Panic Allegedly Tried to Strongarm Small Game Showcase Out of Name

This story has been updated to reflect the most current information.

In what looks to be a bout of overzealous trademark protection, Panic, the company developing the boutique handheld console Playdate, contacted organizers of a small zine and game showcase in 2018 to “suggest” changing their name prior to the hardware’s official announcement.

Nathalie Lawhead, a game developer and organizer for the Los Angeles-based Playdate Pop Up, outlined the details yesterday in a blog post on her website. Someone from Panic (later identified as employee Cabel Sasser) emailed Lawhead and others to inform them about the existence of the Playdate device and what actions the pop up should take now. The message, as Lawhead and others understood it, was that the event couldn’t keep their name.

Sasser reached out again in 2019 to inform them that Playdate had officially acquired a trademark for the name, again stressing the need for a solution.

“We received an email from Panic basically telling us we can’t use the name anymore because it would be a shame if our event got confused with what they are doing,” Lawhead wrote. “It came off as incredibly self-important. It left me thinking ‘Wow, what a dick move.’”

In neither email did Sasser nor Panic explicitly threaten litigation but instead suggested steps the much smaller organization could take to resolve the problem. Lawhead states that she was not denigrating Playdate for creating the device, but that she was disappointed in a tech culture that values IP protection so much that an employee would attempt to “bully the people that broke that ground for you”.

Sasser responded to the article on Twitter this morning, expressing regret over his choice of word and tone. He insisted that Panic no longer had a problem with the event continuing to call itself Playdate.

Minutes later, the official Playdate account tweeted as well, doubling down on there being no issue, legal or otherwise, with the use of their device’s name going forward.

It’s clear that Sasser, at least, is regretful of how his original email came across. He claims he was “trying hard to NOT have a lawyer vibe” but ultimately worsened the situation. He continued to reply to people on Twitter, whether they had questions, complaints or… colorful suggestions.

Other event organizers eventually responded as well, throwing their support behind Nathalie’s post and engaging in public conversation with Sasser regarding his emails and the situation it created. They claimed his casual tone and word choice came across as “disingenuous” and “intimidating.”

Lawhead herself posted a response to Sasser saying she was glad this conversation was happening in public and staying civil.

In an email to Autosave, Lawhead told us the event changed its name to Playdate Pop Up in response to Sasser’s emails but never heard back from him afterwards. They chalked the entire debacle up to one of the dangers of being involved in game development.

She said she hopes their troubles remind those in positions of power how their actions and decisions can affect others.

“There are a million other ways that this could have been handled,” Lawhead said in her email. “We didn’t need to be contacted in the first place. We pose no threat to the brand or product.”

Panic has not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.  (Update: Panic has responded and a statement is pending and will be posted soon.)

Edit: The article previously stated that Playdate Pop Up had received no response from Sasser after changing their name.

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About Chase Carter

Chase is a journalist and media scholar interested in fan communities and how they communicate. He loves reading, cooking and his two cat sons very much.
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