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Embattled Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus delayed again

Amid messy legal action and mudslinging, angry backers demand refunds.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega Plus, one of the most controversial video game crowdfunding projects yet, has been delayed again - leaving angry backers seething.

In July 2016 I reported on how lawsuits and resignations were threatening the Vega+, which has raised over half a million pounds on IndieGoGo.

Over half a year later, backers are now at the end of their tether, with many demanding refunds.

This week has proven a dramatic one for Retro Computers Ltd. Yesterday, 9th March, the BBC reported that IndieGogo had stepped in to stop the Vega+, which is officially backed by Sir Clive Sinclair, from receiving more money because of the delivery delays and a lack of communication. (An IndieGoGo representative confirmed the BBC story to Eurogamer.)

The BBC said Retro Computers had asked the organisation not to reveal the development, and that Retro's lawyers had warned it against publishing a story.

Retro Computers said reporting on the issue might put its team at risk due to "a credible threat of violence" against Retro staff.

The BBC said it delayed publication of this report to give Retro managing director Suzanne Martin time to provide evidence of the threats, but she did not do so.

Now, Retro has announced a delivery delay for the Vega+ and blamed others for holding up the process.

Retro has for some time now been embroiled in legal action with a company called Cornerstone Media International Ltd and its owner, Nick Cooper.

Cornerstone was signed on as the sales agent of the Spectrum ZX Vega+ in May 2015, but the agreement was terminated in May 2016 "for breaches of that agreement".

Cooper said Cornerstone became aware of "issues and disputes" within Retro Computers, including a row over the ownership of the intellectual property on both the Vega and Vega Plus. Cooper's response was to suspend sales. Retro responded by taking Cornerstone to court.

Added to the mix are a couple of former Retro directors called Chris Smith and Paul Andrews, who left the company last year but retain a 25 per cent shareholding each.

In a note to Eurogamer sent in February 2017, the pair claimed they were forced out of the management of Retro "by a campaign of hatred" by chairman David Levy and MD Suzanne Martin "solely because we proposed that, in order to ensure that the project was successfully completed within available resources and until then, the directors cease to receive monthly consultancy fees, and Ms Martin's PR consultancy services be dispensed with".

While all this was going on, disgruntled backers demanded their money back as it looked more and more likely that the Vega+ would never materialise.

Today, Suzanne Martin issued Eurogamer a statement by way of explanation for the delay:

"During what we had expected would be final testing of the product prior to the first shipment, we discovered that the software for three of the user features, which had been announced for the product, had not yet been implemented," she said.

"We are taking immediate action to rectify this situation but realistically we now expect it to take a few weeks before we will be ready to ship the first units."

Martin said this problem is "part of the legacy" left by Andrews and Smith.

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The Vega+. Some are worried it will never come out.

"Unfortunately the handover did not include any technical assets, and specifically excluded the software for the Vega+ which had already, in December 2015, been developed to the point of having working prototypes available in time for the January 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

"We therefore had to create the Vega+ technology completely from scratch, starting in May, and the development work had to be carried out by a small team who did not have any of the specific Vega knowledge and experience of Chris Smith who led the development of both the Vega and the company's Vega+ prototypes."

Martin also admitted it had taken Retro longer than it had hoped to fill the gaps in its promised list of 1000 games because some rights owners had withdrawn their permission to employ their games in the Vega+.

Again, Paul Andrews was accused of mischief here:

"For some time now Paul Andrews has been contacting rights owners and encouraging them to withdraw their permissions," Martin said.

"Why someone who is still a 25 per cent shareholder in the company would do such a thing is a question best asked of Mr Andrews himself. We are making good progress in bringing the number of games back up to 1000, thanks to many game developers and rights owners who support our project and wish to help us, but we anticipate needing a few more weeks to complete the roster."

Suzanne Martin went on to accuse the pair of trying to prevent Retro from pursuing its legal action against Cornerstone.

"Once again, the question needs to be asked of Mr Andrews and Mr Smith, as to why they would wish to damage Retro by attempting to prevent the recovery of a significant amount of money owed to the company," Martin said.

UPDATE: Paul Andrews and Chris Smith have issued Eurogamer a joint statement in response to the allegations from Retro Computers:

  • Sadly other than the obvious facts that we once were directors of RCL, the rest of the statement from RCL about ourselves is either totally not true, or highly inaccurate.
  • A similar type of accusation from the current RCL directors last year was removed by the BBC when once again that was found to be untrue. As was their recent one about the injunction we obtained against both the company and the directors themselves. As we have stated many times before we request RCL to just get on and deliver the ZX Vega Plus to backers.

The upshot of all this is Retro has said it expects to make the first shipment of the Vega+ units "in a few weeks from now".

"All of us at Retro Computers Ltd very much regret these delays," Martin concluded. "We are at least a thousand times more frustrated than you are. We have been battling for almost 11 months against various actions and attempts, mostly by a small group of people, aimed at preventing the Vega+ from seeing the light of day and at bringing our company down. But despite these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we are as determined as ever to complete the Vega+ and deliver to all our backers and to retail customers a truly great product."

It's fair to say backers remain unconvinced, with many comments still demanding a refund. Suzanne Martin told Eurogamer: "We have never refused a backer a refund."

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A snippet of the angry comments on the Vega+ IndieGoGo page.

As for IndieGoGo, it says it can't guarantee contributions will be used as promised, that campaign owners will deliver perks, or that campaigns will achieve their goals.

Here's the official blurb from IndieGoGo:

  • Indiegogo does not resolve disputes, nor do we offer refunds once funds have been disbursed. It's the entrepreneurs' responsibility to provide as much information to potential backers as possible, and up to backers to decide whether or not to back a project.

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