Last week we began our amiibo mini-series as we took a look at Planning & Development for amiibo by Nintendo. This week we will be going even further in-depth to find out how amiibo came to be, and how they have taken advantage of the opportunities in the market that were there.
Of course, most fans are aware that Nintendo had their start as a playing card company, and many of those folks know they moved into toys before they became one of the biggest names in video games. Their background in toys allows them to have a very unique advantage in the marketplace. Nintendo, of course, did not invent the toys-to-life market, but they sure are taking advantage of it. As with all things that the company does, they wanted to push for the highest possible quality, even in this all-new field for them.
Because “amiibo” was a new challenge for Nintendo in the unknown field of figures, we needed completely different knowledge than in the past. In this section, we discuss “Nintendo Quality” with one of the development staff, using amiibo as an example.
So, understanding that Nintendo wants to ensure that any figures they produce are of high quality, we can now look closely at how, exactly, they were able to do that.
What kind of principles did you consider to achieve amiibo quality and reliability standards?
amiibo was a cross-functional project involving departments such as sales and marketing, software development, hardware development and manufacturing. We performed a range of tasks in the project, from character supervision, setting the design criteria to ensure quality and reliability, making sample prototypes called “masters,” to verifying whether they meet safety standards. The people selected from each department came together to work as one on amiibo production. We were aiming to achieve something we always have valued in product development, Nintendo Quality, which means creating high-quality products that can be enjoyed by consumers of all ages with peace of mind.
What challenges did you face while you were developing amiibo?
Nintendo has developed a variety of game systems such as Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. However, amiibo development was extremely challenging because we couldn’t use our existing knowledge at all and had to proceed through everything by trial and error.
For example, when we make a game system we usually make a mold of each part by cutting the metal directly from 3D data using a drill or some other tool. For a figure, however, you use almost no machinery at all to make the mold, and do everything by hand instead. For amiibo, we started by creating a master. We then took this master apart to consider how to easily coat colors or create each mold. Link, for example, has 24 separate pieces.
We took a cast of the first mold by pressing clay into each part of the master and then coating it with silicon. Finally, after repeatedly duplicating the mold with harder substances, we used iron to create a metal mold. Although we could not apply our existing knowledge or experiences, we learned along the way as we pursued absolute quality.
What aspects were particularly challenging?
We want consumers to have amiibo with them all the time, instead of just using it as an ornament. So, we needed to ensure that the figures were safe and reliable enough to handle such use. The finished parts are painted one by one and then glued together; however, we had a hard time ensuring reliability, because the more parts a figure has, the weaker it will be.
We checked durability in various tests, such as pulling, dropping, twisting, etc., but because amiibo was the first figure production for Nintendo, we had to start by deciding what constituted a passing grade. We first checked the safety standards and laws of each country, and then decided the level of testing necessary to pass all of the standards.
Once we had determined the standards, we designed the figures to meet them. But to meet the standards and ensure the figures had sufficient strength, we had to adjust certain parts of the actual character images to make them thicker or wider, all while being sure not to change the overall original appearances. We also rounded the pointed parts for safety purposes.
There are a total of 35 amiibo characters (as of March 31, 2015). Because each character has a different shape, different methods and criteria are used for testing. Various tests are performed for each and every character in a specialized internal department at Nintendo.
Tell us your thoughts on Nintendo Quality.
At Nintendo, we never fail to picture consumers’ smiles while developing products. As a result, I think that when people hear about a Nintendo product, they automatically imagine it as a brand that families and children can use with peace of mind. Although no one ever mentioned it, I think the people who worked on this project all were conscious of protecting this aspect of the Nintendo brand. Nintendo Quality was crafted based on this philosophy. I will continue to ensure that we aim for the Nintendo Quality that ensures consumers smile.
I remember back in the early days of the NES, Nintendo made sure to let their customers know a game would be up to the standards that they set forth by affixing the Nintendo Seal of Quality on every box that they released. That seal is still seen to this day, and though it’s not talked about like it once was, Nintendo still strives to only release products that truly have earned that seal.
It is always pretty interesting when I hear people who try to “tell Nintendo” how they should conduct their business. Suggestions of “money-hatting”, giving in to current market trends, going strictly third party, getting rid of this, starting to do that…all things that will eliminate the doom. These people don’t understand what I the core of Nintendo, however.
No one actually says it, but we always dare to take the challenging route – it’s a Nintendo tradition!
As always, gaming is meant to be fun, so keep gaming!!
- Masaki Amano — Mechanical Engineering Group No. 2 Product Development Department Nintendo Co., Ltd.