Playdate delays to 2022 amid scramble to revise the entire handheld console

The Playdate's shipping box, modified to reflect today's news.
Enlarge / The Playdate’s shipping box, modified to reflect today’s news.

The global chip shortage has put a serious pinch on upcoming portable gaming device production this week. Barely a day after Valve announced that its upcoming handheld PC would be delayed “two months,” the quirky, indie-minded Playdate console, initially slated to arrive by the end of 2021, followed suit on Thursday.

In the case of this yellow, cranky Game Boy-like system, its producers at Panic have opted to divulge practically everything leading to its system being delayed into “early 2022″—and orders beyond the first 20,000 getting pushed back further.

In a lengthy newsletter sent to Playdate preorder customers, Panic began by detailing a confusing hardware issue that its team found in its first batch of 5,000 completed systems, all seemingly ready to ship to customers by the end of 2021: a busted battery. “We found a number of units with batteries so drained, Playdate wouldn’t power on at all—and couldn’t be charged,” Panic writes.

This resulted in a “months-long” scramble, exacerbated by the fact that preview hardware sent to members of the press (including yours truly) didn’t reproduce these battery woes. While investigating the issue, Panic halted all Playdate manufacturing until a new battery supplier could be secured. Playdate’s announcement confirms that has indeed taken place and that all of the existing systems are now in a manufacturing queue to have batteries swapped and 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?

For systems beyond that first run, however, Panic ran into a different issue. 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.

The team at Panic opted to reduce its two-year wait by adopting a different strategy: revising the entire Playdate system motherboard with a different CPU for all orders beyond the first batch of 20,000 systems. Panic says this CPU is “similar but more widely available,” but while the Playdate team was originally forthcoming about its first choice for the 180 MHz CPU, the company has yet to clarify what replacement CPU it has opted for. This won’t change the price for existing Playdate orders, as well, though it’s unclear whether Panic will bear the brunt of a price difference in parts, beyond suggesting that “board revisions are complex and costly.”

Panic insists that whatever the difference is in specs, players won’t notice—and this implies the revised board will include quirks like a gyroscope. But we’ll still have to wait a while before we can put two Playdate hardware revisions side by side to notice any difference in homebrew games that push the system’s modest specs to their limits. 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 very 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 already received an email confirming your “group number.” Panic suggests that this number is the biggie, as it lines up with the air-freighted pallets of consoles slated to arrive at Panic’s warehouses over the course of 2022.

Pulp non-fiction

On the software side, Panic has confirmed that 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 C or Lua coding languages) following in February 2022.

Panic also confirmed that Playdate’s “season pass” selection of 24 games, which come as part of the device’s $179 price, will be gated by when new owners first power their systems on, as opposed to working on a universal calendar. 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 in a weekly drop of two games. Even if your system arrives 12 weeks after your friend’s, and they have all 24 games unlocked, you’ll still have to wait week by week for all of yours to unlock (unless you figure out an alternative path to loading and playing them via the system’s connectivity with PCs).

All wistful Christmas 2021 dreams now shift to Analogue and its portable, retro-minded Pocket system: will any of its preorders land in customers’ hands by year’s end, or will it, too, be delayed due to the serious manufacturing pinch across all industries?

Source: Ars Technica

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