DO hunt for toys based on your giftee's favorite video games. Tomy's Pokemon X and Y Battle Arena is spectacular. Power A's Skylanders: Swap Force playsets are fun and functional. But it's not just about the kids' games. Even the most mature titles out there have some sort of toy or statue available for its hardcore fans. McFarlane Toys has Assassin's Creed and Halo covered. NECA does everything from Left 4 Dead and BioShock Infinite. Do a search for "video game name"+"toys" and you're most likely going to find something cool to gift. In fact...
DO hunt for toys based on any entertainment property. They make toys for all the things these days. Every couple of weeks I get a newsletter from Entertainment Earth, and every couple of weeks I go "Wait, they have toys for that?" Daft Punk action figures. Sons of Anarchy Pop Vinyl. Game of Thrones busts. Grumpy Cat plushes — and costumes. A normal person is just a toy collector without toys. Fix that.
DON'T buy toys in a line your giftee collects regularly. If your friend or family member is a rabid Transformers fan, odds are there is nothing on the shelf at Walmart they don't already own. Instead...
DO look for toy-related gifts that aren't necessarily toys. They have all the Transformers? Fine. Do they have a Transformers ugly Christmas sweater? Does your LEGO fan have a ring they can connect minifigs to? Does your My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic-loving uncle have the appropriate car decals?
DO consider modding your own toy gift. There's one thing you can be certain even the most fervent toy collector does not have — an original creation. If you've got skills painting and sanding tiny things, grab a cheap G.I. Joe figure from Toys'R'Us and make your giftee something unique, be it a character they love who hasn't gotten the official toy treatment yet, or an action figure of them. Or you. Or Millard Fillmore. Check out Figure Realm's custom action figure tutorials for handy tips.
DON'T buy boxed retail kits for a LEGO fan, unless they ask for one specifically. As cool as they are, they're also ridiculously expensive. Instead of going mass market, consider exploring the work of the LEGO community's top creators. Folks like Chris McVeigh, who not only shares PDF plans for creating amazing custom pieces, but also sells complete kits for creating everything from Star Wars Christmas tree ornaments to tiny video game consoles to oh-my-god it's a Christmas TARDIS.
DO consider storage solutions for your toy collecting friends. Those colorful pieces of plastic scattered all about their apartments would look much better in say, a glass display cabinet from Ikea. If you're handy, offer to build and hang some shelves for their collection. Got a Skylanders fan in your family? Tired of stepping on Gill Grunt's harpoon? There's a Power A over-the-door solution for that. Anything that keeps the toys in-sight and out of the closet.
DO go vintage, if only because it's funny. I'm not talking spending $500 on a boxed G.I. Joe vehicle from the 1980's. I'm talking picking through the internet's bargain bins for things like Sectaurs, the insect-riding figures whose steeds were mounted on black gloves, or Visionaries, knights of the magical light, with the stupid holograms. Go so old-school they burnt the school down. It's so much fun seeing friends' faces light up when they go "I remember these! They sucked!"
DON'T shy away from big-ticket items. Pricey toys are pricey, but they're generally pricey for a reason. Items like Sideshow Collectibles's sixth scale figures and Hot Toys' drool-worthy fare are the sort of grown-up collectible fare that toy fans dream of but — and this is important — don't often by for themselves. If they do, they make a lot of noise, so it's easy to know what they have and what they don't. What I am trying to say here is if someone doesn't get me this Batman for Christmas I am going to cry.
DON'T buy toys for children blind. There is nothing worse than giving a child a gift and having them burst into tears because they already have it. I've been on both sides of that equation, and either side sucks. Every time I visit Toys'R'Us I overhear parents asking their children "Do you think Billy will like this?" At this point, Billy probably has a dozen of those — man, that Billy gets a lot of gifts. Consult with parents before purchasing.
DON'T give gift certificates. Wait, what? Gift certificates are the bomb, aren't they? Sure, if you're shopping at retail, but the coolest toys aren't available at standard retail, and many of the cool specialty stores online don't have gift cards. They do, however, accept VISA gift cards. It's just a step away from handing them cash, but it's an important step.
There, that should be enough to get you folks talking about toys for ages. Sound off with your own dos and don'ts in the comments.
Top image courtesy of Chris McVeigh