Press Release

Panic announces the Playdate handheld video game system

Isolated image of a Playdate device

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Arriving in 2020, and featuring cutting-edge design, a black-and-white screen, unique controls, and an innovative “season” of video games included at no extra charge, Panic made Playdate just for fun.

Portland, OR — May 22, 2019 — After more than 20 years of making quality apps for Mac and iOS, Panic was, frankly, ready to try something new. Our first attempt: jumping into videogame publishing with Firewatch in 2016 and Untitled Goose Game later this year. That’s felt great. But we wondered: what if Panic tried something really different?

Today, after more than four years of work by a small and talented team, Panic is extremely excited to introduce Playdate, a brand new handheld gaming system.

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Today, Panic is revealing one of these original Playdate games: Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, from Keita Takahashi, the creator of Namco’s Katamari Damacy. This game uses the crank exclusively to control the flow of time, backwards and forwards. Your goal? Get Crankin’ to his date with Crankette while avoiding an ever-increasing series of ridiculous obstacles — obstacles that aren’t affected by the time control. Will Crankin’ make it to his rendezvous on-time? (Spoiler alert: no)

Panic built every part of Playdate from scratch, starting with early board designs (using the hotplate in our kitchen to flow solder), our own Playdate OS, a full-featured SDK supporting C and Lua development, a Mac-based simulator and debugger, and more.

We then brought Playdate to one of our favorite companies on the planet — Teenage Engineering, the Stockholm-based creator of synthesizers and so much more — to begin a cross-company collaboration, designing and engineering Playdate’s look. They came up with the crank!

Playdate will be revealed to the public on the cover of Edge magazine issue #333, hitting the newsstands in the UK and available for online purchase on May 23rd. Covering “The Future of Interactive Entertainment”, Edge has a rich history of celebrating the best of the gaming medium, and will offer an in-depth look at the creation of Playdate, including interviews with some of the developers.

Playdate will ship in early 2020, with pre-orders anticipated in late 2019 for US $149.

More information can be found on the official site at https://play.date, where users wanting to be first in line for a Playdate can sign up for our mailing list.

(We’ll have limited stock and will e-mail people in the order they sign up, so we recommend people sign up early, of course.)

Twitter users can follow the device’s progress @playdate.

Thank you for reading about Playdate. We can’t believe this is happening either. But we couldn’t be more excited.

For questions, please contact press@play.date

Media Kit


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FAQ

What is Playdate?

Playdate is a brand new handheld video game system that’s not quite like anything else.

What’s unique about it?

  1. The controls. Sure, it’s got the usual d-pad, A+B buttons, pause button, etc. But it also has a crank — a rotational analog controller that flips out from the side and puts a new spin on games.
  2. The screen. It’s got a black and white screen, and it’s beautiful. It has no backlight, but it’s super reflective. It’s an aesthetic like no other.
  3. The season. Playdate is not just a platform, it’s a complete experience: 12 brand new games, delivered over time, directly to the device.

Who is Panic?

Founded in 1999, Panic started making software exclusively for the Mac, including Audion, a now-discontinued pioneering MP3 player, Transmit, a file transfer client still going strong, and Coda, a professional web development IDE. Later, Panic added iOS software into the mix to complement their Mac tools. A brand new version of Coda for the Mac is slated to arrive later in 2019.

Panic also publishes video games, starting with the incredible Firewatch from Campo Santo, and, in late 2019, Untitled Goose Game from House House.

Why did Panic make Playdate?

There are two answers to this question.

The personal: because nothing’s surprising anymore and surprises are great! Panic saw an opportunity for something truly different in the world of video games. Something small-scale that could deliver a dose of fun and delight to video game players who have otherwise seen it all. Something that could fit nicely in-between “regular” gaming sessions. Something unexpected and beautiful, with a secret, surprise set of exclusive games written by amazing developers. Put simply: something that adds a little brightness to your life.

The professional: because we wanted to do something new. After 20 years of making software, we wanted to grow our skills, push us out of our comfort zone, and take us on an adventure. We love creating things, and it was time for us to level up.

What is a “season of games”? How does that work?

The Playdate Season is a collection of 12 secret games that are released to players over time — one a week.

Playdate’s games have been created by some of today’s most exciting indie developers, including Keita Takahashi, Bennett Foddy, Shaun Inman, Zach Gage, and more.

The games will remain a surprise until magically delivered to your device. One of the benefits of purchasing a Playdate early is that you’ll play the season in sync with the other first-buyers. You’ll be the first to know when new games are released, and the first to experience them.

What happens if I buy my Playdate in the middle of a season?

Your season will start the first time you power-up the device.

(If you want to receive the games that have already been released, that’s an option, too.)

Will there be more seasons? Or a game store?

It all depends on interest and sales. But we hope so!

Do the games go away at the end of the season?

Nope. Once a game is downloaded to your device, you can play it at any time.

How much will Playdate cost?

US $149. That will include the Playdate device, a USB-C cable for recharging the device, and a season of games.

Where does Playdate fit into the market?

Playdate isn’t trying to compete with the other devices that we already play and love. It’s designed to be complementary. It’s designed to deliver a jolt of fun in-between the times you spend with your phone and your home console; something to fill the moments when you just want a game you can pick-up and play.

We think — hope — that there are enough people in the world for whom the spirit and joyousness of this device will resonate clearly and loudly.

When is Playdate shipping?

We hope to take orders in late 2019, with deliveries beginning in early 2020. Subject to change, of course. This stuff is tricky.

What are Playdate’s dimensions?

Very small and thin: 74mm × 76mm × 9mm.

Since you're using an iPhone or iPad, just tap below to see Playdate in real life! (Make sure to flip to the 'AR" tab.)

Playdate device standing upright. Playdate device lying flat.

What is the screen like?

We wanted Playdate to offer a distinctly different experience than the one you get from your phone or TV. That meant Playdate needed a different kind of display.

Playdate’s 2.7-inch (68mm) screen is a unique, black-and-white, low-power LCD from Sharp, with a resolution of 400 × 240. On the surface, it might be tempting to compare the screen to, say, the Game Boy. But Playdate’s display is quite different: it has no grid lines, no blurring, is extremely sharp and clear, and has much higher resolution. It sounds odd to say, but: it’s truly a “premium” black-and-white screen.

Is there a backlight?

No! Wild, right? In daylight, the reflective layer makes it look spectacular. At night, you can sit by a reading lamp and bask in how incredibly beautiful a modern, sharp, highly-reflective black-and-white LCD can look. It’s great.

Is Playdate network-enabled?

Playdate contains both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth hardware, and Wi-Fi will be used to download games to Playdate. While it is possible to make games that offer head-to-head network play, our season will focus on single-player gaming.

What about the CPU? RAM? Storage?

The official answer is “real beefy.” We’ll discuss the specifications in more detail on launch.

What OS is Playdate running?

Playdate is running a custom OS designed by Panic.

What is the crank for? Does it power the device?

Think of the crank like an analog stick — but one you can turn endlessly. It tucks into the device nicely and adds a new element to Playdate games that can’t be found anywhere else. It does not charge the device.

Where did the idea for the crank come from?

Teenage Engineering, our design partners. Concerned about the prevalence of touch controls, I believe at one point they said, “we want to break people of their touch psychosis”.

Wait, who is Teenage Engineering?

Teenage Engineering is a Swedish consumer electronics company known for their innovative and inspirational musical instruments and inventive experiments. Beyond just designing the outside of Playdate, they have also helped us in innumerable ways and been a true collaborative partner, eager to help us bring this device to life.

In which countries will Playdate be available?

We’re still figuring this out.

How much do the games cost?

Nothing! The 12-game season is included in the US $149 purchase price.

Are there any hardware accessories or add-ons?

Nothing to announce at this time.

How do you write Playdate games?

We have a fully featured Mac-based SDK and simulator that allow game creators to easily develop and test their games. There are two ways to write games: using Lua, for ease of development, or using C, for games that need extra performance.

What happens after the season is complete?

We’ll have more to say about this when Playdate launches.

How many people worked on this?

Panic has 25 employees that will all make an impact on Playdate.

But the core team is roughly five people. They crafted the idea, designed the electronics, wrote the operating system, created the SDK, built the Mac-based development simulator, designed and coded games, wrote documentation, supported developers, created factory test processes, and more.

Also, two consultants helped: one who did our later-stage electrical engineering, and another who did the mechanical engineering and offered invaluable manufacturing support.

Plus, of course, our friends at Teenage Engineering.

What were the biggest challenges?

Everything was new, and the scope of what we had to make was tremendous, beyond even what we expected. But we did things the classic slow-and-steady Panic way, and although it’s taken time, we’ve accomplished a lot.

How can I make games for it?

Just click here to visit our survey/sign-up form. Once completed, we'll put you on the "interested" list, and keep you up-to-date with SDK news.

We’re looking for people of all backgrounds and abilities to make games for Playdate. You can be an accomplished expert or just getting started. And while our SDK currently requires Lua or C, we are working on new ways to make game making accessible to everyone. We don’t want anyone to feel hesitant — reach out and we’ll keep in touch.

Where do I buy Playdate?

Playdate will be available directly from us on the official Playdate website, https://play.date, later this year.