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Arduboy – A game system the size of a credit card (arduboy.com)
217 points by bpierre on Nov 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 94 comments

Good luck to them. My cigarette-packet maths says that the BoM cost is about $12 at Shenzhen prices. If they gain any traction, they're going to get killed by the Chinese clone merchants. They don't appear to have much in the way of defensible IP, so the healthy margins on that $49 retail price are going to get squeezed hard.

Can you back out $12?? I would put the BOM closer to $6 if I'm going with the high estimate, and more than half of that cost will be driven by the ATMEL and OLED.

You're absolutely right, I was far too generous. For a sensible size of production run, your $6 figure is much closer to the mark. I made some faulty assumptions about the amortized cost of tooling for the plastics and over-estimated the cost of both the OLED module and the li-po.

In my (pointless and lousy) defence, I'd say that I'm used to making extremely conservative estimates, because nobody ever got fired for coming in early or under budget.

Do these Chinese clone merchants have an email where I can send them ideas for products where there is a need so I don't have to go to the hassle of building out an idea myself and just enjoy the final product?

Im assuming they way they work is supply existing demand with a cheaper product. Much less risky than attempting to entire an untested market

No, but it is possible to get integrated into those communities. Normally you need an agent at first.

If you are able to CAD a product then chinese manufacturers will be happy to manufacture it. SeedStudio seems to be popular for that.

It's so niche it'll fly below everyone's radar.

if it tripped anybody else up, BoM = bill of materials

Which is just the pile of unassembled parts, thousands of miles from where they eventually need to be :)

Meaning BOM != cost

Not really, a decent BOM will include assembly fees, logistics, factory profit, and freight for parts (which is negligible with quantities over a few thousand).

Of course if the product is successful, they could be undercut by Chinese OEMs. However, if they get to that point I'd bet they would have enough branding momentum and community that it wouldn't be a major problem.

In the PCB world, a BOM is just the parts. Doesn't include, for example, the PCB itself, plastic cases, etc...nor freight, assembly.

I thought it was byte order mark.

So much fun, similar other projects:

PocketCHIP - http://getchip.com

LameStation - http://www.lamestation.com

Gamebuino - http://gamebuino.com

Meggy Jr RGB Soldering Kit - http://shop.evilmadscientist.com/productsmenu/tinykitlist/10...

I bought for my son, the piper (minecraft+scratch) - http://playpiper.com and

there is also Kano - http://kano.me

I'm sorry for OT, but the kano.me link does a strange thing I notice lots of websites started doing recently. The moment you move your mouse to close the window it creates a popup. Why, and how? I feel really naive asking this but do websites now track the pointer position?

That's the dreadful "call to action" popups every SEO "guru" recommends you to add to your Wordpress site:


I do hate and actively block them.

It's likely a "mouseout" event to detect when the mouse has left the window. Though I haven't checked the source to verify, so take with a grain of salt.

In Chrome you can find it out by searching for 'exit-intent' event and setting a breakpoint on that. They use the mouseleave event on an element that covers the whole page. When your mouse leaves the web page viewport it will trigger that.

Neat, and annoying as heck.

I have never implemented this but I think they just add a 1 pixel div element at the top of the window and detect a mouseover event.

$49 is pretty steep compared to a gameboy, which goes for $20, has a massive catalogue, affordable flashcarts, and several decent toolchains (I personally reccomend WLA-DX). And it also doubles as an excellent music production platform (provided you like chiptunes) thanks to LSDJ.

The GBA goes for similar prices, and has similar benfits (and yes, it's got a solid toolchain). Plus, it plays all the old gameboy games, so all of the above applies (although LSDJ is a royal pain to use on the original GBA, as it assumes a standard GB button layout. Nanoloop has a version explicitly for the GBA, which takes advantage of the new sound hardware, but Nanoloop carts are very expensive).

Sure used Gameboys are cheaper, but the supply of usable ones will surely dwindle in the coming years as old hardware inevitably breaks down. It's good to see efforts to create new devices with personality that are fun to work with, not to mention being designed for homebrew software instead of relying on hacks and 3rd party carts.

There's tons of Gameboy and GBA clones on the market.




(seriously, I'm not even dipping my toe in this list, there's dozens of these)

but the supply of usable ones will surely dwindle in the coming years as old hardware inevitably breaks down

Gameboys, at least the original ones, seem to be pretty robust:


Used gameboys dwindling should, in theory, result in more people being willing to sell theirs since the price is higher.

Besides, Arduboy being worthwhile in 5 years doesn't stop their launch from flopping.

Personally I've had a hard time finding any flashcarts for GB/GBA recently. DS ones, on the other hand....

BennVenn's flashcarts are quite excellent. He's recently released a very cheap SD cart (for the value of cheap: it's way cheaper than an everdrive, though), and his cart readers/flashers, as well as his more traditional carts, are very good.

Unfortunately, he's in Austrailia, so shipments take forever. Even more unfortunately, he's usually out of stock, so you have to wait for things to come back into stock, and then race to grab them. And it's not the cheapest stuff in the world, either.

His store is http://bennvenn.myshopify.com.

You'll have to buy reader/writer for the GBA flashcarts, or the non-sd GB flashcarts. There's nothing external needed for the SD carts, though: they even come with an SD.

Have you ever heard of Everdrive?


Everdrive is great. Expensive, though.

I wish this thing wasn't the size of a credit card; I mean - I understand cuteness and marketability and everything...

...but with buttons that small and close together, for me it would be painful to play for any long period. Heck, I didn't play my gameboy color for long because it's smaller size caused my thumbs to ache after a while.

Maybe my hands are just too big.

Don't worry, there isn't much "endless" playing to be had with this thing.

I owned an EEE-PC and it was fine :)

Even this seems sorta playable: http://hackaday.com/2016/11/28/tiniest-game-boy-hides-in-you...

Hi! Could you please make an iPhone case with arduboy in it? Like this but playable


I would love to see that become a category. Smart cases.

Give them their own battery though....

Sounds possible to do it like a flip cover with a window for the "screen" and buttons that actually just press the on the covered part of the touch screen.

Edit: or simply this: https://youtu.be/ZcXdDiRuJzI?t=60

I gonna try taping just a little bump for orientation on the D-pad, should help a lot!

Edit 2: yay, a little cross from electronic tape as already a great help

I'd love a case where the buttons connect to the actual iPhone. I dont really need to see the buttons to press them, but the ability to not have tactility and not crowd out the screen like most external controllers would be great.

this is just that! https://i.imgur.com/IVz9vYO.mp4

Reminds me of https://getchip.com/pages/pocketchip which runs PICO-8.

The funny this I noticed is that Chip and Arduboy are funded by the same accelerator.



Well this has no os. See also :my own diy console with a microcontroller (http://bitboxconsole.blogspot.com)

CHIP is also $50.

CHIP, the single board computer, is 9 dollars.

PocketCHIP, which is a CHIP with a screen, case, keyboard, battery, and breakout is 49 dollars.

pocketchip has orders of magnitude more processing power and more wireless connectivity than arduboy. although i guess no one's buying these things for performance...

Thanks for reminding me. Their "Cyber Monday" sale ends in just a few hours.

$49 seems very expensive. I could get an android device and start learning "programming" by making android games instead for the same cost.

Android has the major barrier of extra complexity. It's refreshing to see a simple computer with a beginner-friendly development environment. It reminds me of drawing things pixel-by-pixel in QBasic when I was starting out. It's that kind of thing that really attracted me to programming in the first place.

For $49 you could get the much more capable PocketCHIP and for ease of use use PICO-8 until you're ready to use something else. You'd get color, a key pad, wireless connectivity, and a Debian-like userspace. Of course, it's ARM and not Arduino and it isn't the size of a credit card.

I'd also be getting something with an Allwinner chip in it. I try not to reward companies that violate copyright law.

If they'd built it around another company's SOC, I might have bought one already...but maybe not, because the inputs look like they'd be a pain to actually use.

I haven't followed the GPL concerns closely but I've been aware of them. I've not done the digging to confirm it for myself, but I keep hearing they're improving.

Here's some articles and forum posts about Allwinner and lemaker and their efforts to fix their violations.:

https://lwn.net/Articles/644976/ http://permalink.gmane.org/gmane.comp.hardware.netbook.arm.s... http://raspi.tv/2014/banana-pi-review-first-impressions#comm...

Here's the Github account for them, showing several source releases since the original debacle.:


I'm not running out to buy all the Allwinner kit I can afford, but I do collect small computers. I have a Pine64 and will probably buy the 11" Pinetop. I have a CHIP and a PocketCHIP (including the CHIP that came in that). I also have an Onion2 on the way. These things go nicely with my HP LX95, LX100, LX200, Omnigo 100 ; Atari Portfolio ; Psion Series 2, Series 3, Series 3a, Series 5, Series 5MX; Casio Cassiopeia; Toshiba Libretto; Dialog Flybook; etc.

I was under the impression I was helping the Kickstarter for Next Thing Co. much more than rewarding Allwinner for what appeared to be past violations of the GPL that they seem to be addressing. Do you have some information for me about fresh violations or ongoing reticence about the older ones?

> I was under the impression I was helping the Kickstarter for Next Thing Co. much more than rewarding Allwinner

I feel like it's impossible to do one without doing the other. Maybe the reason that you'd support the KS is to help out Next Thing, but I can't escape the thought that ultimately some of my money would be going to Allwinner as well.

> Do you have some information for me about fresh violations or ongoing reticence about the older ones?

I haven't taken the time to actually audit their releases or anything, so I'm basing my opinion on the older issues, like the CedarX stuff in early 2015. They claimed to have fixed the code, but there was good evidence that they just renamed the offending functions and recompiled to hide what they'd done. Not to mention the "rootmydevice" issue from earlier this year. Even if I attribute those to sloppiness rather than maliciousness, I wouldn't want anything designed by them to be part of any kit I actually rely on for something.

Everyone has their own reasons for buying or not buying things. It sounds like some Allwinner-based equipment makes a nice addition to your collection, and I don't begrudge you that (not that it would matter if I did). I'm not a dedicated hardware collector, and I'm not severely constrained by the price of a more expensive processor, so I can afford to be ideologically picky. Other people are in different situations.

Is Atmel that much better than Allwinner?

Well, I've got a couple Raspberry Pi devices, too. Those are kind of the darling of the small Linux device market, but Broadcom has had its run-ins with the FSF as well.



There's Mediatek in this market segment but I've heard they're worse than Allwinner by quite a bit (both technically and about the GPL, plus being tight-lipped with tech specs for developers unless you're buying tens of thousands of units).

Intel, Oracle, VMWare, Aldi, Best Buy, Samsung, Sony, Western Digital (so the 65C816 or 65C02 or... in all those NES and Atari clones at the drug store), AmLogic, and others have been involved in some alleged violations. Apple, AMD, and nVidia have not always been great friends of the GPL. Rockchip and Mediatek are both very closed about their chip specs and may not have any better record with the GPL either.

So do I buy Broadcom, Intel, Oracle, AMD, nVidia, Samsung, Apple's A8, Rockchip, Mediatek, or WDC processors? Freescale is now part of NXP, so maybe them? TI's retired OMAP line? And then I can build my own PCBs and put up a Kickstarter to hopefully recover the cost of the prototyping... and then get vilified about something or other.

I hope Allwinner is actually getting better about this. They're not making much money on my few units. Until I can get OpenRISC, RISC-V, or something from OpenCores on an SBC at a decent price I'm afraid the options are a bit limited. I guess I could buy IBM Power or Fujitsu SPARC-64 for larger things, but for the most part the desktop, workstation, and server markets are clouded with bad behavior, too.

I own one of these, and have written a game for it. Definitely a good bit of fun, and the hardware quality is pretty solid.

Why this over the CHIP, or even an actual GameBoy with a flash cart?

Wouldn't the CHIP draw a lot more power?

Edit: Just noticed someone above linked to https://getchip.com/pages/pocketchip guess it just needs more mAh batteries

You wouldn't be able to sell simply a modified GameBoy with modified hw/sw parts. Nintendo would sue you into oblivion.

You can get a Gameboy from just about any old game store; and flash carts are easy to come by. I have two of these:


The parent means, this company can't just sell "a Gameboy plus a flash cart" as their own commercial product. Which is why they created a custom product instead.

You, as an end user, certainly can "just" use a gameboy + a flash cart, or an iOS or Android device, or even (and I would suggest this) code games using an old console emulator as your runtime and don't worry so much about hardware. (Emulators for those same consoles also exist for iOS/Android, after all.)

But this company has other priorities, and so made this.

I ask as a user because I am not a member of that company.

I think you actually can since the software runs on the bare metal (there's no OS or anything) and it uses standard ish chips. There have been plenty of Gameboy and NES clones in the past that ran retail games.

I tried out this (and WifiBoy ) at Maker Faire Tokyo a couple months back. It's pretty neat tech, but a bit limiting.

Ive found PICO-8 to be just limiting enough to still offer excellent games, but this seems a bit more gadgety.

Tbh the killer features with any of these retro consoles would be to have a good button feel. The buttons used on these are usually pretty weak. I would be much more excited with a system with a GBA d-pad and buttons.

That and maybe something a bit more powerful than an Arduino. The magic of PICO-8 with Lua is that your first lines of code are about the game, not memory book keeping.

Pico-8 seems limited by design (as a programming language / virtual machine) while the other examples are limited by hardware.

This brings the pico-8 experience "on par" with programming games like tis-100 or shenzen IO

I've had one of these for a few weeks now, it's a lot of fun to play with! I really enjoy programming for such a simple nostalgic platform. My main side project for it [0] has been porting a little homebrew tunnel game I originally wrote for the Wii several years back. Other devs have been putting out much more impressive software [1] and coming up with some great hardware hacks [2] as well.

It's indeed targeted at hobbyists more than consumers (like the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc) though I feel it has a greater potential for inspiring folks of all ages to tinker with programming. There's no ugly/scary hardware to deal with, and the form factor seems to attract adoration from everyone I show it to.

[0] https://github.com/BHSPitMonkey/Helii-Arduboy/blob/master/RE...

[1] http://www.team-arg.com/games.html

[2] https://youtu.be/bGMHTI9e55Y

I was a bit taken back by it's pricing of $49 USD.

That's almost 70 Canadian dollars. I was expecting something around $19 USD.

In all it's shape or form, this is a great idea, credit card sized handheld gaming, can be put forgotten until you realize your phone is out of battery, and you suddenly have nothing to do. Also, I just love the small screen with it's tiny controllers, I can see myself playing Pokemon Blue on it.

I really miss some pins. Not as sexy, but maybe more useful for some hardware hacks that could use a screen and arrow keys: http://gamebuino.com/

This is what the BBC microbit should have been.

Strongly disagree. People learned to program on the ZX81 because it was cool but essentially useless. It booted directly into a BASIC prompt and came with a fairly good introductory programming manual. The Spectrum was essentially a games console that a handful of nerds learned to program on.

Micro:bit is designed like the ZX81, using lessons learned from the Raspberry Pi. It's a useless toy, but it's a useless toy that is fantastically easy to program. Hook it up to a computer via USB, go to a URL and it Just Works. Type some code or drag some visual programming blocks, click "compile" and the program is running on your micro:bit. If you want to hook up a buzzer or a switch, you can do it with crocodile clips and one line of code. It's an incredibly slick onboarding process that is perfectly suited to education.


With a device like the Arduboy, it's too tempting to just play games. To program it you need to download the Arduino IDE, then install a bunch of libraries, then fiddle about with settings, then start reading through a bunch of documentation. With micro:bit you can go from unboxing to hello world in about five minutes, even if you've never written a line of code in your life.

The ZX81 had a display. It makes all the difference.

No it didn't, it had a video out socket.

Micro:bit has a display, 2 buttons, tilt and magnet sensors, and a battery socket for power.

Surely it's like the Acorn BBC, loads of I/O, well designed software, and people complain it's more expensive than existing systems.

> Micro:bit has a display,


> http://microbit.org/about/

I only see 25 programmable LEDs, but no display.

I see a 5x5 display ;-)

Hello from Arduboy! I'm the creator and I love reading comments like this! I went ahead and made a blog post responding to some of the feedback here.


why would they make it so small? its never going to be more than a curiosity if your hands are all cramped while you play it. it might make some sense if it were a little cheaper... it would be so much better if they made it much larger and gave it a larger screen and better buttons. that would be awesome.

If only this had bluetooth / WiFi in it. I think it would have made a wonderful IoT controller.

Oh well... missed opportunity.

Missed opportunity? More like disaster averted. There are a million little linux widgets out there, and most people just run existing software on them, because working with embedded linux is complex and tool-heavy. Instead, they have a cheap and simple little microcontroller that you can program with the Arduino IDE. Way more approachable.

Bluetooth/WiFi doesn't require embedded Linux. The venerable ESP8266 can be easily programmed through the Arduino IDE.

"Venerable" implies some worthiness.

ESP8266 is a hacker friendly wifi gadget, for $2, but otherwise garbage.

You get what you pay for.

Also it's wifi only, not bluetooth.

In what ways is the ESP garbage?

ESP32, the successor to the ESP8266, has both WiFi and Bluetooth, but it's fairly expensive.

Reminds me of the Dreamcast VMU. If some cool little games I'd get it for a lower price.

This is device in search of application. Shame, I would totally buy one if they could show me good use-case.

Obviously, I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong.

Isn't gaming the use-case?

What would you have it do?

Such a shame it contains an actual ATmega..

I agree with others that you probably don't want another embedded Linux, but a M0 or M3 would have been nice.

Yea I think an ATmega is actually a bad choice because it can't dynamically load code from somewhere else. It'd be neat to be able to have something like an SD card or some other form of swapable storage store the code for a game.

I'm not sure if you are referring to this, but:


Basically - there are bootloaders available that can flash from an SD card...

He might be referring running program directly from an SD card, without need for flashing. Most of Cortex M MCUs can run program on RAM, which is more flexible and fast

It's pretty awesome (have 2 from Kickstarter) but I don't see the appeal for anybody but a developer.

Better headline:

"Arduboy, the game system the size of a credit card"

Thanks, we've updated the title from just “Arduboy”.

Site is offline. Any relevant links?

Dear Santa...

Have one of these and love it. Game creating community is big and only getting bigger. Its very small but its fun watching what people create within its limitations. Recently had a friend order one with a free shipping coupon NOVEMBER2016.

You didn't do a very good job hiding your astroturf.

Real people don't create an account just to post a coupon code.

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