“Just the one, dude, and you’re the third person to call,” the store clerk says over the phone. I’m five minutes away—more or less spitting distance. But I’m on the other side of the highway, and it’ll take some doing to get there. “Better hurry if you want it—first come, first served,” he tells me.
I zoom down the road, determined to be the one to make it. The one to defy the odds. Obeying all laws, I make it to the door in just over seven minutes. Not too bad, right?
It’s gone. I’ve just missed it, or so the GameStop manager says. This was the third store I’d been to on my lunch break after spotting there’d been a Shulk amiibo restock thanks to a SKU location tool on the retailer’s website. That’s how serious local hunters take it—within the hour, the entire region had been cleared out.
I still don’t have a Shulk amiibo—one of the little figures released by Nintendo that pair with the video game Super Smash Bros. (among others) to create virtual fighters. And I desperately want one.
Their use as gaming accessories is actually pretty limited, although Nintendo has plans to expand amiibo support to other games as fans’ collections grow. That makes it all the more fascinating that people are hoarding them. As collector’s items, amiibo have really struck a nerve. Nintendo doesn’t appear to have made nearly enough to satisfy demand, at least at first, and scalpers have caught on to this fact. That makes it even more difficult for those who genuinely want to collect them all, Pokémon style, to nab each new amiibo without going to extreme lengths.
I wanted to know how these folks—the ones hustling to retailers and refreshing Amazon pages—did their thing. What’s it like to be on the ground, sniffing out deals and camping out in front of GameStop stores before they open? Who are the people that keep an eye on Best Buy truck shipments just in case there’s a new batch of Meta Knight amiibo on the way? Could they impart to me some kind of mystical, amiibo-hunting wisdom?
DEGREES OF DEVOTION
The in-store pre-orders for the Ness amiibo, available exclusively at GameStop, were a trainwreck.
“I was the second person in line, and the issue was that when it started it, uh, the computers froze, everything, so we had to be there for another hour,” Angel tells me. He works in a predominantly Spanish-speaking flea market at a small video game store that runs Super Smash Bros. tournaments on Saturdays. He’s the resident amiibo guy, and several rare and semi-rare finds line the shelf behind him. Kids wander in and out while we talk about Nintendo’s toys, and one little boy spends a long time talking about how his Sonic amiibo is “really good, like really good” and almost won last weekend (some of the figurines represent in-game characters you can train and fight with).
“By the time that the first person was able to actually order anything, he found out that the order he wanted was no longer available,” Angel says. “So, he kinda got cranky and left, making me the first person to actually order someone.” It took Angel two hours from when the shop first started taking pre-orders to the time he left, but he had his Ness secured.
The experience hasn’t deterred him. I first became aware of Angel thanks to a Facebook group for local amiibo hunters where he’d posted photos after managing to get two Wii Fit Trainer amiibo—one third of the so-called Holy Trinity of rare amiibo composed of Marth, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager—during the same limited restock. He also previously waited in line outside a Toys “R” Us from midnight to 10AM in order to snag a pre-order for a Greninja amiibo. He’s what you might call extremely active in the local amiibo community.
Josias, on the other hand, is involved, but not nearly as fervently. He has his fair share of hard-to-find amiibo, but really he’s just interested in the Super Smash Bros. line. His older brother is to thank for getting him started. “He had this little Link figure, and I was like, ‘What is that?’—’It’s an amiibo.’” He was intrigued, but didn’t immediately recognize what was happening. “I had been away from the gaming scene for so long that I had no idea what was going on.”
“I’ve always been collecting, like, little things, but I was like, ‘This is like the one thing that I can actually devote myself to complete everything,’ and it’s not that expensive.” He started collecting this past January, not too long after the first wave, but still late enough that some of those first amiibo were already jumping in price. “Relatively not that expensive, to like shoes or, y’know, comic books, or some other things.”
He was also waiting in the disastrous Ness pre-order line, but his biggest find to date was a Lucario amiibo at a local Toys “R” Us. He’d spent the day calling stores, asking customer service desks, and so on, and everyone’s answer was the same: they were gone, everywhere was out, and there was no telling when they’d get more. While driving home, as Josias tells it, something kept itching at the back of his brain about it. He decided to check just one more store.
“As soon as I walked in, I see two [Lucario amiibo], and I was like ‘whaaaaaat,’ and right when I’m about to grab one, this employee grabs the one in front.” Someone had called in to put both on hold, one for the caller and one for “a friend.” First come, first served, however. The only reason Josias has a Lucario amiibo now is thanks to this unexpected detour. “He was my first unicorn.”
In the hunting community, amiibo are assigned certain unofficial ranks based on how difficult they are to find. At the lowest tier are commons, those figures constantly in stock at Target and the like. Higher than that come figures like Meta Knight, which receive restocks irregularly, but the tippity top is occupied by unicorns: amiibo that, most likely, you are never going to see in the wild again.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there that have seen them all. I even spoke with one hunter who has at least one of every single amiibo that’s been released so far. And I speak from experience here: as your collection grows, it becomes harder and harder to stop, and easier to justify every new purchase.
SYMPATHY FROM ON HIGH
Given the number of GameStop-related stories I’d been told, I thought it a good idea to try and speak with a behind-the-counter employee from one of the local shops. But every single time I brought it up I was told that they couldn’t really comment. “Sorry, you’ll have to talk to corporate” became a common refrain. Corporate, for their part, were more than willing to give me some answers.
When asked via email whether GameStop had an official stance on the seemingly massive online presence of amiibo hunters, Public Relations Manager Jackie Smith noted that they’ve seen “enormous success” in the general “Toys-to-Life” section—those electronic toys and collectibles that can interact with software like video games—and that they’ve attempted to accommodate this with increased shelf space. Even so, amiibo pose a problem.
“Amiibo sales in particular are a challenging situation in which the product is truly in limited quantity: demand far exceeds global allocations,” Smith said before noting that Nintendo and GameStop are both working to fix this. “For now, long lead times hinder additional product delivery but as those do become available we give our customers access as soon as we can.”
Responding to a question about whether there had been any issues with amiibo hunters, Smith made it clear that the company understood the frustration felt by those trying and failing to purchase the amiibo they want. “We work diligently to distribute the figures equally across all stores and online and on providing clear communication around supply to help alleviate much of the anxiety some customers might experience in their quest for hard-to-find amiibo figures.”
For its part, Nintendo had nothing to add to this story, a spokesperson for the company told Playboy. But it does seem like there’s some relief coming to beleaguered amiibo hunters: in addition to restocks of older figures and retailer exclusives, those releasing new amiibo going forward seem to be fairly aware of the demand and are beginning to make solid moves toward meeting them. The Dark Pit amiibo, for example, is exclusive to Best Buy, and the company didn’t take pre-orders, limited it to one per person, and carried 30 or more per store.
Though the three amiibo hunters I interviewed disagreed on a lot of points, one particular point stuck out: they all made it clear that being kind is important. Whether to retail employees—who are just doing their job—or to other hunters, kindness, they all said, goes a long way. Sometimes it’s the difference between being told they’re all gone and having someone check again in the back only to find, yes, there’s one left.
The other point they all agreed on? When it comes to new hunters, just now starting and looking to build a complete collection: good luck.
Rollin Bishop covers video games, technology, pop culture, and the ways the three intersect. He is bad at briefly describing himself. Should you wish to hear his rambling about Disney Channel Original Movies and more, he can be found at @rollinbishop on Twitter.
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