The play.date Console - Thoughts
Thu May 23, 2019

I don't care about basically any major video game related announcement, but occasionally something new catches my eye. The most recent of these? A new portable console, announced by a barely known company, in collaboration with a creator of music gear.

Of course, I'm talking about the play.date. This thing is VERY teenage engineering-y. Ridiculously so. If this was announced to be teenage engineering's debut into the gaming market, or even some odd new music device, I wouldn't even be surprised. Their hands are clearly all over this thing.

As for the thing itself, it seems very interesting. In traditional teenage engineering spirit, it has some very obvious and seemingly arbitrary limitations (no backlight? In 2019? A black and white screen?) but as a fan of teenage engineering, I know exactly what their game is here. They've always had a knack for making devices limited in the ways that make them fun to use, but with the power and cool features where it counts, and this seems like an attempt at the same for the gaming market.

The most obvious oddities this thing has are...too many to count. First, the screen. It's black and white, and non-backlit. This is one of the things I'm very unsure about, because non-backlit displays in the past have had problems with readability. The controls are limited, and the addition of a hand crank as an input method is certainly unique.

A lot of people may look at this and ask who it is for, who wants a console that seems this limited when things like the Nintendo switch exist. I think that the answer to that is everyone - it seems designed with the only goal of being fun. In a way, it's Nintendo-y like that, the Game Boy was far more limited than its contemporaries but was designed to be just fun, if not technically impressive.

Panic and Teenage Engineering have out-nintendoed Nintendo.

However, we don't know all that much about the hardware aside from external details. The software is similar - 12 games have been announced from various well known (and less well known) indie developers, of which we only have gameplay of one and the title of four. This is because of the distribution approach this console takes. Everyone who buys one will get access to 12 free indie games, with one being released every week. The design intention behind this seems to be to create a series of pleasant surprises. In an interview the developers talked about how they wanted to create excitement on new game day, a feeling of waking up excited to see what new game you have to play.

I have mixed feelings on this. It's a really fun idea and could be amazing, if it goes well. A free (well, included in the price) indie game every week for 3 or 4 months is great, but this will only work if every single game is at least okay. When you're excited for something, it's a lot easier to be disappointed by it, and I worry that if a bad game is released as one of the weekly picks it might feel like a slight burn. They also say that if the console is successful, there may be a season 2 and further seasons of games.

This also raises some more questions - will there be more games aside from the weekly releases? The fact an SDK has been announced would suggest that there will be.

Then, the price. $150. Seems a little steep for what it is, but this is a teenage engineering device. Everything I've bought from them before (two pocket operators) seemed priced steep but then once I had them I got more than my money's worth out of them. This price also includes the first 12 games, which is something worth thinking about. A little indie game on steam might cost around $10, and if you use those numbers, the hardware is $30 - pretty damn cheap. Of course, these are probably not all $10 games, some are probably going to be closer to the $5 super hexagon type of games. Maybe some will be long indie-RPG epics. But it is worth counting.

Currently, I'm waiting for more information. This device and the way they're planning to support it is very interesting, and an easy sell for me as a fan of exactly this kind of thing. But it could also end up being a big burn for those who buy it, with little to no game support after the initial 12 and getting forgotten fairly quick. All I can do is wait and see.



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