A few years ago, I purchased Skylanders for my son… well, mostly for my son. He was 3 years old and starting to show an interest in video games, so I thought it was the perfect starting point. The statues could be used in game, in an online sim, came with pieces for a card game, and were going to be compatible with future releases. What’s not to like? Even if he didn’t take to the game, he’d have a $15 toy to play with. As it so happened, he loved the game and was soon addicted.
Included with each statue was a small sticker that could be affixed to a poster detailing all available Skylanders. This was clever marketing – a way to show kids exactly what was needed to complete the collection, and it wasn’t long before my son was saving his pocket money to try and collect them all.
This was going well, until I realised that not all Skylander statues were readily available. Some had a purposefully low distribution quota, which meant they were rare and usually only available on sites like eBay at an inflated price. This annoyed me considerably. I’d been trying to teach my son about saving only to find that the things that he wanted were selling out within a couple of weeks. It encouraged impulse buying and created disappointment when he later discovered a purchase he’d made wasn’t rare – in effect, he’d chosen poorly.
I believe the marketing principle behind rare collectibles is put in place to incentivise people to take more of an interest in something that they otherwise may not. By appealing to that “must have them all” nature and throwing in a time limit, people are encouraged to buy big and buy early. The recent Amiibo craze is a perfect example – I doubt that the Wii Fit Trainer Amiibo would be selling out as fast as she is if she weren’t a known rarity!
I guess my main issue with rarity is when the target audience is young kids and the exclusiveness isn’t clearly explained. Opportunists swarm, purchase, and resell rare units fairly quickly, which changes the nature and intended function of these statues entirely. An enjoyable feature becomes a commodity that’s ripe for exploitation. This feeds an unhealthy culture of completionists that must own everything, and punishes those who aren’t early adopters.
I don’t normally have an issue with this type of thing; you don’t HAVE to collect them all so frustration is often borne of a completionist’s desire to “own the set”. As Nintendo themselves stated:
We will aim for certain Amiibo to always be available. These will be for our most popular characters like Mario and Link. Due to shelf space constraints, other figures likely will not return to the market once they have sold through their initial shipment.
However, let’s be frank – this is just a clever marketing ploy intended to draw people’s attention to the fact that some will be limited release. If you’re able to sell something, you wouldn’t concern yourself with the supplier’s capacity to store/display your product.
Another big issue I have with this type of endeavour is when the marketing doesn’t align with function. Amiibos are a perfect example of this. “Tap, Connect, Collect” is the Nintendo tagline, with advertising indicating that Amiibos are a fun extension to your gaming experience – place them on your controller and “bring them to life,” offering new in-game experiences. Nintendo are obviously playing on the success of Disney Infinity and Skylanders, but make no mistake, Amiibos offer little besides unlockable costumes and stat games. This may change in the future as Nintendo expands the usability of their system, but for now it makes the “bring them to life” line a bit hard to swallow.
Again, this isn’t really an issue. Adults are perfectly capable of researching products and learning what they are before making a purchase. Kids, on the other hand, are not. I understand that the real target audience is adults with expendable income, however, you can’t deny that much of the marketing is targeted at children. Combine the kid’s desire to play with their parents’ well developed OCD and you have a recipe for big bucks.
I should point out, though, that things haven’t changed much from when I was younger. I used to collect all sorts of things, from The Garbage Gang to Muscle Men, and Mad Balls to Matchbox cars. I got a paper route to feed this addiction, and still remember my disappointment and frustration when something I wanted wasn’t available when I finally had the money to buy it. Cards or blind packs didn’t pose much of a problem as there was clearly a luck element going in. When you’re told that something is available and you simply can’t get the pieces you want, it’s a different story. And it’s important to note that these statues aren’t just standalone pieces. With a focus on in-game function, most require a game or system for their intended purpose, so you’re up for a significant investment before you even begin.
To summarise; whilst I understand that rare collectibles are the result of clever marketing and have their place, I don’t believe that place is in the video game world… not in its current form. They take an enjoyable game feature and turn it into a commodity that’s ripe for exploitation – and all at the expense of those who just want to play the game. The current Disney Infinity and Skylanders model works perfectly in my opinion. The core set is readily available, whilst rare variants (glow in the dark, black armor, etc.) are rare. This satisfies both the completionists and those just wanting to experience all the characters. Hopefully Nintendo takes a leaf from their book and adjusts for future releases.