Nintendo's had a rough ride since it launched its Wii U console in 2012, which even its legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto admits failed to connect with players, but today the company reported it's managing to stay in the black.
Keeping with Nintendo's tradition of innovating its way out of a tough spot, the two big earners this financial quarter would have been hard to imagine just a few years ago: the anti-shooter Splatoon, and the RFID embedded figurines Amiibo.
Nintendo didn't share specific Amiibo sales numbers, but said that "because of factors such as favorable sales of amiibo continuing, net sales were 90.2 billion yen," or $729 million USD, up from $603 million during the same period last year. Splatoon, Nintendo revealed today, has sold an impressive 1.67 million copies since it launched on May 28.
More important is that overall Nintendo reported an operating income of $9.3 million, up from a loss of $76 million last year. It's not a lot of income, but it's a big improvement.
For many years now, Nintendo has relied on its iconic characters established in the 80s and 90s (Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, etc.) to drive the biggest hits of the year. Splatoon, which we've gushed over soon after it launched, is completely new and filled with interesting ideas, so it's encouraging to see it perform so well. It proves that Nintendo still has that spark of creativity that embed it in popular culture forever.
Amiibo, on the other hand, to me is more of a necessary evil. They're plastic toys that, with the help of an RFID chip and reader, make physical toys and digital video games interact. They're part of what's now called the "toys-to-life" category, a trend that Activision started with Skylanders, and that recently helped Disney merge its toys and video games divisions.
Amiibo don't do much. Usually they just unlock a feature in the game that could have easily been unlocked with a menu option, but Nintendo fans, many of which are already trained in collecting all things Nintendo, are buying them for $10 to $13 a pop. Stores are having a hard time keeping up with demand, which is so high there's a website dedicated to tracking which stores have which amiibo in stock.
It's not pretty, but Nintendo has been trying a lot of new things to increase profits lately. Crappy plastic toys, free-to-play mobile games, theme parks—whatever works. If that's what it takes to get a Splatoon now and then, I'll take it.