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Playdate’s Inability To Debut In Malaysia

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Panic’s 2019 Playdate announcement sparked curiosity. How could we receive this odd new device?

A funny new toy with weird retro-flavored games created for its D-pad controls and folding hand crank was first seen. The Playdate’s tiny black-and-white screen and “seasonal” games from indie stars like Keita Takahashi (working with Ryan Mohler under the name “uvula”), Bennett Foddy, Dave Hoffman (davemakes), and Serenity Forge made it a no-brainer purchase for many reasons: novelty, nostalgia, creative experimentation, and a return to intimate explorations of fun and general goofballery that you just don’t get on major consoles. (Playdate developers may use Pulp to create sideloaded games and sell them on itch.io.)

Image By : Vjeran Pavic/The Verge

The initial preorders sold out in 20 minutes. After realising that this small yellow fantasy was made in Malaysia, just next door to me in Singapore, I was ready to throw fistfuls of cash at Panic. This should benefit Southeast Asian independent game developers and consumers. However, it feels more like a sore point and a case study of the chaotic, post-imperialistic manufacturing and logistics industry.

Leeying Foo was excited to learn the Playdate was being manufactured in her nation. Foo, a Kuala Lumpur UX/UI designer, was happy and proud. “But it soon became evident that the console would be a very niche and limited console that not many people would be able to get.” “Playdate gaming console: Made in Malaysia, but not available in Malaysia,” read a headline in The Star, a national English-language newspaper.

Playdate announced its Malaysian availability on their shipping website shortly after debut. “This is, strangely, the most convoluted shipping problem of all,” it starts, explaining that Panic cannot ship or sell Playdates directly to Malaysian clients due to tax issues. Playdates shouldn’t be shipped from Malaysia to Panic’s fulfilment facility in California and back again.

“When we transport tangible things to a country, that creates a tax relationship.”

Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser

Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser revealed through email that Panic sells Mac applications and publishes video games. Panic’s shipping goals included working out the Playdate DDP (“delivery duties paid”), which calculates taxes and custom costs upfront to avoid surprises for customers if the Playdate is held captive at customs.

Sasser noted, “The core day-to-day Playdate crew is basically just six people,” limiting their launch ambitions. Playdate was produced day-by-day. “If we had actually sat down and looked at all of the labour it would take to produce and sell this item, we never would have made it in the first place, so it was maybe almost a sort of self-preservation.”

Image By : Vjeran Pavic/The Verge

Panic chose a Malaysian manufacturer in Kedah, home to the country’s first high-tech industrial park, based on a good suggestion from its manufacturing consultant and only discovered the selling limitations afterwards. “Shipping and logistics work arrived extremely late in the project’s existence because we were so focused on learning how to create hardware for so long,” Sasser said, underlining the hurdles of manufacturing a previously inconceivable piece of indie hardware. “We had always thought that, given our production was in Malaysia, they could simply send Playdate units to customers locally or in quantity to game retailers in the region, but we were promptly informed that that’s not feasible. We were quite disappointed.” Unlike Sony, Panic has less foothold in Southeast Asia.

A year after Panic’s declaration about Malaysia’s new routes, little has changed. Malaysians aren’t excited about Playdate’s western beginning countries getting their preorders. Sasser added that a pre-launch poll determined the initial nations, with the top 15 responses from the US, Canada, and western Europe. The sole Asian country on the list is Japan, where Panic has a minor branch. It’s a repetitive repetition of the assumption that Japan, the source of the world’s most recognised consoles and the region’s most developed gaming market, adequately represents the enormous Asian market in distribution. Panic is still exploring “new ideas on this front” and conducting a late Malaysian interest poll, according to the shipping page remark.

“It’s unexpected that few people know of Playdate in Malaysia, because most Malaysian customers hardly realise there’s a local game developer industry,” said Foo. “Even our outsourced work for large global AAA titles, most people wouldn’t even realise Malaysians worked on it. In a recent discussion, one speaker said, “The chicken at home tastes like lentils,” meaning that homegrown products are less intriguing than those from abroad.

“Generally, not many know of [the Playdate], but their development has been interesting, and some of us have been following their project for some time.”

Former game developer I-Van Yee, who now works at the Malaysian Digital Economy Corporation

“In general, most developers won’t rush to the gadget straightaway due of its gimmicky nature and an unproven market, but I personally feel if academics or high-school-level kids got their hands on it, we [might] see some very exciting development.” Yee, a former professor, believes the Playdate may inspire kids and instructors. He advised academics to try new platforms and take chances.

Diverse game marketplaces are another challenge. Southeast Asia dominates smartphone gaming. Foo believes that most local studios are more concerned in monetization and developing commercially viable goods. “Honestly understandable, ‘cause as a growing country, firms are more focused on advancing their status in the global market, and without sufficient government financing for the arts and creative labour, it’s just not a privilege most citizens can afford right now.”

But as the games industry moves towards a more global understanding of how its products are made and by whom, the question of Playdate in Malaysia revisits critical issues that define modern manufacturing and logistics, where the nebulous “global south” is a faraway place used for cheap labour, which feeds into the growing body of critical work on logistics politics and power. Today, shipping is part of a complicated, dysfunctional entity that exacerbates cultural and economic inequalities in games and other production.

Image By : Vjeran Pavic/The Verge

The Star reports that government arts financing is still focused on short-term showcases rather than long-term cultural development and infrastructure, thus making Playdate’s development kit available to Malaysia’s growing independent sector would benefit everyone. The Playdate’s inability to debut in Malaysia isn’t only Panic’s learning mistake—the government didn’t see its potential as a creative teaching tool. Sasser also lamented that Panic’s possible local partners “ghosted” them.

The Playdate and its hoopla are another illustration of this disparity, despite Panic’s best efforts. As Sasser pointed out, the Playdate is neither a Raspberry Pi emulator nor a Nintendo Switch. “Hardware is normally sponsored by well-funded startups or well-established multimillion-dollar enterprises, and we are neither,” he added. “Many challenges.”

The Playdate will likely reach Malaysia. Shopify Markets, which launched recently, supports international selling with DDP but not DDP-enabled shipping, according to Sasser. But Panic’s new tools came too late, and the Playdate’s initial release was a huge missed chance to boost a growing local business that enriches regional and worldwide (most gaming highways still head to the west) games. “Hopefully, independent hardware will become more global over time. He continued, “We could have been ahead of our time.”

Info Source – The Verge

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