As I’ve written before, I’ve been gathering amiibo since launch, but I’ve only recently begun to define myself as a Smash amiibo completionist. Something just snapped in my brain shortly after wave four was announced and now I’m in it for the full 51.
My acquisition strategy has been mixed for wave four. I tried to preorder them. Dear God, did I try to preorder them. But between misinformation (unintentional or otherwise), retailers course correcting after leaks and website crashes, Preorder Day came and went with me securing exactly 0 preorders out of the eight new figures (11 once my hands-on time with Splatoon convinced me that I needed to have the 3-pack.) Most retailers’ preorder plans were varying degrees of disorganized and, in the fullness of time, it became apparent that Amazon had decided to get out of the preorder game entirely. That didn’t stop me from checking amazon.com at least once a day for several months just to see if they decided to try that stealth stocking b******* that other retailers tried. In the end, I decided to try something new in order to catch ’em all.
Joining the NVC Amiibo group on facebook has been a godsend in the leadup to this wave. Rarely will you find a more uniformly kind and helpful group of individuals – on the internet of all places. Interacting with this community has led me to realize that amiibo hunting is its own religion. We all pray to the same Amiibus, but we fit into different denominations that add various flavors to our belief system. Just like with conventional religions, it all comes down to what you’re willing to live with.
There is a narrow denomination of amiibros that insist their amiibo all be from a specific region. I subscribed to this ideology for a time. I was US-only until amazon.com “delayed” my Pit preorder. I’d never seen a delay before and since Pit was my favorite character, I. Freaked. Out. amazon.de came to my rescue and once that particular amiibo cherry was popped, there was no going back. Now my collection is a healthily diverse amiibo UN, where Das Pit and Ein Lucario rub shoulders (sometime literally depending on the display situation) with Muribito (Villager) and Purin (Jigglypuff.) Since preorder situations have gotten so out of control in the States, I’d argue importing is a necessary evil for collectors. I shudder to think how many intrepid US amiibo hunters would have lost their damned minds by now had Nintendo not broken with their long-standing tradition of region locking when it came to amiibo. Seriously. Riots. In the streets.
There’s a substantial sect of NIB (New in Box) amiibros. On an intellectual level, I understand the collector’s need to keep their amiibo trapped within its plastic prison. I respect that choice. But, that’s a level of self control that is far beyond my ken. When my first five amiibo showed up on my doorstep last November, I remember looking at Mario in his box with wonder, briefly contemplating the collectable possibilities of him and his brethren should I choose to keep them all chaste and unopened… and then I ripped the box open with child-like glee leaving a pile of discarded packaging on the floor like it was Christmas morning. At the end of the day, an amiibo is a toy and you can be damned sure this manchild is going to play with it. Besides, the in-game functionality just keeps getting better and better as Nintendo has more time to wrap their heads around the possibilities. That’s a huge part of the figures that an NIB collector would miss out on. Unless they went the whole one-to-open, one-to-keep double collection strategy. Having just moved to a new apartment, I have a keen appreciation for the fact that I just don’t have that kind of space. Well, to each their own.
For most of the purer denominations amiibo should be MSRP or GTFO. This is one of the core tenants of the Facebook group. Every once in a while, some random heretic will wander into the group preaching that they should be allowed to charge whatever they want for an amiibo to cover the time and effort that they blah, blah, blah, totally misjudging their audience. These people are politely recommended the GTFO option. Those of us like myself that are willing to exercise a certain moral looseness in this area at least recognize that paying over the intended price is bull. But… do I want to yield the moral high ground or do I want a collection consisting of a mere five amiibo? So it comes down to a value proposition with regard to feeding the scalpers. What is having this figure in my collection worth to me? How long am I willing to stand in line to obtain one? In the case of Villager, my personal value threshold was fairly high. I needed to have one because that figure, like the Animal Crossing games he comes from, have come to symbolize my boss that passed away last year. Gaming, particularly visiting his immaculately constructed AC town, was our bond. And so now I have a fairly expensive piece of plastic that makes me smile sadly whenever I look at it and is thus worth every currency-exchanged penny for me to import. This was, of course, before the rumored restocks turning into an actual thing. Sigh.
Of course, what religious metaphor would be complete without some random, delusional kooks proclaiming loudly in the town square about the end of days? In the amiibo would, these would be the randos that seem to truly believe that the days of scarcity are coming to an end. They, the true believers, will soon be able to walk into any store and pick up any amiibo off the shelf for the manufacturer suggested retail price. What’s more, they’ve taken the moral stance that they refuse to buy any figures at all until this time comes to pass. These individuals earn eyerolls for their trouble.
Some people don’t particularly care about any of this. Whether they want to build a full collection or just cherry pick their favorite characters, they aren’t too concerned about how they get it. Importing? Sure. Scalper prices? If they can afford it, why not? As the pricing for an eBay bundle rises, the effort involved for the end collector drops to almost zero. The preordering hassle, the line waiting, the risk of death by stampede all shifts to the seller as the buyer/collector’s wallet opens wider and wider. Again, I say, whatever floats your boat. For me, this feels unsporting. I don’t mind putting in some effort in the form of aggravation. The best part of the six years of gaming on my Wii console was the 10-hour bivouac on a chilly December night it took to secure the purchase from Walmart. At some point it’s no longer just a thing, some object that you’ve purchased, it’s a manifestation of an experience. I want to have that experience… maaaaaybe not for every single amiibo… because there is a fine line between feeling like you’ve earned your collection and bludgeoning your head against a supply-constrained wall. But I do want there to be some literal hunting involved in my amiibo hunting.
So with a well-defined understanding of what I’d be willing to put in to get a complete collection through wave four and with no preorders placed, I started my multi-tiered acquisition strategy. Tier one was trades and giveaways via the gang on the facebook group. I didn’t have any spare amiibo sitting around for trade. For one, the idea of making an even trade with someone else for MSRP plus shipping (group rules) was a totally new concept for me that I was unprepared for. Secondly, even if I did happen to find an uncommon or rare sitting on a shelf, unless I knew of someone off the top of my head that I would be trading for that amiibo for, I’d feel like I was denying someone else the chance to stumble across it. So trades were looking like a bust.
Giveaways were a different matter. One guy was handing out the full wave to one lucky winner. All you had to do to participate was follow a highly detailed scorecard laying out all the ways you could like, share, follow, view, tweet about, etc. all of his various social media and earn a different number of chances in the drawing based on your level of participation. I did as much as I was comfortable with, realizing that the odds weren’t in my favor. Unsurprisingly, the end of the month rolled around and I was not the chosen one.
One of the members of the facebook group ended up with an extra Charizard in the course of some wheeling and dealing and decided to give it away to an interested party on the group. I entered and waited for the big reveal video for him and his lovely significant other to draw one of our names from a hat. Again, I didn’t win, but I was treated to the best, German-accented pronunciation of “Charizard” I’ve ever heard.
By far, my best odds on the giveaway front were from yet another member of the facebook group that was going to crazy lengths exporting uncommon, rare and unicorn amiibo from Japan to the rest of the world. He started his own facebook group for the sake of these near daily giveaways and asked only for entrants to like the posted pic. Beyond keeping an eye on the various drawings, this second group became almost like a reality show, as the group members followed this guy’s efforts running all over town trying to score amiibo to give away to international strangers just for the sake of spreading happiness. And he makes some pretty sweet gaming-inspired art, too. In the end, I struck out on his wave four amiibo drawings too, but due to the positive community, the time spent hanging out on that group was well spent. Undeterred, I will continue my quest for giveaway goodness once his wave five drawings start next month.
So, while I was busy striking out on the freebie fronts, I started my amiibo import speculation. Because they were already out in the wild elsewhere in the world, I was able to start gradually acquiring the figures that, based on their rarity in other regions, I expected would be scarce in the US as well. The idea was that I would end up paying import prices eventually anyway, but by doing it prior to the US launch, I could capitalize on sellers undervaluing amiibo since they had no idea how much stock would be available here. Sure there were overtures from Nintendo that we should Please Understand that they had underestimated the demand and would take steps to put more stock in the channel, but how likely was a 180 at this point? (moderately likely, as it would turn out.) The rares secured, hopefully at a slightly reduced, yet still inflated price, I could waltz in at launch and pick up the more common amiibo while everyone else was having fist fights over the single Ness shipped to my local Gamestop.
While all this was going on, Amazon finally announced their preorder plans, or rather, their ordering plans. The e-tailing giant, that had treated me so well for previous amiibo waves had decided to forego preorders altogether. They would roll the figures out one by one during launch day. Only those that had asked to be alerted when they went on sale would receive the schedule of rollouts, giving them an advantage. Except that we live in the internet age and the schedule was plastered all over the web within five minutes. The extra twist of the knife was that the rollouts were to happen during my busiest period of activity while I was at work. My chances with Amazon preorders were looking slim. My best chance for amiibo nirvana would come from standing in line on launch day waiting for the stores to open.
Launch Day arrived and it was time to put my +5 plan of craftiness to the test. I slept like crap the night before. Maybe it was the heat, maybe I’m still getting used to the new apartment. Maybe it was having an evening of drinking and podcasting the night before. Live and learn. Anyway, 5am rolled around and I managed to drag my ass out of bed for a morning of epic line standing with my amiibro brethren (and sistren??) And as a Pedestrian American this means I had a long day ahead of me.
It’s a four mile walk across the river into northern Kentucky to my nearest Target. I got there at 7am and had an hour wait until the store opened at 8. I was worried about arriving so close to opening, since I know some people camp out over night for product launches. I just don’t have that in me anymore. My Wii was well worth the effort, but that was the last time I ever do an overnight. Besides, I figured since there were enough amiibo I still needed to get from this wave surely something would be left for me to spend my money on. Turns out I was fifth in line.
The first three people in line were talking enthusiastically; which amiibo they still needed, what games they were looking forward to, which retailer they were going to next. The rest were quietly checking their phones. There was no fear of line jumpers and no obvious scalpers out to load up on Jigglypuffs to make a quick buck. We were all collectors, buying for ourselves.
Nintendo fans are a special breed. There’s an innate niceness within this community that, frankly, you don’t see among fans of other developers. It’s most clearly visible on Miiverse, where there’s this big, mixed community. We’re kids and kids at heart. We’re polite to one another because no one wants to be the guy that teabags a 5-year-old or someone’s mom.
When the manager came to let us in he asked us to remain calm and follow him back to the electronics department. We all proceeded in an orderly, single-file line. The manager explained the deal: He’d go down the line giving out one per person. Period. I double-checked just to be sure. Yup. After we’d purchased our single amiibo we were expected to leave the store, even if there were some left over.
I get it. From their perspective, I get it. They wanted to have some stock left for the rest of the day. If they put an ad in the paper saying, “Available Friday” and they’re sold out 30 minutes into their business day, that looks bad on them and their inventory situation. The Target staffers kept us at a distance, with one of the associates taking our order and retrieving it from the store shelf, just to be sure we were playing by the rules. That Nintendo Niceness was being put to the test.
The first four made their pics: a couple of Jigglypuffs, a Silver Mario, a Robin; good choices, all. My turn came. On the spot I decided, One amiibo only?? Screw you guys and your rules, I’m getting three! “Splatoon 3-pack, please.”
My purchase in hand and paid for… I decided to circle the store for a while to see what happened once everyone was through the line. I had half a mind to head over to the shelf to see what was left, but since there were ten of us, tops, and I had already asked them if we could get more I figured I shouldn’t push my luck. My ego couldn’t take being the guy that gets asked to leave the store because he couldn’t understand the rules for buying a toy. Fine then, I don’t want to give you any more of my business anyway. I’ll give it to Game Stop.
From my local Target it is about a six mile walk to my local Game Stop. I need to get a damn car. I arrived about half an hour before the store opened. I was the third person in line and would remain the last person. Fortunately there were chairs conveniently nearby, cause I needed to catch my breath. The first two guys in line were deep in conversation on a wide range of topics.
Eventually one of the store associates came out to take our order. Totally different situation from Target: No limit, fill out a sheet with you preferences and we’ll try to fill each order. Due to my earlier strategy of acquiring the rarer amiibo earlier through other means, my order was a piece of cake. I did feel a little bad since the Game Stop girl said she was hoping to get a Charizard and I got the only one. But since, as an employee, she would know exactly when these random restocks would happen, I got over my sympathy attack pretty quickly. Then one of the famous Game Stop crashes happened.
While not as bad as the day wave four preorders went up, when Game Stop’s servers spontaneously turned to slag, on this bright and early launch day their credit system was conveniently down. Cash only. Now all of us amiibo hunters were scattering in different directions, headed for our bank’s nearest ATM, hoping that our amiibo would still be there when we got back. We’d all heard the horror stories of reserved items being sold to the first person to come in that happened to have money in hand. Fortunately, Lord Amiibus was watching over us and we all walked out with our amiibo in hand and a spring in our step.
Wave four complete.
So the amiibo game was over, at least for this round. I feel like I got a better handle on the various methods of procuring them this time around. Even if preorders were a disaster, it seems like the retailers are trying to do their part to make sure people can obtain them once they eventually hit stores. Even if their methods seem a little too fair (coughTargetcough.) Maybe it all just comes down to the amount of stock. Checking in with the amiibo Facebook group, it felt like most people were able to get most of what they wanted for wave four. There seemed to be more inventory to go around this time. Nintendo scheduled a month delay between the wave four launch abroad versus here in the States and it looks like they will again for wave five. I suspect they’re delaying intentionally so that they can have more time for the factories to crank out NA amiibo before we buy them all up. By the same token, people like myself who don’t handle waiting very well had already started importing during the month-long gap, so there was slightly less demand for domestic amiibo once launch hit. Sure, they’re not in a place where you can walk into a store and pick one up, nor will they be again unless you can make it to the Nintendo World Store in midtown Manhattan. But it is manageable. It is possible to play the game and win. Now I just need to work on getting that high score of 51.