The time is 8:30 a.m. A line, already 15 people strong, has formed outside the Valencia Best Buy, with the people in the very front having been there since 5:30 a.m.
What hot new electronic device are these people lining up for? An expensive new iPhone? A fancy new laptop? No. It is a $13 plastic toy.
These figures, known as amiibo, are a new line of Nintendo product released last year around the holidays and they have taken the world by storm. People line up hours before stores open, camped out in hopes of snagging one of these coveted items to either collect or sell on sites like Amazon.com or eBay for a mark up of almost four times their original price. In the case of the “Villager” figure, at one point it was selling for upwards of $60 on Amazon.com.
The purpose of these figures is to act as kind of a companion to some of Nintendo’s newer games, unlocking various costumes, power ups, and even new game modes, depending on the game. This is done by placing one of the figures onto a receiver hidden within a Nintendo console, which then wirelessly connects to a chip in the base of the figure and unlocks some of the features.
The origin of this phenomenon happened shortly after these characters were released in November. Some characters quickly became scarce on store shelves, and as people noticed this they started to buy them in a frenzy to either secure that particular piece of their collection or to sell them for a profit.
What fuels many people’s passion for these toys is not the functionality, or the resale value, it is the fact that this is the first time many fans are able to even buy physical representations of their favorite in-game characters for an affordable price. And what might make this fad different from the toy fads of the past, such as Beanie Babies, or Pogs–both of which ended poorly for investors–is the nostalgic value that these characters have in many collector’s eyes.
“I want to have little figurines of my favorite Nintendo characters for a decent price,” said collector Chris Duran. “I wanted the characters I liked and I noticed they were disappearing off the shelves, so I had to actively hunt for them.”
Duran has 16 figures in his collection; all together costing him approximately $154, according to him. His favorite characters are Captain Falcon, Samus, Lucina, Jigglypuff, Marth and Ness.
According to Nintendo, lesser-known characters, such as Marth from the Fire Emblem series have the highest sell-through rates in the U.S.
This all poses an interesting question though; If these toys are so hard to find on store shelves, then why not just place a pre-order for the figure ahead of time and be done with it instead of camping out in the cold, waiting for only a small chance at getting one? Well, even trying to take pre-orders for these statues at brick-and-mortar locations can end in disaster for an aspiring collector.
“I was third in line at Gamestop, I got there about an hour before the amiibo went on sale and 15 people arrived after me, before they went on sale,” Duran said, “They called us in and there were three registers open, two were taking amiibo pre-orders and one was taking regular customers. I waited in line for about 45 minutes before I got to the register, and I sat there for about two hours trying to get my orders in because the systems were down across the country. Hell, I only got Ness, I missed out on the two other ones I wanted.”
And the situation for online orders can be considered worse than just buying or pre-ordering them in person in many ways, “You wait up until three in the morning every night until you go to bed and then they go on sale, and then they sell out within 15 minutes,” Duran said.
And this is extremely true, as with the case of Toys R Us, which in April put up orders for some new figurines, including a store exclusive, in the dead of night only for them to sell out within minutes of being put up.
Even if you do manage to be online at the exact right moment to snag a new amiibo, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that you will get one of these figurines. Websites regularly oversell what miniscule stock they have of these figurines due to the large amount of people attempting to order all at once. This causes anxiety that their orders might be canceled for people like Duran who have been waiting since the figures announcement to order some of them.
Nintendo is taking steps to address these stock issues though. According to an update released on Nintendo’s official Facebook page “We are already making plans to bring back some currently out-of-stock amiibo figures,” Nintendo said.
Nintendo also acknowledged the fact that demand is consistently outpacing the rate at which they can produce in this update, but offered little in terms of a detailed plan to put a stop the shortages.
Ultimately, though, the fault of all of theses collector’s woes lies with Nintendo themselves, not the retailers or the people scalping the figures online. Nintendo has consistently underestimated the consumer demand for these little figures, and many fans are becoming quite angry with them, because they can’t locate a figure of their favorite character for a reasonable price. But in the end as long as there is a demand for this product, there will likely be long lines for them.