Fuzzy Logic

GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).

Within certain gaming circles it can be considered blasphemy to criticise Nintendo; as the granddaddy of all publishers and, undeniably, an innovator which drives the industry forward the company is often considered a sacred cow. No company, no matter how well-respected, is beyond reproach, however, and Nintendo is certainly not beyond making some truly jaw-dropping mistakes; the chief of these, mostly recently at least, has been an apparently wilful misunderstanding of “supply and demand”.

Let’s talk about Amiibo. First released in November 2014, these NFC-equipped figurines became Nintendo’s latest must-have item; operating in a very similar fashion to the Skylanders and Disney Infinities platforms they allow collectable figurines to be scanned into a video game via the specially-enabled Wii U and New 3DS game pads, but are not tied exclusively to a particular game or series. When they were first announced, in June 2014, commentators grew concerned that they may be used as “physical DLC”; in other words, Nintendo may choose to lock games content and require the player to scan (and therefore buy) a particular Amiibo in order to unlock it – and somewhat inevitably, that’s precisely what happened. To their credit, Nintendo have never made anything essential to a game’s enjoyment or completion behind an Amiibo paywall – the in-game assets are usually cosmetic in nature – but that almost doesn’t matter, because individual Amiibo are scarce. Players literally struggle to get their hands on particular figures, and despite Nintendo’s protestations to the contrary this appears to be deliberate; manufactured scarcity in the belief that it will drive sales.

Unless you have children, all of this was mostly bearable until recently – after all, who can’t live without shonky themed costumes for your Mii avatar in Mario Kart 8? – when the latest Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, debuted on the Amiibo-enabled Wii U and Switch platforms and Nintendo announced that certain classic Zelda items, such as iconic weapons and armour, and the best steed in the game would be unobtainable without scanning Zelda-themed Amiibo. Are they required to beat the game? No, not at all. But in a game which builds a lot of its entertainment around collecting, exploring and finding rare items – not to mention a game whose franchise repeatedly taps into player nostalgia to sell title after title – it felt like something of a kick in the teeth. Yet still, this would have been bearable had the required Amiibo themselves been easy to purchase if desired; instead, like the Pokémon Go Plus and NES Classic Mini, the only people that have any are the scalpers.

This is, perhaps, the most damning result of Nintendo’s misjudgement. If you purposefully make an item rare the eBay and Craigslist cockroaches will scurry out from underneath their damp stones, brandishing credit cards that they are full prepared to max out if it means walking away with every last Super Smash Bros. Link Amiibo or NES Classic in the shop, because they know that they will be able to sell those items for double, triple, even quadruple what they paid for them by listing them on auction sites; more recently even the high street is in on the act, with trade-in giant CeX selling £50 Classics for upwards of £185.00 at time of writing.

It could be argued that since Nintendo are selling out of these products every time they are shipped that they are doing well from their own perspective, but that’s not really true. What is happening instead is that slowly but surely, their target audience – made not the children that detractors claim it to be, nor the family-friendly “people who don’t usually play video games” demographic who the Wii was marketed towards, but the nostalgic thirty and forty-somethings who they mine for cash again and again – are becoming bitterly disenfranchised. It’s not that those other demographics aren’t important or are insubstantial, it’s just that those markets aren’t going to throwing £5.00 at them for their fifth download of Super Mario World on yet another Virtual Console platform, or buying both versions of Pokémon every new generation. The nostalgia crowd is the definition of a “money for old rope” demographic, paying through the nose time and time again for a 512kb ROM that doesn’t always work correctly, and which they could happily download free of change from one of many, many online repositories.

When it comes to online piracy, I have a set and unwavering rule: help me not to steal. Don’t complain that I’ve hacked my NES Mini or Wii console and uploaded my own game ROMs when you’ve charged me a fiver for those games every time I’ve bought a new console, rather than linking those purchases to my account the way that Sony and Microsoft have been doing for over a decade. Don’t complain that I’m using a PC emulator and a community-sourced game file when you don’t have your own emulator running correctly and you might be downloading the ROM files you sell to people from those same communities. Don’t complain about piracy when 99% of the vintage games that people download are not available for purchase on any current platform. And don’t expect me to join thousands of people monitoring online retailers for the first hint of an Amiibo shipment, or force me to pay industry-leeching scalpers £45 for a little plastic model when I can simply purchase a reusable NFC chip and spoof any Amiibo I want using downloaded data dumps in order to get at content that shouldn’t be behind a paywall in the first place. Not when all of these issues can be alleviated by simply making enough of your physical products to meet demand in the first place and by pricing your downloads fairly.

For those interested, I’ll soon be making a brief YouTube video explaining how to use an N2 Elite chip to get those exclusive unlocks in Breath of the Wild – not because I condone theft, but because Nintendo have left me and fellow fans no choice. And in the meantime, if anybody from Nintendo is reading, I have two words for you: do better. You have a licence to print money; all your fans are asking you to do is use it.



The preceding article is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of GeekPlanetOnline.