Who Is Panic’s Playdate Game Console For?

It’s for people who love fun and retro, quirky tech

Key Takeaways

  • The Playdate is a tiny hand-cranked game console from indie software house Panic.
  • The console has a B&W screen, comes with 24 games, and has a crank on the side.
  • It’s all about fun.
Panic's Playdate handheld being held in front of a yellow background

Panic

If you like quirky gadgets, whimsical design, and have heard of Untitled Goose Game, you’re going to L-O-V-E Panic’s Playdate.

The Playdate is a pocket game console from indie software house Panic, with hardware design help from Teenage Engineering, the company behind the iconic OP-1 and OP-Z synthesizers. One look at the Playdate’s specs will show it’s not a rival to the Nintendo Switch, or any other handheld console. It has a black and white screen, with no backlight; its games have names like Casual Birder, Executive Golf DX, and Echoic Memory. Oh, and it has a crank on the side. 

The whole thing is an unashamed tribute to the original Game Boy, and the low-fi games of that era, only with a distinctly modern aesthetic and sense of playfulness. But who is this $179 device for?

"The Playdate resembles a Willy Wonka-meets-Wes Anderson Game Boy, and also has an unorthodox approach to its game library. It doesn’t attempt to compete with Microsoft or Sony’s new consoles," Eden Cheng, founder of WeInvoice, told Lifewire via email. 

Why Panic?

Panic is better known as a Mac software developer, but has more recently published quirky games like Firewatch, Untitled Goose Game, and Nour: Play With Your Food. To understand why the developer of an FTP utility app created this crazy little games machine, you have to understand one of the founders.

Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser collects weird junk food from around the world, drives an imported Japanese Toyota Town Ace because "it makes me very happy," and for years published an annual blog post with photos of the weirdest Thanksgiving fireworks. In short, Sasser is a lover of technological kitsch.

"The Playdate resembles a Willy Wonka-meets-Wes Anderson Game Boy, and also has an unorthodox approach to its game library."

The Playdate, itself, is clearly inspired by the Game Boy, and those pocket-sized Nintendo Game & Watch devices from the 1980s. So, the first answer to "who is the Playdate for?" is Sasser, and his co-founder Steven Frank.

Who Will Buy the Playdate

The Playdate is what would happen if enthusiasts launched a handheld console on Kickstarter, only they were professionals obsessed with tiny details, and had the resources to engage the services of Swedish designers Teenage Engineering. The result is a console for people that love fun, and appreciate retro tech.

Panic Playdate on a white background

Panic

It’s also for people who love beautifully designed gadgets. The Playdate already has a number of accessories, the coolest of which is the Playdate Stereo Dock, a tiny desktop speaker dock that uses the Playdate as its control face. When sleeping, it looks like a 1980s-era Sony cube clock radio, and the Playdate even sleeps with a clock face on its screen. 

The dock also runs a version of the 2021 Apple Design Award-finalist app Poolsuite FM, a beautifully retro music/radio app. So, the Playdate is also for people who enjoy retro fun, made with an obsessive attention to detail. 

The Playdate

The games are retro in aesthetic, and also in their simplicity. The games will be released in seasons, with Season 1 comprising 24 games, all of which look equally playful. 

And this brings us to the most obviously odd feature of the playdate—its crank.

The crank is just that, a flip out winder on the side of the console. This is a game control element, so you use it in addition to the usual d-pad and A+B buttons. The crank lets you flip pages, control motion, and all kinds of other neat and unexpected things.

At $179, the Playdate is either a cheap game console or a mid-priced adult toy. But really, it’s the fruit of the obsession of Sasser, along with all the indie developers who saw the early demos and jumped in to create games. Every part of the project, from the design to the games to the promotional material, sizzles with the joy of the creators. 

And that’s why it doesn’t have to compete with Nintendo or Sony. It doesn’t have to compete with anything, because for many buyers, it’s enough that it simply exists.

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