Reg comments56

Game authors demand missing ZX Spectrum reboot royalties

No cash, slow answers, firm still blames man who quit a year ago

Suppliers of Retro Computers Ltd are calling for the company to pay the royalties they claim it owes for bundling their games with its ZX Spectrum Vega console.

Half a dozen rights-holders, from individuals to companies, have told The Register that RCL has failed to come up with royalties due on their games it has used.

RCL's Kickstarter-funded Vega console shipped with 1,000 retro games preinstalled.

Mark Cale, founder of games publishing firm System 3, told us he had recently found versions of his copyrighted games bundled on a Vega he bought on Amazon.

"I can confidently state there is no contract in place and no agreement has ever been put in place. They [RCL] haven't paid us any money," he told us.

Cale said he'd only become aware of the fact System 3's games were being included on the Vega "late last year".

RCL promised rights-holders that a sum of money from each Vega sold would be donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), with the option for all royalties to go straight to the children's charity. RCL chairman David Levy had previously said the hospital saved his life as a child.

Although RCL did donate £20,000 to GOSH, it appears that tens of thousands of pounds from the sale of Vegas has not been handed over.

Mark Greenshields, founder of Firebrand Games, which among other titles publishes The Last Ninja, International Karate and IK+, told The Register: "We are the exclusive rights-holders for Kick Off as well as the exclusive owners of the trademark in the UK. We stated we were happy for the royalties to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital but required proof they were paid – which has never been shown."/p

One respected figure with decades of involvement in the British games industry, who asked not to be identified, told The Register titles he developed had appeared on the Vega but he had received no payments.

"I confirm that I have never received any royalty statements whatsoever. In fact I have never received any documentation of any sort from RCL," the author said.

He had initially contacted RCL to ask about the statements but heard nothing back. After complaining about the company's lack of communication and then terminating his contract with them, our game veteran said he received an email from RCL managing director Suzanne Martin promising that royalty statements and payments would be brought up to date within 48 hours.

"This did not happen," he said.

Another rights-holder, who also preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed the poor communications by RCL along with the lack of payments.

"Despite constant requests RCL have just ignored all emails that pertain to royalty statements or payments," they said. Also a well-known games publisher, our developer has handed the matter to his lawyers.

The Reg asked RCL to explain why it had not issued royalty statements or paid rights-holders. Its management blamed former managing director Paul Andrews, who left the firm more than a year ago.

RCL chairman David Levy cited Andrews in a book the pair co-wrote, Creating the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega, where he states: "I negotiated the necessary IP agreements with the various patent holders and licensors that would allow us to create and market the product."

Levy said: "The current management has spent a huge amount of time dealing with nearly 300 rights owners to establish legal ownership of a number of games and we have removed a number of games accordingly."

Andrews responded: "The IP agreements and patent holders/licensors I was referring to in the book were in fact Sky, who hold all the trademarks and licenses for the Sinclair brand."

Andrews pointed to the fact that Levy, in the same book, wrote at length how the royalties would be collected, paid and donated to charity.

Sky In-Home Service Ltd, which installs Sky TV home equipment, holds the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers on behalf of Rupert Murdoch's media empire. It acquired them from Amstrad, which in turn bought them from Sir Clive Sinclair in the mid-1980s following his well-publicised commercial problems.

Indie-no-gogo

Five thousand Indiegogo backers who collectively pledged £513,000 to RCL for its Vega+ handheld console have yet to receive any update from the firm on delivery of the product while those who have requested refunds are experiencing delays in receiving them.

A post on RCL's website dated in late March notes the company has managed to design the Vega+ packaging.

Its Facebook page is in a similar state. The Indiegogo page shows no outward sign of having been frozen for breaking the site's terms and conditions thanks to RCL's lack of updates, though wannabe backers can no longer sign up to pledge £105 for a Vega+.

Backer Tony Ball told us: "In February this year I became aware of all the legal stuff, saw how RCL were conducting themselves in terms of communicating and, not really believing they would deliver the Vega+, I started to request refunds. I have contacted them through every method I can on multiple occasions politely asking for a refund. These have all gone unanswered."

Ball added that he had posted "an offer to RCL of donating our refunds to charity (guide dogs for the blind in my case) and provide proof of the donation," which he said was not answered either.

We have seen screenshots that seem to show Ball has since been blocked from commenting on the company's Facebook updates after posting underneath to request his refund.

RCL insists it never refuses a request for a refund. ®

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