back to article ZX Spectrum game devs allege Elite Systems Ltd didn't pay their royalties

A number of British developers who coded games in the 1980s for the 8-bit ZX Spectrum home computer have been complaining about Elite Systems Ltd, alleging it had not made royalty payments due to them. The Lichfield, England-based outfit is run by Steve Wilcox, who describes himself as a producer for the firm, which - …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If only the devs had put their hands up a week ago instead of 2 days ago.

    Given all the fuss Elite made about giving money to devs for their old games and "bringing order to the retro market" they've been shown to be two faced and not to be trusted.

    1. kphair

      Re: Bootnote

      Many if not all of those developers left the Spectrum scene about 25 years ago. They probably never thought that machine would ever play a part in their lives again as they moved on to other jobs, had families, etc. When Steve Wilcox came out of the blue asking them to sign licensing agreements it probably never crossed their minds that it would result in more than a few hundred sales and they had other things to do than chase up statements for royalties that could only have been a few quid.

      It's quite likely that none of them were even aware of the "bluetooth" keyboard Kickstarter until it entered the final few days and backers started making the big push to get it over the line with extra publicity.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Presumably Kickstarter can claim anything they like in the T's and C's but if the company has mis-stated what it is selling that should be an entirely different matter?

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Kickstarter campaigns don't sell anything, they allow you to invest in the company in return for potential rewards. The difference is that investors are contributing money in the hope that the companies business plans will succeed and they will be rewarded - there is no contractual obligation to provide whatever is listed at any pledge level.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You are quite right. Which is why I didn't pledge at the start as the technical details seemed vague given what we know about iOS not registering key up events which is bad news for games.

        Reading the comments I'm not even sure some of the backers know what they are backing. Perhaps its a language thing but it almost seems like some of them believe they are buying (rather than pledging in a hope it will happen) a full recreation of a ZX Spectrum and not a wireless controller possibly limited only to work with Elites own apps.

        1. Def Silver badge

          ...given what we know about iOS not registering key up events which is bad news for games.

          I fail to see how that's a problem. Any application on any multi-touch device has to keep track of the touches for its own purposes. If, after processing all the touches, you find that one has disappeared, you just handle it as a touch-up (ooh err, missus) and delete it from your list.

          That's what I do, anyway.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            This article explains it all far better than I ever could including the key press issue -


        2. jai

          some of them believe they are buying

          this is a common problem with all KickStarter campaigns. i seems the average Joe Public has no idea how it really works, and then cry when some of the things they've pledged for fail to appear

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "A Bluetooth ZX Spectrum for iOS devices - Founders' Edition. Supplied with Certificate of Authenticity, a Bluetooth ZX Spectrum iOS App or iOS App Store credit for same. (Pledge includes estimated £10 cost of delivery of one unit to one mainland address in the United Kingdom. If we can deliver before the 'estimated delivery' date then we shall do.)

        Estimated delivery: Sep 2014

        Add £10 to ship outside the UK"

        That looks very much like a contract to me.

        1. DropBear

          "That looks very much like a contract to me." - It well may, but it still isn't one. Kickstarter is quite adamant on that point - not only does not whatever you choose to pay constitute a contract, it isn't even an investment. As in, it entitles you to precisely NOTHING. It's patronage, basically. A donation.

          Whether the project owner promises to do / send something for / to you in exchange, and whether he really does or not is entirely a matter between you and him - legally, you gift that money to him.

          At least according to KS. Amateurs willing to test all that in court are welcome, but looking at their turnover lately, I wouldn't bet against KS's lawyers.

  3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Hoo boy, this is going to be really interesting...


  4. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I don't think the poor old WoS site is used to having this many 'guests' all visiting at once.

    I mean, all the twiglets have gone and we're down to our last bag of funsize Rolos...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't think the poor old WoS site is used to having this many 'guests' all visiting at once.

      Indeed - but when this hoo-ha has died down, irrespective of what happens - remember to come on by... we're a friendly bunch.

      And thanks to the Register for listening to the comments and posting about this...

      Now come on Mr Wilcox - I'm sure you can treat your coders fairly if your kickstarter still goes through!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't think the poor old WoS site is used to having this many 'guests' all visiting at once.

        Can I heartily endorse the above. The World Of Spectrum forums are wonderful, not only for what users are doing with their machines and still coding on them, but also because so many of the old devs frequent the forum.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I don't think the poor old WoS site is used to having this many 'guests' all visiting at once.

      Also, even now the Spectrum scene is more active than ever. For example, did you know that over 200 games was released for the Speccy last year? And half of them are not even crap. :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I don't think the poor old WoS site is used to having this many 'guests' all visiting at once.

        In the very last issue of Your Sinclair, Jon Nash wrote that the Spectrum was entering a new phase of it's life.

        At the time it just seemed a nice thing to say and that the machine was clinically dead, but he was right.

        All 3 major 8 bits, Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC have thriving scenes with new software and innovative hardware solutions such as the 1541 Ultimate for the C64 or HxC Floppy emulator (which I only purchased last week and is currently plugged into my Amstrad CPC 6128 so my CPC currently has 8GB of attached storage!).

        The machines were kept alive by the users, not by companies leeching off of goodwill generated by a few mock ups of an iconic computer.

        Go to World of Spectrum, the CPC Wiki forums or Lemon 64, join in and support the scene. These are the guys who are truly inventing and creating. When they make hardware solutions like the 1541 Ultimate or HxC Floppy emulator they don't go cap in hand via Kickstarter asking for 60 grand. They get off their backsides, work hard and produce the goods (as I can testify having a superbly made HxC unit arrive from Poland just last week).

        Come along, join in, it's a cheap hobby and very enjoyable!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What could Kickstarter do if you refuse to pay your money, or cancel your payment?

  7. RWAP

    The moral is....

    There are a few odd things here that just show the pitfalls of Kickstarter and why it is unlikely I would ever pledge anything....

    a) The terms of a project can be fairly vague, so long as there is good press coverage and people want to believe in something they will. In this instance, what do pledgers get? A promise that Elite will use all their experience to develop the project - no guarantee that it will be developed or ever reach the market. Even if it does, do they really think that they get good value for the £100 handed over?

    b) The money raised could be used to meet some of the company's creditors without any come back for those who have pledged money.

    c) People need to do more research into companies before handing over money for anything - especially so in the case of items that don't even exist as yet, other than as artist impressions.

    d) The biggest danger to the project should have been highlighted in the blurb by the company, but as Kickstarter is not regulated, then it can be missed out. The biggest danger is that the software authors who have not been paid, get in touch direct with Apple / Microsoft and ask for their intellectual property to be withdrawn. In that case, even if the bluetooth keyboard is developed, there will be no apps to run on it!

    1. Neil B

      Re: The moral is....

      The one and only rule you need to follow when considering a Kickstarter pledge is as follows:

      Can I afford to throw this money away?

      If the answer is no, DO NOT PLEDGE. There is a chance nothing will come of the project.

      If the answer is yes, then go right ahead, because there's a good chance you'll make something great happen.

  8. ADJB

    Something the backers of this project don't seem to realise is that even if everything goes through and the keyboards are delivered then they will most probably be useless paperweights.

    Given the kickstarter states they are only certain to work with Elites version of there "licensed" games and the mood among the developers is not at its best to say the least with many now considering legal action to recoup royalties and takedown notices based on such a serious breach of contract it seems unlikely there will be many if any games to play.

    At present not one single developer has come forward to say they HAVE received any royalties.

    I realise that it's not in kickstarters interest to pull a funded project due to the loss of money they will suffer but I worry that the bad press resulting from this matter will do them significant damage and it would be in there long term interests to put this project on hold until these serious allegations against Elite and Mr Wilcox are investigated. If these matters are resolved then the project can be reinstated, its not as if its time critical after 30 years of waiting.

    The developers are all big boys now and can defend themselves via legal remedies but I can see 800 plus kickstarter backers, many of which don't understand there is no obligation to actually deliver anything at all, being stung and the reputation of kickstarter and possibly even the wider Sinclair / Spectrum community being damaged.

  9. Zot

    Some people are dropping their bids to £1.

    But with 2 hours left it looks like this is going ahead anyway.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Elite issued their 'statement' with under 2 hours to go.

    Words fail me. All afternoon and the best they can do is a Hotmail account and a 'promise' to look into it despite people chasing for months?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fourteen Devs issue joint statement

    Fourteen Spectrum Devs issue a joint statement, and they aren't very happy either:

    1. ThomH

      Re: Fourteen Devs issue joint statement

      Can someone explain to those authors that they should complain to Apple? There's a resolution process in place for this sot of thing — they can get the apps withdrawn unless or until Wilcox starts paying them.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I too, retracted my bid (as best as I could). Having read all the comments over the last week I was a little concerned, but it was the someone linking to a windows phone forum, in which a developer outlined the current issues he had with Elite and how they "solved" (but not) it by making a donation to GOSH on behalf of the developer. This was all from last year, but seem very familiar when looking at Elites own twitter feed in the last 24 hours - screenshot of donations again.....

    The Photoshopped "Van Ad" update from yesterday didn't help much either, especially when I had read in one of the few press articles last week, that there were adverts on the streets, when clearly there was not...

  13. Zot

    Shock and horror.

    I can't help feeling that there's got to be some people on here going all shock and horror at the programmers not being paid royalties, though at the same time feel it's fine to download pirated software for themselves. Oh, that's different I suppose. :p

    1. garden-snail

      Re: Shock and horror.

      If there is a distinction between Elite's infringement and that committed by downloading pirated software it's that Elite are making a profit from it. I'm not condoning either one, but there is a difference.

      1. Zot

        Re: Shock and horror.

        It's OK, software theft is endemic, how many MAME games do some people have, do you think? 3000?

        It's the same attitude.

        And of course it's worse for old software as it's seen as being worthless by many. In other words, people think they can get away with it easier.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ZX Spectrum?

    I never understood the love for the ZX Spectrum, its graphics and sound are (in my opinion) shite when compared to the Commodore 64 I grew up with...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ZX Spectrum?

      The commode had some great music for sure... (although the Spectrum 128K largely addressed that issue) - and also some great shades of brown.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ZX Spectrum?

      Two words, "Chase HQ".

    3. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: ZX Spectrum?

      The spectrum was cheap, the C64 was not.

      C64 launch price was $595

      Spectrum was £130 (~ $200-215)

      Guess which one most kids had?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wilcox appears to have pulled all the games from the Apple store to avoid the embarrassment of a takedown notice that is surely flying his way. He won't have to take down games that aren't actually being sold.

    Meanwhile he's asked the devs to email a Hotmail address to discuss things.

    And this is just the Spectrum situation. I wonder if he's paid any of the Commodore developers?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A Speccy dev has revealed he tried to get all of his games removed last year for non payment:

  17. Paul Hayes 1

    I didn't understand why anyone would back this anyway. That 48k rubber keyed spectrum was one of the worst keyboards to use ever! Back in the day I re-shelled my Spectrum into a clicky keyboard breadbin type case. The 128K +2 was an ok keyboard.

    I guess it is somewhat iconic but if you just want one of them to sit on a shelf, buy a broken 48k spectrum off ebay.

    I'm quite shocked to hear that Elite hadn't paid the developers though, I used to own various Elite published games.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Okay thats it I'm going home and taking my ball with me

    I don't know the contractual agreements made but surely until the item is available has made any sales then bitching is going to kill any chance of getting any funds.

    there are three parties here

    1. the developers

    2. the contributors

    3. the one holding the contributions

    The developers that signed away their rights to their IP for payments for products they created years ago are forcing a situation where the contributors are going to loose their investment.

    Why not wait and see or even speak to Apple to get the funds held until they have had their cut, they might get scammed out of their IP but then again without this project they weren't going to see any money anyway.

    Now however they are killing the project because they didn't get paid on time ( ha, welcome to the business world, the first rule of which is not to let go of any money until your really have to ). Good plan blocking the project and allowing the guy holding the cash to waste most of it in legal costs and administration fees without having to produce anything. The devs have thrown away the contributors funds and now the only one who is going to profit is Mr Wilcox, muppets

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