It's shit. Deeply, deeply anti-consumer shit.
Last year, Nintendo had an investor-relations release where Iwata attempted to throw a bone at the ravenous cries for free-to-start, microtransaction-heavy Mario games on iPad by letting slip that they were going to instead clone Skylanders. The "Nintendo Figurine Platform" would one-up Skylanders and the nascent Disney Infinity at their own games. Instead of building a line of figures for just one game, NFP figurines would be compatible with a wide variety of games on both Wii U as well as 3DS through the use of a hardware peripheral. (One that really seems more as a handwave to avoid letting slip that there was a new 3DS model down the line)
From then on Nintendo formally announced the product to consumers (whom they think don't read IR reports) in a Nintendo Direct video coinciding with E3 (the kind of hardcore audience that does read said reports). The new products, called "amiibo", were shown off in a rather exquisite level of detail and demonstrated being used in the newest versions of Super Smash Bros. I personally was underwhelmed, but I decided I'd buy at least one just to see how the concept worked.
Upon release of the figures - and I mean, the day Smash came out - I went off with my friends to a Toys 'R' Us which was running a three-for-one deal on the figures, but I wasn't really interested due to the lack of the one figure I wanted. I hiked over to the nearby Target to find the last Villager figure in stock, bought it, and then got pressured into also buying a Peach figure so my friends could take advantage of the deal I mentioned earlier. Personally, me and my friends wrote off the low quantities of Villager, as well as the complete lack of Marth figures, as an initial stocking anomaly that would soon fade away.
Ha. ha. ha. ha. I was so naive.
It turns out that stocking problems would continue to plague the series of figures to the present day. Nintendo themselves are either unwilling or unable to properly comment on the situation or advise their customers or make anything other than vague and conflicting statements that only serve to muddy the waters.
A week or so after launch, with Villager, Marth, and Wii Fit Trainer (now abbreviated to MTV by collectors) pretty much gone from shelves, a random Nintendo higher-up was quoted as saying that some figures were planned to become discontinued. A few days later, Nintendo PR counter-claimed that they had not actually discontinued any figures. But at the same time retailers were internally marking the figures - which had no scheduled replenishment dates or outright statements from Nintendo to retail to not expect more - as discontinued merchandise and even taking them off planogram or just flexing in what was available.
It's kind hard not to see Nintendo as blatant liars right out of the gate when they say one thing to consumers and another to retailers. But there's also a difference in language here too. Retailers - as well as consumers and other ordinary people - assume that a lack of incoming shipments and an outright statement from corporate mean that the product is discontinued. Nintendo, however, takes the attitude that something isn't really discontinued until they say it is. And for whatever reason Nintendo isn't willing to admit it even though it's painfully obvious to everyone else.
Nintendo seems to be suffering under production and retail management problems; the latter that Nintendo has at least alluded to when they talk about having to "manage retail space". Fundamentally all amiibo released to date have been built around the Super Smash Bros. roster, giving them around 50-odd SKUs that need to be produced and sold. This alone sounds fairly extensive for anything made by a console manufacturer, but I'm having trouble believing there's any problem with pushing that much stock when Skylanders and Disney Infinity take up three times as much shelf space and release more figures than Nintendo has to.
(Especially since now Nintendo is starting to rev production on the Super Mario series of amiibo.)
I've heard explanations that Nintendo wants to focus on popular series and figures with a wide range of cross-game compatibility, but this doesn't jive with their production habits so far. Samus and Fox are still available here and there, even though there's no way in hell these are ever going to work with anything other than Smash. Is Nintendo going to release an update that gives you the no longer obtainable Mii bobblehead in Metroid Prime 3 if you tap the Samus amiibo to the GamePad? And on the flip side, Nintendo also announced that Intelligent Systems' newest strategy RPG Codename S.T.E.A.M. would work with all the Fire Emblem characters, granting you additional units from that series... making Marth officially the most expensive character DLC of all time.
Nintendo promised during that exact announcement that they would be making more Marth amiibo available, but I feel like this is more of a handwave. Nintendo has had two and a half months since the launch of the product to adjust their production strategies and generally try to avoid the situation they had in Wave 1. Two months is an important timeline because it's roughly the lead time from initial production run start to retail shipment. All of Wave 3's production and retail scheduling has had the opportunity to take in the situation from previous waves from start to finish. And how did Nintendo do?
- Preorders for multiple characters were oversold or erronously cancelled by overtaxed retail eCommerce systems which simply weren't designed for a limited preorder quantity.
- Preorders for Target-exclusive Rosalina amiibo were opened in the middle of the night and sold out approximately 30 minutes later. At release, the figure sold out online and in stores almost immediately.
- Two-thirds of Wave 3 have yet to hit retailers or fulfill preorders, with both shipment dates being pushed back multiple times.
- Target and Best Buy's internal employee documentation both have indicated to employees not to planogram for the remaining Wave 3 figures and to direct customers to their website to order, strongly hinting that future amiibo figurines will be online-only.
- GameStop's internal employee documentation has indicated that GameStop has no intent on stocking new figures beyond in-store preorders and perhaps engaging in eBay-tier scalping of their own retailer-exclusives.
I've heard numerous excuses. From the above-mentioned prodigious number of SKUs, to holiday season manufacturing capacity shortages, to stories of west-coast dockworker strikes that just so happen to only impact Nintendo product, I'm running out of any plausible explanation other than outright malicious behavior. Nintendo has been known to engineer shortages to ensure demand for product stays smooth and strong... at least during the NES era.
Personally I've given up on the idea of actually getting any figure I want in a store at MSRP. Retail stores don't recieve stock on any consistent basis nor are their actual ship dates announced. Here's an explanatory anecdote: I went into my local Target on a Friday just to ask when Rosalina figures would be coming in. I was told that they had 69 of them and they would be arriving on a Sunday. I couldn't come in on a Sunday due to religious and social obligations, but I figured with a stock that large they'd at least have a few left by closing. The Monday after, I was told by a different person in electronics that all the figures had sold out within 2 hours.... on Thursday, a day before I had even checked.
For my "must-haves", I've selected the characters that I focus on in Smash. That is, Villager, Rosalina, and Ness. Villager I already have. Rosalina I'm going to just bite the bullet now and pay inflated eBay prices for; there's no way in hell she's getting more stock. Ness... Ness is... Ness is the only US merchandise that MOTHER fans could ever possibly hope to see over here. I have to diverge just a bit...
This is a series that Nintendo badly marketed in the mid-90s and wound up overproducing to levels just slightly less than, say, E.T. the Extraterrestrial for the Atari 2600. Nintendo's American division assumes EarthBound fans don't exist. Even for Virtual Console releases, the most basic porting job you can imagine which is designed specifically so that even niche games can see the light of day, we had to wait an entire console cycle with bated breath over spurious ESRB ratings just to see the game come out as an emulated port. And that only happened because a US fan happened to get a job working under MOTHER series writer Shigesato Itoi (who no longer works in games) and was able to explain the situation to him.
Ness is a Wave 4 figure, which means pre-orders are going to open-up any day now. I fully expect him to sell out even quicker than Rosalina, given stronger fan demand and even less stock allocated to the US or Europe. Unfortunately given that I have a job and social obligations my chances of actually being able to buy this one at retail price is fairly limited. But my personal love of the franchise means that I will probably also wind up buying at inflated prices, for different and perhaps even stronger reasons than I did for Rosalina.
A month or two ago I would have balked at the idea of pre-ordering an NFC figurine, but now I find myself preordering Toad amiibo just because I saw some scalper pre-order an entire store's worth right out of the gate. (And even then pre-orders aren't guaranteed when retailers are oh-so-naive and think Nintendo will totally allocate them more stock if they get more pre-orders on hand.) But at this point it's less about getting fun Nintendo figurines and more about finding a way to navigate this offensive retail challenge course that Nintendo has rigged up for us, while feeling somehow clever rather than degraded for doing so. I hate it.