Playdate’s success proves there’s a strong appetite for novelty handhelds

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Playdate, the kinetically powered handheld from manufacturer Panic, has proven to be a massive success.

Playdate‘s original production run of 20,000 units has been smashed a year on from its April 2022 launch. To date, the crank-powered handheld has exceeded 53,000 units. It seems like the success of the handheld has somewhat taken its manufacturer by surprise; Panic stated that: “the team is hard at work on getting customers their Playdates, and fully expect to deliver all pre-orders by the end of this year” (thanks, The Verge).

Despite the apparent difficulty in fulfilling orders, the company appears to be seeing the positive side of the situation. “When we started, we had no idea how big the audience would be for a weird product like this,” said Playdate project lead Greg Maletic.

“To have now sold more than 53,000 (and counting) is heartening. And this, at a time when parts shortages forced our delivery lead-times out as much as a year. As those lead-times shorten and Playdate delivery becomes more immediate, we’re looking forward to an even better year two.”

Power in novelty

(Image credit: Panic)

Panic may not have intended the Playdate to reach for anything beyond niche status, but those sales numbers are far more impressive than they look. Sure, it’s not shifting tens of millions like the Nintendo Switch. But for a crowdfunded device with a unique approach to game delivery (and not to mention how the Playdate is powered), it’s a very strong year one.

Playdate’s success story is nice to see in the crowdfunding space. Especially so, as many projects either fail to meet expectations or, at worst, fail to deliver a final product at all.

Playdate certainly won’t be for everyone due to its admittedly odd design and strictly monochromatic display, but it’s clearly resonated with handheld gamers and developers alike. Playdate’s game library is entirely unique, with its first-year Season 1 packing a total of 24 games onto the system at no extra cost. There are some notable devs here, too, including Chuhai Labs (developers of Cursed to Golf) and Bennett Foddy (creator of YouTube and streaming sensation Getting Over It).

When a strong unique selling point is on the table, it shows that there’s a clear demand for handhelds doing something different than the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck. I’m reminded of the brilliant Evercade EXP, a handheld that works with bespoke cartridges that offer hundreds of console and arcade classics, as well as a few excellent indies.

Now, as it marches into year two, Playdate’s audience and game library looks like it will only be expanding. And I reckon it could eventually feature in our best handheld games consoles list; it’s certainly on the right track. Here’s hoping Panic has an easier time fulfilling the rest of its orders soon.

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