When Nintendo first introduced amiibo to the world, they were an instant success and subject to immense hype. This inspired many artists to begin designing their own custom amiibo in order to capitalize on the craze for a variety of reasons. But even as interest in them has fallen over the past year, these custom creators have continued making and selling amiibo, suggesting that the community has no plans of dissolving anytime soon.
For some, the impetus behind making custom amiibo is simply explained. Doubting Nintendo would release amiibo of their favourite characters, they take matters into their own hands, sculpting figures of who they’d like to see announced. Ryan Benno, a 3D artist at Insomniac Games and a custom amiibo creator in his spare time, is one such individual.
“I started making customs shortly after I started collecting amiibo, and I happened to come across some customs people had made,” he explains. “I had just recently obtained one of the rarer amiibo, and my favorite, Ness from Earthbound. It was kind of a call back to a time when I was a kid who fell in love with Earthbound in the mid ‘90s and went out of my way to take a sculpting class to make clay figures of the whole cast in that game. And I think that was kind of the genesis of the idea. I knew Nintendo would probably never make Mother/Earthbound amiibo so that was the driving force for that.”
Following the success of this, Benno began taking commissions from other amiibo enthusiasts to produce more Mother amiibo. He also started working on Wind Waker and Pokémon-related customs, which he would later sell on his site. This emphasis on producing only what interests him is important, as he believes it keeps him invested in the process.
“I’ve kind of toned down a bit on my end since last year, in terms of what I make,” he says, “but that’s partially because I’ve made most of the figures I’ve already wanted to make. With the exception of some of the cast from the SNES Super Mario RPG.
As well as selling amiibo, Benno has also previously donated some of his customized figures to charities like the Flint Michigan Water Fund and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital to be auctioned off. Here his work was accompanied by that of other custom creators, like GandaKris and the Game Changers. These artists are all in agreement that the community aspect to their work is absolutely critical, as it grants them an opportunity to give back and produce more meaningful customs.
“We’ve done a lot of charity work,” asserts Krystyne “GandaKris” Escalambre. “I think if you’re given so much from the community, I feel like it’s your obligation to always give as much back as you can. I really love doing work for charity, and I’ll continue to do it as long as I can.”
The Game Changers, twin brothers Alex and Tom Cirillo, are of a similar mind. They started working on custom amiibo initially as an inside joke that developed from their time playing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but have since become two of the most popular custom amiibo artists across social media. As it stands, their Instagram account has over 34,000 followers, which has given them an enormous platform to exhibit their latest work, as well as bring attention to smaller artists, special events, and charities.
“It would be kind of a waste of our reach — how many people follow us and support what we do — to not try to help other people and support causes,” says Alex.
Yet, in spite of the proficiency and the goodwill of these artists, general interest in amiibo has dropped quite substantially in recent times. This was perhaps inevitable given the unprecedented success of amiibo at launch.
“Interest in customs have dipped, certainly in comparison to last year,” Benno notes. “I think that was to be expected, especially since Nintendo has increased stock for a lot of the rarer ones, and they haven’t released nearly as many as last year.”
Regardless, most custom creators aren’t deterred by this. For the Game Changers, this drop in commissions has only inspired them to be more ambitious. And they believe this may be the case for others within the community too.
“What’s interesting is with the amiibo craze being at an all-time low,” notes Alex, “people are looking for that really special custom. So maybe the number of amiibo we’re producing is lower, but it gives the chance to make a better custom than we’ve ever made before.”
And Escalambre feels similarly. It might be a financial bummer, but there are upsides as well. The decrease in commissions only makes those that are made that much more special.
“Every time an amiibo leaves my hand now,” she says, “I want to make sure it’s not only just a toy, but something that someone is proud to display in their home as an art piece as well. People love these characters, so I want to make sure I do them justice.”
The drop in interest has also made their job much more manageable, as demand has finally decreased to meet the labor force and potential supply. The creators I spoke with have been able to keep making amiibo at a steadier rate without having to overwork themselves or disappoint people waiting for orders.
“For the last two years, we’ve been pretty backed up,” Alex confesses. “When someone ordered from us, we had a pretty long wait period. Now it’s starting to get better because the hype has died down, which is great.”
“It has been easier,” Escalambre confirms. “I can definitely thank Nintendo for slowing down and helping that hype die. It does make it significantly easier on me. I get so many requests, and for me to not have to stress out or overwork myself, I tend to have to release them in waves. I get so many requests and I would love to fulfill them all, but I’m only one person.”
While the spotlight on amiibo might not be as bright as it once was, custom artists are determined to keep creating. The reasons for this are aplenty: to assuage demand for less popular characters ignored by official means, to express their own ideas and personalities through their art, and to lend a helping hand to worthy causes. Often as not, it’s a combination of all those.
With a new batch of amiibo on the horizon, it’ll be exciting to see what the custom community will come up with in response, and where it’ll head next. Because those creators aren’t giving up any time soon.
Photos via Ryan Benno, GandaKris, The Games Changers