Spectrum Vega+ funding halted by Indiegogo, backers are demanding refunds (Updated)

Update: An Indiegogo rep confirmed today that the Vega+ "InDemand" campaign, which enables companies to continue raising funds after an initial crowdfunding campaign has come to an end, was shut down because of ongoing delays and failure to communicate with its backers. Indiegogo said it decided to pull the plug after multiple requests for better communications from Retro Computers went ignored. 

Despite the forced end of its fundraising, Retro Computers posted a number of Indiegogo updates earlier today, insisting that it has not changed the technical specifications of the Vega+, and that it has not switched manufacturers. But it also announced another delay in shipping, saying that three previously-announced features in the software have not actually been implemented, something it only discovered during what was supposed to be the final round of testing. The missing features were blamed on former directors Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, who according to the update did not hand over technical assets or the software that had originally been developed for the device when they left the company last year. 

"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," the update says. 

"In addition to the above problems it is also taking us longer than we had hoped to fill the gaps in our list of 1,000 games caused by some games rights owners withdrawing their permission to employ their games in the Vega+. ... We are making good progress in bringing the number of games back up to 1,000, 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." 

Because of that, Retro now says it expects to begin shipping the Vega+ "a few weeks from now."

Original story:

The Sinclair ZX Vega+ is a handheld game console based on the popular ZX Spectrum personal computer from the early '80s. It features a composite television output (for old times sake, I guess), a built-in LCD screen, and 1000 licensed games preloaded, with thousands more meant to be available for download. The company behind it, UK-based Retro Computers, kicked off an Indiegogo campaign to supports its production early last year that raised more than £513,000 ($624,000) as of March 27, 2016, a whopping 367 percent of its original goal. But then things got a little strange. 

An ongoing "InDemand" campaign continued to raise money for the Vega+ after its initial crowdfunding effort concluded. According to this BBC report, however, Indiegogo put a halt to that in late February because of delays in delivery and a lack of communication between Retro Computers and its backers. Prior to that, in December 2016, the BBC had inquired with Retro about the status of the long-delayed unit, but was threatened with legal action in response over concerns "that the BBC is in fact supporting and participating in a malicious campaign intended to denigrate our clients' reputation." Campaign organizers asked the BBC not to report the story because doing so could put its employees at risk of physical harm, presumably at the hands of angry, unfulfilled backers; the broadcaster agreed to delay publication in order to give Retro Computers managing director Suzanne Martin an opportunity to produce evidence of the alleged threats, but that didn't happen. 

A statement released yesterday by Retro Computers founder David Levy confirmed the request to hold off on running the story, and the reason for doing so. "Following a credible threat of violence against personnel of Retro Computers Limited, including threats made as recently as last night, we asked [technology desk editor] Leo Kelion and the BBC to refrain from publishing a story we believe to be factually inaccurate and might put people at risk of physical harm, alarm and distress," Levy said. "Since December 2016 the BBC have formally been on notice that this is a police matter, and we ask that the BBC and Mr Kelion do not compromise the police investigation."   

An Indiegogo update from early February put the blame for its silence on a legal action brought against Retro Computers by former directors Paul Andrews and Chris Smith, which was recently resolved, and also pledged that the first round of Vega+ units would ship after February 20 of this year. A more recent update apologized for the outage, and very vaguely accused "the usual suspects" of trying to "perpetuate panic." 

"Please don’t believe the hype. We’re here, we’re not going anywhere—and your Vega+ IS real and IS coming to you," it said. "We’ve had a high volume of emails from [backers] and we’ll be getting back to genuine enquiries as soon as we can." 

But the "clarity" regarding delivery and the user manual the update refers to still don't appear to have been delivered, nor is there a link to the promised new website: The most recent update, from 11 days ago, says only, "We haven't forgotten the 'User Manual'..." The backer comments, meanwhile, are filled with calls for an honest and comprehensive update on the status of the device, or, more commonly, refunds.   

The timeline is a little confused, since the initial BBC report appears to have originated last year, but backers were continuing to contribute to the project until late in February 2017. But the report also notes that despite the promised imminence of Vega+ shipments, none of them have actually gone out yet.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.