Nintendo has a long history of bucking industry trends and seeking out innovation, which is why it might have surprised some industry watchers with the announcement of Amiibo, its own take on the toys-to-life genre currently dominated by Skylanders and Disney Infinity. Speaking with GamesIndustry International at E3 last week, Nintendo of America executive vice president of sales and marketing Scott Moffitt framed it as another example of giving consumers a different way to experience gaming.
"That's what we will always do," Moffitt said. "We want to be different. We want to create innovation and Amiibo is a perfect example. We didn't just mimic what's been done before with Skylanders and Infinity, we are bringing out a whole new idea in this toys-to-life gaming segment."
Moffitt said Amiibo differs from the competition in a few key ways. For one, the characters will work with multiple games. The Amiibo line will launch later this year with Super Smash Bros. on the Wii U, but the figures will also be compatible with Mario Kart 8, Yoshi's Wooly World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and Mario Party 10. Nintendo is also allowing third-party publishers to make their games compatible with Amiibo figures, and will introduce a 3DS peripheral to allow the figures to work with games on the handheld.
"Our IP is so well-known and so beloved by game fans of all ages that I do believe the age demographic for Amiibo could potentially be broader than that for the current offerings."
"We're trying to open up the aperture on toys-to-life to handheld gaming, to first-party games, to third-party games, and try to expand the category as quickly as we can and provide a different point of view in that segment," Moffitt said.
And since the toys are designed to work with the Wii U GamePad's near-field communications technology (NFC), console players won't need the separate portal peripherals of Skylanders or Infinity.
"It makes ours a great value as parents don't have to buy a starter kit," Moffitt said. "So that's a great value for parents. I don't know how many of those portals people are going to want underneath their TV, if seven different gaming companies come with their own toys-to-life offering. Maybe it's better if we standardize and there's one portal and we hope the GamePad could be that. We're already the destination of choice to play those games. Maybe everyone can align on using the NFC in the GamePad."
Amiibo will be launching into a market against the game that effectively created it in Skylanders, and an IP juggernaut that combines Pixar, Disney, Marvel (and potentially Star Wars) under one roof in Infinity. That's not even counting other possible entrants into the field, as the qualities Moffitt sees as the largest barriers to entry--game quality, retail shelf space, and marketing--should be familiar to any large gaming publisher. Even if Amiibo faces significant opposition, both in quality as well as quantity, Moffitt brushed aside any concerns of market saturation.
"Skylanders will be going into its fourth holiday this year, so the category's three-and-a-half years old and it's grown every year, roughly doubling every year," Moffitt said. "It's $1.4 billion in revenue this past year in the US alone. For the foreseeable future, I see this category continuing to grow. Our IP is so well-known and so beloved by game fans of all ages that I do believe the age demographic for Amiibo could potentially be broader than that for the current offerings."
Check back tomorrow for more from GamesIndustry's E3 interview with Moffitt.