Throughout the years, Video Games always have been associated with toys to some extent, the Nintendo Entertainment System was put in the boys toy isle rather than the computer isle to increase its sales, and R.O.B. the robot effectively disguised the system as a toy for consumers.
In 2011, Activision took this idea to a whole new level. A Toys-To-Life Game is one where physical toys are placed on a portal making them appear in the game world. Disney, seeing Activision's monumental success with Skylanders as a golden opportunity (30 million figures sold), entered the Toys-To-Life market in force with Disney Infinity which started off strong as well but wasn't able to keep pace with the demand for figures. However, when Disney Infinity 3.0 was released, Disney didn't check the current trends to see that interest in Toys-To-Life had already peaked with Disney Infinity 2.0 and was in decline by that point in time and in doing so, overestimated the dwindling demand for figures and took a heavy loss from investing too much into figures production. Thus, the discontinuation of Skylanders and Disney Infinity marks the end of the Toys-To-Life era as a popular fad.
Examples (with articles here):
- The amiibo (from Nintendo), an unconventional example of this trope as there is no singular amiibo game. Instead, amiibos communicate with the console and game in order to buff characters in some way, similar to Bribing Your Way to Victory but giving you a collectible figurine instead of microcurrency.
- Disney Infinity used iconic Disney characters as the toys and was one of the first attempts at playing Follow the Leader, combining the Toys-To-Life gameplay with a level editor. Launched in 2013, it was actually leading the pack at one point, but Disney abruptly discontinued it in 2016.
- The HyperScan was an early example of this trope, using cards that could be placed on the console instead of figures, which gave you a character, powerup, or more depending on the game.
- LEGO Dimensions used actual LEGO minifigures as the toys which were placed on the LEGO Dimensions portal to have them appear on screen which allowed them to present the promise of a much bigger crossover potential than Disney Infinity was capable of. Launched in 2015, it was discontinued in 2017 due to being late to the party and facing strong competition from Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
- Pokémon Rumble U used the NFC reader in the Wii U control pad to scan in Pokémon, but would actually read anything with an NFC chip and give a random effect if it didn't recognize the signal.
- Skylanders (2011) was the Trope Codifier. You would place a Skylander on the Portal of Power to bring them to life in the game world. Creating the "Put toy on portal model" used by later games in the genre.
- Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a third-person action-adventure game set in space that used NFC spaceship figures with swappable parts. And the Nintendo Switch version also used an Arwing. This game was released late into the Toys-to-Life fad, and eventually switched over to digital-only content in 2019, dropping the physical Toys-to-Life aspect.
- Webkinz is an example earlier than what people think of as "toys-to-life". When you buy a real life Webkinz stuffed animal, it comes with a code that you can use to get the same pet in-game.
- Daigunder and Denno Bokenki Webdiver figures crossed over with Plug N Play Game, containing the game on the toy, which could be wired into a TV to play the video games on them. They would also interact with other toys in their line through IR sensors.
- F.A.M.P.S. was the girl-toy equivalent to U.B. Funkeys, being a proto-social media platform and minigame arcade.
- Kamen Rider got in on the action with Kamen Rider Summonride, using toys of the riders in the standard "Put toy on portal model", notable for the fact that the toys were in Diving Kick positions.
- According to Wikipedia, the first toy-to-life game was Redbeard's Pirate Quest: Interactive Toy by Zowie in 1999. The game included a pirate ship that plugged into a computer's printer socket and scanned pirate figurines into the game world. Players moved the figures around (including turning them) to interact with the game world.
- Predating even Skylanders was Mattel's U.B. Funkeys (2007). Vaguely monkey-looking figures would be placed on top of a larger base figure to become the player's avatar in-game. If no figure was placed on top, the base figure would be used as the avatar instead. Which figure the player used changed which areas are accessible, with an exclusive clubhouse and minigame for each of the figures.