Sinclair ZX Vega+ funding campaign halted by Indiegogo

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ZX Spectrum Vega+Image source, Retro Computers Ltd
Image caption,
RCL promised that the Vega+ would come with 1,000 licensed games

Crowdfunding platform Indiegogo intervened to stop a handheld retro computer console campaign from acquiring further funding, the BBC has learned.

The Spectrum ZX Vega+, backed by Sir Clive Sinclair, had achieved its original crowdfunding target.

But then Indiegogo halted further fundraising because of delivery delays and a lack of communication to backers.

The project's organisers had asked the BBC not to reveal the development.

The BBC understands no consoles have been delivered to backers, despite a pledge last month that they would "ship after 20 Feb 2017".

And the company behind the project - Retro Computers Limited - suggested these details might put its team at risk.

"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," Retro Computers Limited founder David Levy said in a statement on Wednesday.

"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."

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

In the meantime, the Gizmodo news site also published and then deleted an article about the matter because it too was told of threats.

Refund requests

RCL had already received more than £513,000 ($624,000) from Indiegogo crowdfunders for the Vega+ .

And before the fundraising campaign was halted, the project had been listed as "in demand" to allow new people to become backers, despite having already reached its funding target.

But in recent weeks, many backers have expressed anger that they still have not received their console and claimed their requests for more information were going unanswered by the company.

Although, Indiegogo is clear in its terms and conditions that those who back a project are supporting an idea rather than buying a product - and that hardware in particular tends to be more difficult to deliver.

In 2015, RCL brought a different Sinclair computer to fruition after a smaller campaign.

Image source, Retro Computers Ltd
Image caption,
A previous Spectrum Vega console was delivered to backers and put on sale

Lawyers' letter

RCL originally said the new Spectrum ZX Vega+ was due to go into production in the summer of 2016 and it might even "be able to improve on this delivery date".

But in December 2016, after the BBC contacted RCL to ask about the status of the Vega+, the broadcaster was threatened with legal action.

"Our clients are concerned that the BBC is in fact supporting and participating in a malicious campaign intended to denigrate our clients' reputation," wrote lawyers Michelmores LLP in a letter to the broadcaster.

They went on to request that the BBC show them its report at least 48 hours ahead of publication so they could identify any false information, which the BBC refused to do.

Image source, Retro Computers Ltd
Image caption,
The campaign said the Vega+ is designed to be used as a handheld but can also be connected to a TV

Ms Martin then apologised to backers for the delays and said there had been unexpected issues with the console buttons.

"In November, we identified an improvement we believed was essential to the Vega+ gaming experience," she said at the time.

"An improvement that would make the feel of the product far better, including a correction in the design of one of the buttons, making it more robust and able to withstand the rigours of extended game-play.

"We also wanted to make sure we did justice to the Sinclair legacy.

"This change has caused a brief delay, and we are truly sorry about that, but we needed this time to improve the product, and we have now completed the necessary revisions, and we are delighted to announce that we will ship the first units in February 2017."

Since then, RCL has suggested it had been unable to respond to some backers' requests because of a business dispute with two former directors.

And in its last public update, 11 days ago, the company released some technical details about software used by the device.

'Last chance'

Many recent comments left by backers on RCL's Indiegogo page, which remains live but has stopped taking funds, are requests for refunds.

"I don't expect a response. I'm just being polite in letting them know this is their last chance before they have to deal with small claims court," wrote a backer called Paul Brookfield.

"Please receive this email as written notice of cancellation of my pledge and a request for a refund," wrote Drew Miller.

"I no longer believe you are capable of providing the product I pledged for in April, considering the drastic number of delays and your lack of communication toward fellow backers."

Update 10 March 2017: Retro Computers Ltd has issued a new statement announcing a delivery delay, but says it expects the first batch of Vega+ consoles will be available in a few weeks' time.