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Indie handheld Playdate delayed to 2022

‘Battery tragedy’ to blame (and there’s more bad news)

A photo of a man playing a game on Playdate Photo: Panic
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Playdate, the little, yellow, different handheld games machine from Panic, will now launch in early 2022, the company told customers who pre-ordered the device. The Playdate was previously scheduled to arrive later this year (and originally announced for a 2020 release).

Panic said in an email Thursday that the first 5,000 Playdates — those scheduled to ship to customers this year — had battery issues that became evident during testing.

“We quickly became concerned that some of them weren’t giving us the battery life we expected,” Panic said. “Playdate’s battery is designed to last a very long time, and always be ready for you, even if not used for a while. But that was not the case: in fact, we found a number of units with batteries so drained, Playdate wouldn’t power on at all — and couldn’t be charged. That’s a battery worst-case scenario.”

Panic said it shipped those 5,000 Playdate units back to the manufacturer and is in the process of replacing the batteries from a new supplier. The snag means a delay, not just for the initial supply of Playdate handhelds, but likely for future units, too. The first 20,000 Playdate handhelds will now arrive sometime in early 2022, Panic said, with the next 30,000 coming in the second half of next year.

What’s more, Panic warned that future orders may also be impacted, and not just because of the battery issue. The worldwide chip shortage is also impacting Playdate manufacturing, according to this all-too-familiar anecdote:

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.

On the bright side, Panic said it finished a revision to the Playdate’s main board and plans to use a “similar, but more widely available, CPU” in future orders. The company also mentioned “other part shortages we’re trying to outsmart right now,” but suffice it to say, the wait for a Playdate is getting longer.

Of course, Panic is not the only company facing shortages of chips and other components. Sony and Nintendo both recently cut shipping estimates for the PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch, respectively, and Valve announced a delay of its Steam Deck handheld gaming PC on Wednesday, also citing supply chain issues.