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Opinion – Nintendo’s Scattershot Approach To Amiibo Functionality Breeds Discontent

by Brian Shea on Jan 19, 2016 at 02:25 PM

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Nintendo’s announcement of Amiibos promised that these recognizable figures would perform special and meaningful functions within its array of first-party titles. While Amiibos have sold well – much better than Nintendo seems to have anticipated – the passionate fans buying these figures are split on how much functionality they want, and that’s a problem only Nintendo can address.

The implementation of Amiibos has been inconsistent, which has likely helped lead to this point. Since the figures’ initial launch in late 2014, Nintendo has used them in numerous ways ranging from meaningful content in games like Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival and Splatoon to cosmetic additions in titles like Mario Kart 8 and Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker. While some factions of the fan base are clamoring for more Amiibo integration, others greet new implementation with disdain. 

Today’s rumor that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD will use the Wolf Link Amiibo to provide power-ups to Link and unlock a bonus dungeon sparked varying degrees of excitement and disappointment from fans. Those who were expecting little more than an HD re-release with a few tweaks à la Wind Waker HD view the rumor that new content will be available from the original game – even if locked behind an Amiibo – as a plus.

Those who are less enthusiastic about Amiibos are lamenting the figures’ continued penetration in Nintendo’s plans. Fans with no interest in picking up the Amiibos feel left out by this rumor, while others are knee-jerking to the point of vowing to never buy Twilight Princess HD for the sole reason of placing content behind an Amiibo. 

I understand the concerns of Nintendo’s fans when it comes to having more and more exciting stuff behind the paywall of the Amiibo figures. Getting the most out of the game you spent your hard-earned money on is reasonable, so when Nintendo (or any company for that matter) asks you to plop down more cash in order to get the “full” experience, your first reaction is understandably negative.

Super Mario Maker does an excellent job of giving Amiibo owners a nice bonus without making non-owners feel like they're missing out on something crucial.

This is something that other developers have experienced with reception to downloadable content. Pre-order exclusive DLC is a constant sore spot for those who want to get the best and most complete experience for the game. However, the quality of DLC offered as pre-order exclusives is rarely on par with what is offered by on-disc content or even post-launch DLC. While it is better to get the most out of a game you buy, how much value does a low quality, tacked-on area truly add to your enjoyment? 

I’ve been disappointed by the quality of pre-order DLC more than I’ve been satisfied by it. For example, last year’s Batman: Arkham Knight offered pre-order exclusive DLC, but when fans booted it up, they were given gameplay sections that lasted just a few minutes. Because of this history, if Nintendo does decide to include things like special levels or more fleshed out modes as Amiibo-exclusive, I would approach it with more caution than excitement. 

With the example of the Twilight Princess HD rumor – if it is true (Nintendo isn’t commenting at this point) – I’m not losing any sleep. This is partially due of the fact that I’m unsure if the bonus dungeon will be able to match the quality of the original dungeons.  Also, we have no idea what this rumored dungeon could entail. Will it give Amiibo owners an hour of extra gameplay or any additional insight into the story or extra equipment for Link, or will it feel like a tacked bonus mission that only lasts 15 minutes? If it is a large area to explore that feels essential to the story or adds new mechanics to the game, then upset fans might be galvanized in their outrage. To help combat any hurt feelings, Nintendo is including the Amiibo with every retail copy of Twilight Princess HD at the regular retail price of most games: $59.99. 

Even if Nintendo avoids making such major content exclusive to Amiibo owners, the fact that its fan base is split could be a problem going forward. As various downloadable content controversies have previously demonstrated, if Nintendo chooses to deliver on its promise of providing robust and deep experiences locked behind Amiibo ownership, it will face resistance every step of the way, even if those bonus areas are described as falling outside of the original scope of the game. If Nintendo commits to the path of superfluous additions from Amiibos, it runs the risk of cheapening the allure of the figures and curtailing the excitement of the avid collectors.

So what is Nintendo’s best approach to this situation? If it wants to continue down the path of providing premium content for Amiibo users, it needs to continue addressing the stock issues. Does it make sure that its Amiibos are fully stocked and easily obtainable? Or does it simply keep these features stowed away from anyone unable to hunt down the correct figure? The other option is to eventually offer the Amiibo content separately as downloadable content on the eShop. That way, players who want to access the content, but don’t have the desire to purchase or room to store multiple Amiibos, have an alternate way to access the content. 

Nintendo is in a difficult position with its fan base, but that’s true for any developer finding new ways to monetize its games further. We’ve seen this backlash slowly fade when it comes to downloadable content, and if Nintendo can find the right balance, it might be able to please both sides to a reasonable extent. There will always be detractors no matter which way the company leans, but it’s up to Nintendo to set the expectations through clear messaging and more uniform implementation going forward.

This feature was originally published on January 14.