, and providing us with some games that don’t necessarily star Mario. We’ve seen Wonderful 101, Pikmin 3, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. They even funded the development of Bayonetta 2! They introduced a toy line called World of Nintendo that, while prominently featuring Mario characters, is starting to branch off with Zelda and Metroid toys. They’re embracing the internet with memes like the Luigi death stare, and are introducing new IP’s like Splattoon and Dillon’s Rolling Western. Most importantly though, is Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U, and their accompanying Amiibo figures.
Based on the concept art of the new Smash Bros. game, Nintendo announced a line of figures featuring characters from their entire lineup. I could finally get that Pit figure I always wanted! There’s a Little Mac too? Mega Man? Fox McCloud? There weren’t words for how excited I was. Then they were actually released, and the troubles began. Marth, Animal Crossing Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer were gone before they even hit the shelves. Wave 2 preorders were being cancelled months before release. Nintendo of America signed deals for retailer exclusives. Anyone hoping to walk into a store and buy an Amiibo that wasn’t Mario, Link or Pikachu was likely sorely disappointed. So much for my Pit figure.
I understand the notion of making the most popular characters the easiest ones to find, but making the others this scarce is so counter intuitive it hurts. Nintendo’s biggest strength is the diversity of their brands. That’s how they got me. It wasn’t just Mario, it was the planet Zebes, the kingdom of Hyrule, and Angel Land. It was the World Video Boxing Association, Thomas’ quest to save Sylvia, and that stupid laughing dog in Duck Hunt. It was racing RC cars around a track covered in oil slicks, trying to figure out how to pronounce Faxanadu, and stomping my feet on the Power Pad. Sure, Mario was great, but he was just a piece of the puzzle. Nintendo had finally put itself in a position to capitalize on all their brands, and instead played it safe by filling their shelves with Mario and Link.
If they want to make more fans like me, they need to keep characters like Pit, Captain Falcon, and Fox McCloud right next to Mario and Pikachu. If you talk to someone who grew up with an NES or SNES, they will talk about all the fun they had with tons of games including Mario. If you talk to kids who grew up with a Wii, they will tell you about how much fun they had with Mario, and how they always wondered who those other characters in Smash Bros were. This is why it was foolish to cancel Nintendo Power, and why it’s crazy that games don’t come with posters anymore. Kids like stuff. Give them things to stick on their walls, and something they get in the mail that’s filled with pictures of all your characters. Then, when you fill retail shelves with those games, and figures of those characters, synergy is created. Kids will be drawn to the Mario Amiibo, and see a matching Little Mac and wonder who he is, or remember him from that poster they hung on their wall. With any luck, you just sold a copy of Punch-Out!!.
This is how you build a brand, and Nintendo is so very close to getting another generation of me’s. Unfortunately, they keep stepping on their own toes. They refuse to confirm that there will be another batch of those Amiibos that are now fetching stupid money on eBay, creating a frenzy and driving up prices. They’re going on record saying that those characters might make a reappearance as cards instead of figures. They don’t increase production of unreleased figures after preorder numbers surpass their intended shipment numbers. There’s a new Xenoblade Chronicles game on the way. You want the Shulk figure readily available, and while you’re at it, get more copies of Xenoblade Chronicles (which is playable on Wii U) on shelves. Make Pit as popular as Link by keeping Kid Icarus: Uprising on shelves.
I’m not a marketing specialist, and it’s far easier for me to write this than it is for Nintendo to actually do it. I’m well aware that it’s a huge monetary risk, but now is the time for risk. Look at how well Earthbound did on Virtual Console. Why wouldn’t you strike while the iron’s hot and give American audiences a way to play the original Mother and Mother 3? If Nintendo had the same confidence in their brands as they did when they reinvented the industry back in the 80’s, they could fill the gap being left by their competition. Nintendo is on the right track with Wii U by no longer attempting to compete directly with Microsoft and Sony, and instead filling their library with exclusive games. There’s a reason Call of Duty didn’t sell on Wii U. Anybody who wanted that game got it on another console. They bought a Wii U to play Nintendo games. Not just games made by Nintendo, but games made for Nintendo. Building an audience to play those games is what they need right now, and Amiibo could be the key to creating a whole new generation of fans like me. All they have to do is make it happen.