The other day, a new handheld system was announced, called the PlayDate.
Why should you be excited about this?
…You shouldn’t. At all. The whole project looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
First of all, the handheld console is being made by Panic, a company with no experience in making consoles. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a bad system, but it does mean that potential buys have no history to go as to whether the PlayDate might be worth their money. $150 of their money, to be precise. Which is cheaper than many handheld consoles, yes, but hear me out as to why it’s still probably not going to be a good investment.
The console currently has no games announced for it. No details. Nada.
Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. The website lists 1 game. Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure. There’s a small animation of that game on the website, which kind of looks like the aesthetic is “game made from ASCII art.”
There are no specs listed for the system. It is entirely possible that the small animation of Crankin is the absolute best the system can deliver.
But wait, it gets better.
That $150 doesn’t just buy you the console, but also 12 games. Games that are, as I said, mostly unknown in quality or content, and will be released 1 a week as the console’s “first season.”
Yes, they’re roadmapping the unknown games.
It’s bad enough when games get released and we’re told, “Okay, here’s some basic stuff, but now you have to wait for the rest of the content.” More people are getting annoyed by that, and it’s quickly losing its appeal. But now PlayDate’s developers expect people to fork out $150 and wait for 3 months in order to get all the games.
Games which, I remind you, we don’t know anything about yet!
I talked to someone via the PlayDate Twitter account, so assured me that they’ll talk more about the games at launch, and that there’s no harm in waiting until all of the games have been revealed and released before buying the system, and yes, that’s true. Most people do that. They wait until they know there’s something they want to buy before, well, buying.
But if the best advice I’m given is, “Wait until you know all the details,” then why are we not being given those details now? Why are they not doing what they can to build hype instead of building mystery?
Besides, waiting might not be an option. There’s a nice little section at the bottom of the website that reads: “stock will be very limited.” They want you to sign up to be notified that moment the system is for sale, so you can buy into the limited stock ASAP, which means that if you wait to see what other people are saying about the games, waiting all 12 weeks for info to be revealed, it might be too late for you to actually buy the system. The only way to be sure is to buy before you know what you’re getting.
Geg, from TeleVidya, pointed out that as of the time of writing this article, there is no return policy in place. Most places have a 30 day policy, but 30 days will only get you 1/3 of the game lineup. If the last 2 months of games don’t work, are unsatisfying, etc, you might not be able to return it. Or you might; they may impose a longer return policy to allow people the time to fully judge the system and the games that are on it. Which means someone could play the first 11 games and master them and have nothing more to experience with them, but still be able to return the console and get their money back, essentially abusing the policy.
It’s impossible to tell. There is no policy in place yet. Somehow they thought it was a good idea to announce a system with unknown specs, an unknown lineup of games, and no policies in place to ensure customer satisfaction, all in the hope that the hype over the mystery would sell enough consoles to make it worth it.
I have no problem with companies that previously specialized in software trying to branch out into hardware. I have no problem with attempting innovation. These things are essential to ensuring that an industry doesn’t stagnate. But this is not the way to do it. This feels like a disaster waiting to happen, where we’re expected to buy things based on hype alone with no solid details as to what we’re going to get until it might be too late to get it at all. That’s a lot of maybes, and it’s no small amount of money they’re asking for.
The rep on Twitter touted the games as “free” when it’s more akin to being a weird combo of a roadmapped lootbox bundle thing. Arguing that people buy consoles without knowing what games will be on them all the time… without considering that those consoles usually get announced with specs and at least a short lineup of launch games, info that comes out well before the console’s street date.
Stating that comparing the unknown quality and quantity aspects of the PlayDate to a lootbox is like saying that pasta is a lootbox because you don’t know if you’re going to like the pasta until after you’ve bought it. Yeah, okay, but if I go to the grocery store to get pasta and what I see before me is a bunch of unlabelled boxes with a note that talks about how fun it is to be surprised by what might be inside the box, sorry, I’m not going to buy that “pasta.” If I buy a particular brand that I’ve liked before, it’s a good bet I’ll like what I just bought. Also if the pasta is moldy or the box full of bugs, I know the grocery store has a solid return policy in place, something that the PlayDate does not have established yet. There’s a level of trust involved in buying a box of pasta that is simply not present in the PlayDate, and it feels an awful lot like we’re expected to ignore that and just get excited about it because it’s new, it’s different, it’s weird and wacky and fun,
It’s not. It’s a PR and marketing blunder in the works. We’re asking legitimate questions and being told to just wait, when waiting might not be a valid option. We’re told that we should rest assured that they’ll take our concerns into consideration, when some of our concerns are things that should have been in place before the announcement. I’m more concerned than ever that this is a poorly planned and poorly marketed thing that people will waste their very real money on, and that nobody within the company seems prepared to deal with customer concerns in a way that actually waylays anyone’s fears. There are so many good ways this sort of experiment could be handled, and so far I’m seeing all the ways it shouldn’t be. That doesn’t exactly inspire me to drop $150 on this unknown when I could, say, spend that same amount of money on a 2DS XL with Mario Kart 7 pre-installed. A system made my a company known for good handhelds, that comes with a game I know to be fun, and sure, it may not be 12 games, but it’s something I know. Something I already trust.
Panic seems to have missed that step, and it’s not going to do them any favours in the long run. So far finding out any details about how this is all going to be handled has been like pulling teeth, and full of contradictions and attempts to put me off, and I’m not at all impressed.
Edit (7:06 AM, May 28, 2019) – As per Nathalie Lawhead’s blog, somebody from Panic reached out to the organizers of Playdate Pop Up, a games/zine meetup that touts itself as queer, feminist, and weird, to tell them they were no longer allowed to use the term Playdate for their event, as Panic now owns the name. Playdate Pop Up events predate the PlayDate handheld system by a number of years.
Even if you don’t hold with feminism and queer rights (if so, why are you even on my blog, since I kind of stand for those things?), telling a pre-existing group to stop using their name because you essentially just bought a word is not winning Panic or its product any fans…