Vega+ retro game console loses Sinclair and ZX Spectrum brand licenses

The saga of the Sinclair ZX Vega+, a handheld retro console based on the Sinclar ZX personal computer from the early '80s, has taken another unfortunate twist. The BBC reported today that Sky, the company that owns the rights to the Sinclair and ZX Spectrum brands, has canceled its licensing deal with Retro Computers because of its inability to actually deliver the units: It was originally slated to ship in September 2016, but has undergone numerous delays since.   

"We would love to see the Vega+ consoles in the hands of fans," a Sky representative said. "However, as RCL [Retro Computers Lrd.] have repeatedly failed to deliver and breached the terms of their license, we have made the decision to end our working relationship." 

The decision to end the licensing deal was made in May, but Sky gave Retro Computers three months beyond that time to deliver the hardware, "to give as many gaming fans as possible the chance to get their Vega+ console." RCL claimed in a July 26 Indiegogo update that it had in fact begun shipping units, but with a few notable caveats. 

"Last week we shipped a few units to some selected supporters who have had unwavering faith in us, and the response and comments on their Vega+ units has been uniformly joyful," the company said. "Today we start shipping to the first 400 backers who asked to receive their unit without the 1,000 games pre-loaded, as they prefer to load their own choice of games." 

That "uniformly joyful" evaluation presumably excludes Craig Wootton, who posted a video about his newly-received unit on YouTube. With all the enthusiasm of a man describing the circumstances of his dog being run over by a truck, Wootton said that the overall build quality of the unit "isn't all that great." He acknowledged opting out of the promised 1000 preinstalled games (19 titles are visible on the menu screen when he starts the unit), but added that he did so just so he could finally get his hands on the thing. 

Unfortunately, Wootton was also still struggling to figure out how to use the device: His Vega+ was shipped in a plain box without any protective packing, which is bad enough in its own right (and left the screen scratched), but there were also no instructions included. Near the end of his video, Haunted House launches but fails to respond to any key presses: It's not clear whether he's doing something wrong or if there's a problem with the device. 

One new owner, Jan Saggiori, was far more enthusiastic about it, but the BBC report noted that Saggiori has previously been accused of affiliation with the project, and has actually been blocked from making edits to the Vega+ Wikipedia page because of it. Saggiori denied any official connection, however, and said his involvement is limited to running an "independent Facebook group" supporting the project. 

The number of units shipped in this initial batch isn't clear—Retro Computers' July 26 announcement said only that "we start shipping to the first 400 backers," out of a total of nearly 4800—nor is how the loss of the Sinclar and ZX Spectrum license will impact future shipments. The Sinclair branding is present on shipped devices, but future runs will have to go without it, necessitating at least some small changes to the manufacturing process—a stumble that this device absolutely does not need.

The promise of 1000 preinstalled games may also be up in the air: The Vega+ reportedly makes use of Fuse, the Free Unix Spectrum Emulator, but the Indiegogo campaign and the Vega+ web page both promise "licensed games." It's not clear how losing the Sinclair licenses will impact that, if at all, but coupled with the inability to have the promised games installed on the first round of shipped units, it doesn't inspire confidence. 

Despite a handful of units making it to backers, the BBC also said that the debt collection action launched by Indiegogo against Retro Computers in June will continue. I've emailed the company for more information, and will update if I receive a reply.

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.