Playdate, Portland company’s video game system, begins shipping after clearing months of production hurdles

Playdate, the hotly anticipated video game system from Portland tech company Panic, began shipping Monday after a succession of manufacturing setbacks delayed the gadget by more than two years.

Playdate is a throwback to the handheld video games of the 1980s. Designers eschewed the latest graphics technology in favor of a simple, black-and-white screen and an old-fashioned directional button pad.

In a note of whimsey, the $179 Playdate also has a crank on the side. The crank provides various functions across the 24 games that come with purchase. (Games will be released online, two at a time, over the next 12 weeks.)

Panic is a software company, not an electronics manufacturer, and its first foray into computer hardware encountered a string of problems – exacerbated by the pandemic and the resulting global shortage in computer chips.

Most recently, Panic announced last November that many of its first 5,000 Playdates had faulty batteries. The company responded by sending them all back to its manufacturing contractor in Malaysia for replacement with new batteries from a different supplier.

Playdate fielded 20,000 orders in just 20 minutes when the first gadgets went on sale last July. And despite the delays, initial reviews Monday were very enthusiastic:

  • “All it’s cranked up to be,” proclaimed The Verge, writing that Playdate stands out in a new, golden age for handheld video games. “Its games are as weird as its design — and that’s what makes them so interesting.”
  • CNET called Playdate “adorable” and gave it an 8.0 rating out of 10: “It’s comforting. Charming. It makes me smile. I’m all for game experiences that do this for me. It’s what I play games for in the first place.”
  • Wired gave Playdate a 7 out of 10, describing it as “a fun, snazzy-looking console that doesn’t cost very much; it’s a great way to pass some time on your commute.”

All the reviews noted, though, that Panic is a long way from untangling its production snarls. Only the first orders are going out now – thousands more Playdates are coming sometime later, though Panic hasn’t said just when.

And orders placed now won’t be filled before next year.

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | Twitter: @rogoway | 503-294-7699



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