Tuesday, June 02, 2015

My Life as an Amiibo Scalper

"You used to be like, 'I'll only buy extra to help my friends.' Now you're all, '$17 isn't enough profit. I can get more.' What happened to that old mindset?"

"War. War changes things."

Once again, my wife is always correct.

When amiibo first launched... (Wait. Some of you may not know what amiibo are. Before you go any farther, skim this page, then come back. I'll wait... All set? Good.)

When amiibo first launched, it was a fun little celebration of Nintendo's history and classic characters. It was collection of fairly detailed little figures that also unlocked in game bonuses in various Wii U and 3DS software. I didn't want to buy into the hype, but I did want to play along and have a few figures of my own. On the day of the amiibo launch, I purchased three figures to go along with my copy of Super Smash Bros. - Link from the Legend of Zelda, Samus Aran from Metroid, and the Wii Fit Trainer from Wii Fit. A few days later I picked up an amiibo of Fox McCloud to represent my favorite Nintendo franchise, Star Fox. Things were great...until the bottom fell out.

A photo posted by Terence Polk (@topolk) on

In early December, a rumor got out that Nintendo was going to discontinue some amiibo. This didn't make sense as the line had just released in late November and appeared to be selling well. Then the confirmations came. The "Holy Trinity" of Marth, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer were being removed from store systems and the Race to eBay was on.

Was it an issue of Nintendo manufacturing demand? Probably. No matter, as Wave 2 sold out equally as fast and with it, its own set of effectively discontinued figures. Nintendo couldn't (or wouldn't) keep up with demand and in order to get the figures you wanted, you did one of two things - you either formed an alliance with friends or you paid a scalper. Obviously, one option was way more pleasant than the other. Given the choice of sending a few bucks to a friend to mail you a Marth versus spending $120 for one on eBay is an easy decision. I chose the former. Between people I had met on social media and real life friends, we had Wave 3 covered. If one of us found a rare or "unicorn" amiibo and we knew of a friend who wanted one, you picked it up for them and mailed it off to them. I was proud of this. I was even interviewed by GameInformer magazine as the Yin to the scalper's Yang. 
Polk decided he was going to assist those who couldn't find figures they were looking for. "Maybe I'm a believer in karma, but I've never asked for more than face value plus sales tax plus shipping costs," he tells us. "With the way demand has been for certain characters, your options are to pre-order everywhere possible or resort to paying extreme markup from scalpers. In that case, I'll go with the former everytime."
Then came Wave 3. With Wave 3 came more amiibo, more attention, more hype, and more scalpers. With more people wanting to collect amiibo, be it for fun or for profit, more and more of the collectors that I was close with dropped out of the game. The time and stress surrounding these $13 figures just started being not worth it anymore. For whatever reason, I've stuck around, but with the exception of few twitter friends, I'm no longer looking out for the best interest of my fellow collectors. Instead I use those same collectors to subsidize my collection. Nintendo fans are a passionate, if not crazy, fanbase who will pay a pretty penny to get what they want.

Why'd I change my mindset? I don't know. I think I just got tired of seeing people pocket easy money while I shipped off rare figures for a song. Being the good guy wasn't giving me the "warm-fuzzies" anymore. I got much more of a rush from turning $13 into $40 without doing much more than uploading a couple of pictures to eBay and shipping off a box. Coincidentally, my "reselling" of amiibo started right around the time I stopped driving for Uber, so maybe I was just trying to fill that void. Who knows?

Will I keep doing this? Well, I'm not going to lie and say no. Two weeks ago I sold a figure for $119 ($100 profit). Hell, as I was writing this post I sold a figure for $50 ($26 in profit - which is the cost of two amiibo), so this train will keep on rolling. That said, a little (very teeny tiny) part of me feels gross about it. That's probably why I'm writing this post - a little bit of my guilty conscience is peeking out.

Wave 5 of the Smash Bros. line launches in July. With that we get a little bit closer to end of amiibo madness as we currently know it. Which is good, because the devil in me is getting tired of putting a muzzle on the little angel on my shoulder.

Monday, June 01, 2015

A Tale of Two Kindles - Part III

Part I || Part II

So it's been three weeks since my Kindles came in the mail. They arrived only a day apart, with the OG Kindle arriving first, so I didn't really have much time to grow attached to one before the other arrived. While I do have a favorite, both of them come with their own selling points: 

OG Kindle
- It's tiny. With it being so small and super light, it's easy to toss it into my work bag for a lunchtime read. Also, I can curl up into a weird position and hold this with one hand, much like I would with a real book.
- Distraction free. This is an eReader. Nothing more, nothing less. There's no browser, there's no games, there's no apps. When it's time to sit down and focus on reading, this is the device I go to.
- Awesome battery life. This thing does not die. It's gotten a fair amount of use in the last few weeks and I've only had to charge it once. This makes this baby perfect for vacations and long flights.
- The screen creates a "soft reading" experience. Reading on a tablet can be tough. While the OG Kindle's screen isn't as easy on the eyes as the Kindle Paperwhite, it's still a very pleasant experience.

Fire HD 7
 - The speakers on the HD7 are really nice. I bring them up for two reasons: 1) Sometimes I like to listen to music while reading. Yes, even my leisure time requires background noise. 2) The Fire HD7 has a "pretty good" text-to-speech program. While I haven't used it much, being able to turn any book I'm reading into an audiobook is quite nice.
- Magazines and Newspapers are great on the HD7. Currently I subscribe to the digital versions of The Washington Post and WIRED Magazine and I've been more pleased with both. WIRED is also available on the OG Kindle, but it loses something without the interactive features and content that are in the HD7 version.
- Even though I was looking for an eReader, having a tablet isn't bad. It's still my third option behind my phone and laptop, but it's a nice option to have. I have found lounging about in the recliner while fiddling around with apps or whatnot to be rather relaxing.

As to which one is my favorite, I'm surprised to say that it's the Fire HD 7. The whole reading experience is better on the OG Kindle, but it's not bad at all on the Fire. In reading "Guestlist" by twitter friend, @JayFingers, I found that 70% of my reading was done on Fire. When I sat down and thought about why, I realized that it was because the tablet allowed me to be distracted for a moment, then go back to reading. Physical books and even the OG Kindle get "put down" and don't always get picked back up. Meanwhile on the Fire, I can stop reading, look something up, send out a tweet, check my email...then go right back to reading. This works for me. That said, I still enjoy my OG Kindle and would recommend it to anyone looking for a small-gift to anyone who doesn't have an eReader already. In the same vein, I can't necessarily recommend the Fire HD 7 to someone who doesn't have a tablet, but that's another story for another time...

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Kindles - Part II

Part I

After looking at all of the Kindle SKUs that were available, I set my sights on picking up the basic, plain Jane Kindle. Why not aim higher and grab one of the Kindles with a better screen and more functionality or one of the (Kindle) Fire tablets? Well, basically it boiled down to cost. I didn't want to throw out $199 on something like the Kindle Voyage, only to find out that I didn't care for eReaders either. So the $79 basic Kindle it was.

Then Mother's Day happened. Leading up to Mother's Day, Amazon slashed the price of the Fire HD 7 from $139 to $99. Not only was this a $40 savings, but it was also only $20 more than the regular Kindle I was considering. Now, I'm not a fan of tablets, as I generally find them pointless, but I am a fan of a good deal. $20 was a small hurdle to jump over for a device that could be the eReader I wanted plus so much more. So yeah. Kindle Fire HD 7? Cool, I'm down.

...Three days later, someone at Amazon decided cut the price on all of their Kindles (and tablets) by $20. So the $79 Kindle I was eyeballing, was now $59. Sixty bones. That's squarely inside of "impulse buy" territory for me. Especially since Amazon was offering to let me pay it off over five months, interest free. So yeah. OG Kindle? Yeah, let's do this.

"So wait. You bought two Kindles?"
"Why? You can only use one at a time."
"Well, I bought the tablet because it was on sale and was a good value."
"Then why'd you buy the other one?"
"Because it too was on sale and that's the one I wanted."
"So why didn't you just buy that one first?"
"Because it wasn't on sale when I bought the tablet."
"Why didn't you cancel the tablet then?"
"Because it was a good value."
"...but, that reasoning doesn't make any sense."
"It doesn't. But does. Sort of."

So let's be frank here. Emily was 100% correct. There was no need for me to get both Kindles. However, I am my mother's son and I don't let a good deal pass me by. With two weeks having passed since they both arrived, did I make a good decision? And which Kindle is my favorite?...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Tale of Two Kindles - Part I

"I think I'm going to buy a Kindle."
"For what?"
"Um, to read books? What else would I use a Kindle for?"
"But you don't read books."

True story. Up until last night, I hadn't completed a book for the entirety of my relationship with Emily. If my memory serves me correctly, the last book I completed was "Angels and Demons." Based on this blog post, I finished that book in May 2009. Emily and I started dating in October 2009. It is now May 2015. It's been a minute.

That's not to say that I haven't tried to read a book or two. There was "Water for Elephants," a book of Emily's that I tried to read early on in our relationship to earn some brownie points. I read half of it and got bored. There was "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," a comedic take on a 'literary classic.' It didn't take me long to realize that "Pride and Prejudice" was still the same story that I didn't care much for in 11th grade and that adding zombies wasn't making it any better. Ironically, there was "The Shallows," a book about how the Internet is ruining our attention spans. I read three chapters, got distracted by something on the Internet, and forgot where I last put it down at. Most recently I started reading "Dad is Fat," a small, easy-to-read book by comedian Jim Gaffigan. I like Jim Gaffigan. I like the book. It is currently sitting on our coffee table, somewhere around 70% completed. I've been saying that I'll come back to it for two weeks now. At this point, there's a good chance that I will have kids of my own before I go back to finish reading those last 60 or so pages.

As I started recalling all of the unfinished books that lay beside my side of the bed, I started thinking about all of the things I really love to do. I love listening to music. I love wandering around the Internet. I love playing videogames. And as I started thinking about these things, I started thinking about how the way I discovered and consumed content has changed over the past 6 years. If I was changing the way I found and used things that I loved, maybe it was time to change how interacted with things that I only somewhat enjoyed?

Fast forward to the conversation that opened this blog post. So it was decided - I was going to buy a Kindle. Maybe an eReader would jumpstart my desire to read? If nothing else, it was worth a try. But picking a Kindle was no easy task. Amazon has no less than 7 devices that either carry the Kindle name or are part of the family tree. Which one would I choose?...

Monday, May 11, 2015

To Work or Not To Work - That's Not Your Question

Poor Sean Dunbar. Who's Sean Dunbar you ask? Mr. Dunbar is the gentleman behind the article "Why I Won't Let My Wife Quit Her Job," where he detailed the reasons why he didn't want his wife to become a stay-at-home mom. Not surprisingly, much of the mommyblogging sect are up in arms about this.

Weirdly enough, this is one of those times I kinda agree with them.

Mind you, I am not in favor of a woman becoming a stay-at-home mom. It's one of those core, non-starter type things for me. I have my reasons - some historical, some financial, some personal - but I'm just not in favor of the idea. Luckily, the woman I married has no aspirations of being a stay-at-home mom, so this isn't really an issue on my end. And it's not that I disagree with the reasons as to why Mr. Dunbar didn't want his wife to become a stay-at-home mom. I can empathize with many of those same concerns. My issue with this situation is that he completely took the choice away from her. That's lame.

A recent post on The Federalist sums up Mr. Dunbar's offense quite nicely:
"There are all sorts of problems with this attitude. Namely, Sean is spending a lot of time thinking about what he wants and not a lot about what his wife wants. He lists all the reasons why he wants her to work and so by the time you read in the piece that Sean’s wife specifically said she’d like to stay home with the kids, you want to send her a help line." - The Federalist
Now Mr. Dunbar is claiming that he was a victim of the editor's red pen, which is very possible. I know folks in media who have had their work retitled or heavily recast to fit a narrative, but for some reason I doubt that's the case here. It seems like Sean was more worked up about maintaining the image of what he wanted his wife to be instead of listening to what she wanted to be.

As I noted, I'm not in favor of stay-at-home mommydom, but if Em wanted to give it a go, I'm not going to overrule her decision. Being honest, I wouldn't be excited about it. That said, I'd be willing to talk it out, look at the pros and cons, and give it a try. If it worked for us, great. If it didn't, we'd figure out something else to try. Key words in those last two sentences? "Us" and "We."

Hopefully this situation will serve as a wake up call for Mr. Dunbar. It seems like his life is pretty good, but maybe it could be even better if he just listened to what his wife wants.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

#Splatoon: Global Testfire Event - Quick Thoughts

This weekend, Nintendo held the "Global Testfire Event" - essentially an online stress test - for their upcoming new Wii U game, Splatoon. Splatoon is Nintendo's take on the shooter genre and as expected, it's full of the quirkiness and whimsy we've come to expect from them. Unlike its contemporaries, the goal of Splatoon isn't to rack up the most kills. Instead, your goal is to cover as much of the ground as possible with your team's ink. There are "kills" (or "splats" as they've been lovingly referred to) involved, but with that not being the main objective, "Splatoon" has a very different feel from something like Call of Duty or Destiny.

The Global Testfire Event was held at three times - 11pm ET on Friday and 7am & 3pm ET on Saturday. I got the chance to partake in two of these times and I wanted to toss out some quick thoughts on my experience with the game:
  • I love that Nintendo continues to be a publisher that says, "We don't have a problem using colors OTHER than brown, black, and gray." Splatoon is very colorful and rather easy on the eyes.
  • The online was surprisingly smooth. Even though many of the matches I played paired me up with people from the other side of the globe, I'm happy to say that I experienced very little to no lag. After the strong showings from Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U, I'm glad to see that Nintendo is starting to become competent in delivering a solid online experience.
  • ...that said, there's no voice chat. As the matches are pretty short, its omission isn't terrible, but it would have been nice to have that option available.
  • The controls are great...after you disable the motion controls. They were very responsive and the Wii U Gamepad is actually put to good use. When waiting on a match, the Gamepad is host to an NES-style mini game (Squid Jump!) which actually wasn't half bad. I mean, it's better than staring at the TV. During a match, the Gamepad provides you with not only a real-time map (to track how much of the map is being covered), but also a way to instantly jump to where your teammates are. The latter is something I ever remember seeing in a FPS, so I'm looking forward to seeing what strategies come from it.
  • The gameplay was fresh, fun, and lighthearted. Going into Splatoon, I can't say I ever expected to use those words to describe a shooter - a genre that I've found stale for years. It's nice to have something that's both different AND good. 
  •  Black squids!! Representation matters. It's always nice when your in-game avatar can somewhat resemble you.
If the full retail release delivers, Nintendo could have a hit on their hands. Will it dethrone Call of Duty or drive Wii U sales into the stratosphere? No. Not likely. But it will find its niche. For a new IP on a system that hasn't had the success of its predecessor, that's not a bad start.

Splatoon swims onto Wii U on May 29th. After my two hours with the game, I think I'm going to put down the cash to be there Day 1.