How amiibo Differ From Paid DLC

Micro-transactions and paid downloadable content (DLC) have been on the forefront of most video game conversations lately. Over the last few days, EA has been reacting to backlash from fans over the high in-game paywalls present in Star Wars Battlefront II. Sure, EA has significantly lowered the credits needed to vault over these paywalls, but they’re still just reacting to bad press instead of being proactive. Other games, like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, have also faced criticism for their aggressive micro-transactions, and consumers have been wary of paid DLC ever since horse armor galloped its way into The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Why, then, does Nintendo get a free pass with their amiibo model of paid DLC?

Well, frankly, amiibo are different. Yes, those cute little statues still operate similarly to paid DLC. Yes, it’s often overpriced when seen as DLC. But Nintendo have found a way to not only sell more physical merchandise than ever before, but also circumvent the negative press and fan backlash associated with paid DLC. Because there are some great Nintendo games out right now that use amiibo, and there are a whole lot of great Switch games on the way, it seems like the right time to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of amiibo. There are many ways in which amiibo are different from traditional paid DLC – for better or for worse – and here are just some of the reasons why.

They’re Physical

It seems obvious, but tangibility is the greatest difference between amiibo and other paid DLC. Basic amiibo, like the ones available for use in Super Smash Bros. or Animal Crossing, run anywhere between $4-$15 a pop. Considering these are reasonably-detailed, highly-recognizable characters, these statuettes would likely be priced about where they are right now even if they didn’t offer in-game bonuses and benefits. Then there are extremely detailed amiibo that run at higher price tags, like the Guardian amiibo for Breath of the Wild, or the Samus and Metroid amiibo for Samus Returns. Even then, the prices are rarely unreasonable.

The trouble with amiibo being physical, however, is the same trouble with many older games being restricted to physical formats: they are, by definition, limited by their production number. All amiibo operate using NFC (Near Field Communication) chips located in their base, and without the code they transmit to any given Nintendo system, some content that amiibo unlock can’t be accessed. A simple work around would be to allow consumers to just download the unlocks off the Nintendo eShop, but then the prices would have to be lowered to reflect the value of the content, and that would likely dig into Nintendo’s bottom line. That’s, unfortunately, an unlikely scenario.

They’re Interlopers

Traditional DLC is restricted to their respective games. After all, how in the world is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine going to impact Rise of the Tomb Raider or Resident Evil 7? Well, amiibo are different. Most games that use amiibo have specific uses for the amiibo manufactured for that game. The Guardian from Breath of the Wild, for instance, will drop a whole bunch of guardian armor and weapons. But even older Zelda-themed amiibo give Link special benefits. The Majora’s Mask Link amiibo grants Fierce Deity armor and equipment, Shiek from Super Smash Bros. drops a Shiek mask and so on. Even non-Zelda amiibo will drop food and various other random items and materials. Other games, like the recent Super Mario Odyssey, will help players out by giving them hints as to where Power Moons may be hidden, and accessing various other costumes. Expect most Nintendo games from here on out to react to all amiibo in one way or another.

They’re Not Really DLC

You read that right — amiibo don’t act as DLC at all. Everything an amiibo can unlock in a game is already in the game’s code or code downloaded during subsequent updates or traditional DLC. That NFC chip doesn’t hold any data that the game itself doesn’t already have: it simply unlocks what’s there. In that sense, amiibo are even worse than some traditional paid DLC, because they force players to pay for content that’s within the game consumers bought, often for full price. In that sense, Nintendo’s use of amiibo are nearly as egregious as the micro-transactions used in Star Wars Battlefront II. But Nintendo’s getting better at utilizing amiibo in a non-invasive way: Peach’s stunning wedding dress that Mario can wear in Odyssey can be unlocked with her Wedding amiibo, but it can also be bought with gold coins completely in-game. It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like other micro-transactions disguised as in-game unlockables, so frankly, it doesn’t ruffle as many feathers.

But They Can Be Just As Bad As Real DLC

Though Nintendo has been (mostly) smart about not riling up fans over amiibo unlocks, there are a few major offenders that are hard to forgive. Most recently, Metroid: Samus Returns used amiibo to unlock content that’s otherwise completely inaccessible without four specific amiibo figurines. The Samus Aran amiibo unlocks an art gallery of the original Return of Samus game for the GameBoy, the Metroid amiibo unlocks Fusion Mode (the hardest difficulty mode playable in Samus’ fusion suit), the Zero Suit Samus amiibo for Super Smash Bros. lets players listen to the game’s soundtrack and the regular Samus amiibo for Super Smash Bros. unlocks an art gallery of Samus Returns. If these could all be unlocked with just the game, it would all be fine and dandy, but they can’t.

Similarly, there are numerous amiibo that unlock exclusive armor and weapons in Breath of the Wild that can’t be obtained otherwise. Specifically, there are two amiibo unlocks that are much more worrisome than just costume and weapon unlocks. Epona, Link’s iconic horse, can’t be accessed without the Link amiibo for Super Smash Bros. She’s absolutely nowhere to be found in the base game, and has completely maxed out stats. Even worse, the Wolf Link amiibo from Twilight Princess HD literally teleports Wolf Link into Breath of the Wild, and acts as a companion that will help the player fight enemies and hunt for food. It’s an entire mechanic that is only applied to this single amiibo-exclusive companion, and it’s bizarre that Nintendo didn’t at least allow other companions to journey alongside Link if they went through the trouble to program Wolf Link in the first place.

They’re Here to Stay

Nintendo’s making a lot of money off these bad boys, and why shouldn’t they? They’re generally well-made products that also happen to offer fun in-game bonuses for players. At their worst, they lock content that can’t be accessed otherwise. At their best, they’re cool figurines that provide other benefits. Even with amiibo, Nintendo will still have traditional DLC, as evidenced by Breath of the Wild’s “Champions’ Ballad” DLC coming in the next couple of months. Compared to most publishers, Nintendo is doing it right with amiibos. They just have to keep an eye on themselves, produce a reasonable amount of units for collectors and avoid preying on their fans desire obtain all things Nintendo.

Also: no more of this keeping Epona away from us business. That’s a deal breaker.