When I started writing this article it was originally going to focus on the amiibo pre-order debacle at GameStop at the beginning of April. But over the last month I’ve watched this collector’s bug turn into a full-blown cult and what was supposed to be a fun hobby become a stressful, full time job.
Let’s back up for a second. If you don’t know, amiibo are essentially Nintendo‘s answer to Disney Infinity and Skylanders. They’re small plastic figures that unlock bonus content in compatible games. Nintendo makes different lines of these figures with different variations of certain characters in each line. There’s a Super Mario Bros. specific line, a line for their new IP, Splatoon, and then a line for the big one, Super Smash Bros, a fighting game featuring over 50 of Nintendo’s most iconic and beloved characters. And yes, they will be making an amiibo figure for each of those characters. That’s also one of the most exciting things for Nintendo fans as there’ll be figures for lesser known characters and franchises that have never gotten any type of merchandising. Unfortunately though, those are often the hardest ones to find. Now instead of releasing all 50 of the characters at one time, they’re releasing them in waves with between six and twelve figures per wave. On April 1st, they officially announced the release date and full line-up for their fourth wave. The next day the internet lost its mind.
Now if you’ve had any experience with Nintendo in the past, you’ll know that they sometimes purposely keep supply low in order to drive up the demand. However I’m not sure that’s entirely the case here. Sure, they’ve admitted in the past that more popular characters like Mario and Link will always be available, while lesser known characters like Marth or Villager will only be in production for a shorter period of time. But now we’ve moved from just having a couple of rare Amiibo per wave (Marth and Villager were harder to find from Wave 1) to having entire waves going out of stock in minutes.
The Beginning of the End
Before I go further, I’d like you to keep in mind that almost all of this upcoming information came out in less than 24hrs in the middle of the work week. During April’s Nintendo Direct (on April 1st), they announced pre-orders would begin the next day. Between the end of the Direct on Wednesday night and Thursday morning information had been dug up and confirmed by the different retailers about figure exclusivity deals and pre-orders. Jigglypuff, Target’s exclusive, was available on its site for less than ten minutes before it was sold out. Best Buy put all of Wave 4 up on its site at a random time and it was completely sold out in roughly the same amount of time. Toys “R” Us confirmed that they would be putting pre-orders on their site between 7AM and 9AM EST on April 3rd but they were actually put up online at 3AM EST and sold out shortly after.
If you were awake during the times these went online, I think it’s safe to say we were all doing the same thing. Whether you were hitting F5 at your computer or refreshing the page on your phone, everyone was nervously waiting for the pages for these pre-orders to go live.
But despite all of this, GameStop’s pre-ordering system had the most problems of them all. They announced they would hold in-store pre-orders only starting at 3PM on the 2nd. I arrived at roughly 2PM and was seventh in line. I didn’t get out of the store until almost 4:30 because when pre-orders opened, every store was trying to do the same thing and their entire system crashed for almost an hour. By the time I managed to get my pre-order in, two of them were already sold out.
To rub salt in the wound (intentional or not), Nintendo was posting photos on their social networking sites for Easter that featured amiibo and captioned with things like, “Which amiibo are you hoping to find in your Easter basket this year?” Responses were generally not too kind.
The Cult of Esteban We lost a lot of collectors during those few days. A lot of people were simply fed up with the incredibly limited stock and the manner in which these stores were handling pre-orders. These practices were not new and we had the same problems during previous releases. These were dark times and we needed someone to whom we could turn. We needed a leader. And we briefly found that leader in a prophet named Esteban. One of the ways collectors keep up with all of the amiibo news is through the amiibo subreddit. One user posted the following conversation with an Amazon customer service representative. I still don’t think this has ever been confirmed as real or fake but either way, it didn’t hurt to be ready just in case.
Reddit users blocked out Esteban’s name to keep his identity a secret. That worked.
If you were on reddit that day, it was filled with posts like, “ESTEBAN WOULDNT LIE” and “Esteban is love, Esteban is life.” Now of course most of this was all in jest, but things were really out of control. So we all eagerly sat on Amazon refreshing the amiibo pages hoping pre-orders would go live at noon. But nothing happened. And shortly after noon, the Amazon Video Games Twitter account posted the following:
This had traveled beyond just us collectors sitting around computers hitting F5. The companies themselves were getting in on the joke. And as of the end of April, there’s still no official word on when Amazon US will put up of their amiibo pre-order.
Everybody Calms Down… Sort of
Things have been fairly calm since Esteban proved to be a false prophet. It’s still a struggle trying to keep up with pre-orders going live on various sites, only to be taken down minutes or seconds later. Toys “R” Us has redeemed themselves since their debacle with online pre-orders. They did announce that on April 27, they would be doing in-store pre-orders for Greninja and they did it weeks in advance, giving everybody plenty of time to plan ahead.
But even their announcement didn’t keep things from getting out of hand. Thinking that nobody would show up that early, I got in line at the Waterford Lakes TRU at 4AM. I was 13th in line and the first person in line had arrived at 1AM. Thankfully it had been confirmed that they would have 20 pre-orders available (some stores had less) and the 20th person in line arrived at 5AM.
When the manager came out at 9AM to pass out pre-order slips, there were almost 40 people waiting in line (just in case there were extra slips). By the time the store opened at 10AM, even more people had shown up. When we got inside to pay, a gentleman came up to us asking us all how we knew about this and to show up to early as he had only seen in ad about it the day before. We basically told him the various sites we follow to keep up with everything.
But that’s the problem with the entire thing. It’s partially Nintendo’s fault for not making enough. It’s partially the retailer’s fault for how they’re handling online pre-orders (I do give them all credit for finally wising up and limiting purchases to one or two per person to avoid scalpers). And it’s also our fault. It’s all a vicious cycle and we get crazier and crazier because of it. The first people in line at TRU showed up at 1AM. So that tells everyone else that the next time something like this happens they need to show up even earlier. We’ve completely lost control. At what point does it finally all break down? At what point does Nintendo finally address the stock issues? And what about all the kids that are losing out on getting an amiibo of their favorite character because us adult collectors keep going crazy over these damn things?
There’s multiple twitter accounts dedicated to keeping track of when pre-orders go live. There’s Facebook groups for amiibo where people can work together to find what they’re missing and make trades. I’m in one of them and it feels like a twisted AA meeting except instead of trying to kick the addiction, we’re all just keeping each other hooked. I haven’t seen a collecting bug go around like this since Beanie Babies or Pokémon cards, only you end up on eBay or importing them from other countries instead of hunting around flea markets for the rarities. Some of these listing are going for more than triple the original price. There was even a kickstarter for special collector cases that finished at over $10,000. This hobby is going to leave us all broke.
I could write another thousand words about how far off the deep end we’ve gone but tell us about your amiibo experience. Have you been bitten by this collectors bug? Let us know in the comments below. As for me, I’ll be on Amazon hitting F5 in hopes that pre-orders for the last few I need will finally go live.