Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nintendo's Amiibo are the most compelling type of microtransaction to date

Way back at E3 2014, Nintendo slid a minor surprise into its expected line-up of games and hype: the Amiibo

These NFC-powered toys-to-life figures followed in the spirit, size, and price range of immensely popular toy lines like Skylanders or Disney Infinity. The key difference between Amiibo and these others is, of course, the fact that Amiibo feature popular Nintendo characters like Link, Samus, Mario, and Pikachu.

Also, you can use them for freestanding Wii U / 3DS games like Super Smash Bros. or - to a much more limited extent - Hyrule Warriors.  Each Amiibo unlocks something different in a given game, ranging from exclusive costumes or weapons to AI sparring partners that learn and adapt to your playstyle.

In other words, they're physical microtransactions - and at $12.99 MSRP, they sure as heck aren't cheap.

What they are, however, are immensely compelling.

Part of the Amiibo's allure is their rarity.  They're an unknown quantity that shipped in unknown quantities, and some of the rarest of the first run (or "Wave 1") Amiibo like Fire Emblem's Marth or Animal Crossing's Villager can command $50 - $80 from resellers.  This scarcity is the stuff of nightmares for completionist collectors, sure, but it does make the hunt for a hard-to-find rare all the more fun.

The other factor driving the Amiibo rush is that they are the first official toy/collectible that Nintendo's manufactured for many of the characters.  Fans of Kid Icarus: Uprising or Wii Fit finally have a chance to stick Pit or the Trainer girl on their desks to show their loyalty to their franchise / fitness software of choice, while fans of Link and Zelda get another pair of figurines to add to their collections.

If you had asked me back at the launch of Amiibo if I'd buy any, I would probably have scoffed.  I've written about mobile games for the better part of four years now, and I have a well-known and somewhat storied distaste for making in-app purchases or microtransactions if they're essential to unlocking new content in a game.

The funny  and completely hypocritical thing here, however, is that most mobile games offer an impulse-friendly purchase of 99 cents or so and that turned me off microtransactions on principle.  Amiibo, on the other hand, ring in at close to fifteen dollars a pop, and some won't get you anything more (at current) than an AI sparring buddy in Smash Bros. and a hand full of rupees over at Hyrule Warriors.

Yet once I saw the Amiibo on display, I felt my willpower drain as my hand reach for my metaphorical wallet.

I was never much of a Metroid fan, but it was Samus' Amiibo that really drew me in - with its subtle, powerful stance and reflective paint job.  The Wii Fit Trainer was the next to catch my eye thanks to her graceful pose and the sheer, improbable fact that she existed in the first place.

After that, I was somewhat powerless to resist the siren song of sweet, sweet Nintendo.  Hell, I've even gone so far as to pre-order a Rosetta & Chico Rosalina from Japan just in case I miss the Target-exclusive one when it launches in February.

But there are upsides to my burgeoning collection.  I recently took a dremel to an old bookshelf and ran some LED track lights over my Amiibo collection to give it a classy home in the living room.

I felt pretty good about this bit of handiwork until I realized that my grandfather had already fought in a war and built a house for his family when he was my age. I, on the other hand, jerry-rigged a lighting display for my toys and felt like Bob-fucking-Villa. God, I love being a millennial.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a Wave 4 Lucina to hunt down...