April 22, 2024


Unlimited Technology

Playdate delays to 2022 amid scramble to revise entire handheld console

Playdate delays to 2022 amid scramble to revise entire handheld console

The global chip shortage has made a serious impact on the production of upcoming portable gaming devices this week. Barely a day after Valve announced that its handheld PC, the Steam Deck, would be delayed two months, the Game Boy-like Playdate console, initially slated to arrive by the end of 2021, followed suit on Thursday.

The system’s producers at Panic have given a lengthy explanation for why the console is being delayed to “early 2022,” with orders beyond the first 20,000 pushed back even further.

In a newsletter sent to Playdate preorder customers, Panic details the reason for the delay: broken batteries in the first batch of 5,000 systems. “We found a number of units with batteries so drained, Playdate wouldn’t power on at all—and couldn’t be charged,” Panic writes.

The discovery resulted in a “months-long” scramble, which was exacerbated by the fact that preview hardware sent to members of the press (including yours truly) didn’t suffer from those battery woes. While investigating the issue, Panic halted all Playdate manufacturing until a new battery supplier could be secured. The announcement says that the company will swap the batteries on all existing systems, and consoles will reach customers by “early 2022.” Panic’s newsletter suggests that roughly 20,000 systems were part of this initial production run.

Like, how many days?

Panic ran into another issue with systems beyond that first run. As the company writes:

With lots of pre-orders in place, we immediately placed an order at our factory for all the parts needed for 2022 units and beyond. The response was… sobering. Many of our parts have been delayed significantly. In fact, we can’t get any more of Playdate’s current CPU for—you’re not going to believe this—two years. Like, 730 days.

To reduce the two-year wait, Panic decided to revise the entire Playdate system motherboard with a different CPU for all orders beyond the first batch of 20,000 systems. The company says this CPU is “similar but more widely available.” While Panic was forthcoming about the specs of the console’s original 180 MHz CPU, the company has not said what part will replace it. The CPU change won’t alter the price for existing Playdate orders, and it’s unclear whether Panic will have to eat any cost difference. The company would only say that “board revisions are complex and costly.”

Panic insists that players won’t notice any difference in performance, implying that the revised board will include the same elements as found on the original SoC (i.e. 3.5mm headphone jack, gyroscope). After the initial hardware run is fully shipped, Panic estimates that another 20,000 revised Playdate systems will begin reaching later preorder customers in the “second half of 2022,” with another 10,000 systems landing at the end of 2022.

Any Playdate orders beyond those will “almost certainly land in 2023,” Panic writes. If you’ve already placed a Playdate preorder, you have likely received an email confirming your “group number.” Panic says this number corresponds to the air-freighted pallets of consoles that will arrive at the company’s warehouses throughout 2022.

Pulp non-fiction

Panic has confirmed that the Playdate’s web-based development platform (“Pulp”) will launch in January 2022, with the full Playdate SDK (meant to help developers build games and software using the C or Lua coding languages) following in February 2022.

Panic also said that the 24 games in the console’s “season pass,” which is included in the device’s $179 price, will be released according to when new owners first power their systems on. If you get your Playdate near the end of 2022, you’ll still have to wait for your hardware to unlock each of your games, two per week (unless you figure out an alternative way to load and play them via the system’s PC connectivity).

All eyes are now on Analogue and its portable, retro-focused Pocket console. Will preorders of that system land in customers’ hands by year’s end, or will it also be delayed?

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