Longstanding UK developer Elite Systems has come under fire from a number of ZX Spectrum developers accusing the company of failing to pay royalties for its Spectrum iOS and Android apps.
Elite recently launched a successful Kickstarter project to manufacture and sell a Bluetooth ZX Spectrum keyboard. The keyboard, originally rumoured to be in development as far back as February 2011, will come complete with rubber keys and be available on iOS, Android and Windows devices.
However, a number of developers have come forward to accuse Elite of failing to pay them royalties for the previous ZX Spectrum app it released on iOS and Android three years ago.
ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection was released in October 2010, and initially included six Spectrum games: Chuckie Egg, Saboteur!, Turbo Esprit, Harrier Attack, Buggy Boy and Frank Bruno's Boxing.
Over the years a number of DLC packs have been added too, expanding the collection to around 200 games. While Elite owned the rights to some of these games, most were acquired through licensing agreements with their original programmers, with royalties promised for each sale.
Now, fourteen of these developers have made themselves known on the Bluetooth ZX Spectrum Keyboard Kickstarter's comments section, saying they have yet to receive a single payment in more than three years.
The complete list of developers making the claim is as follows:
- Costa Panayi (Tornado Low Level, Highway Encounter)
- Rod Bowkett (Dynamite Dan)
- Steve Crow (Starquake, Wizard's Lair)
- Jonathan Cauldwell (Egghead To The Rescue)
- Julian Gollop (Lords Of Chaos, Rebelstar)
- Chris Hinsley (Everyone's A Wally)
- Mike Lewis (Redhawk)
- Jon Ritman (Match Day)
- Steve Wetherill (Nodes Of Yesod, Sidewize)
- Sandy White (Ant Attack)
- Bob Smith (modern programmer)
- Ian Stewart (Gremlin Graphics titles)
- Simon Ullyatt (Chronosoft)
- Roger Hulley (Skool Daze)
"Don't let this [Kickstarter] go through," stated Costa Panayi, who was the first to raise the issue. "Elite has been selling my games since 2010 and has never paid me a penny. Others are in the same position. If this goes through you will lose your money."
Rod Bowkett added: "I can only echo Costa Panayi's comments. Elite features my games Dynamite Dan I & II yet has not supplied quarterly statements or paid a single penny in royalties to date. If [company director Steve Wilcox] can't be trusted to honour the terms of a legally binding agreement can he be trusted to deliver this keyboard? I doubt it. I strongly urge you not to contribute to this project."
Mike Lewis added his voice to the growing crowd of irked developers. "I am the author of Redhawk and Kwah, originally published by Melbourne House in the 1980s," he explained.
"Like Costa I also signed an agreement with Steve Wilcox and Elite and have yet to receive a royalty statement, any payment or even a response to emails. Please don't buy Redhawk and Kwah through Elite. They need to pay the original developers they are trumpeting about having the licenses from before developing new projects.
"My contract with Elite Systems for Redhawk and Kwah states 50 per cent of the revenue to be payable as royalties to me and for quarterly royalty statements to be made. I was even sent a sample royalty statement. Since signing the contract and Redhawk and Kwah appearing as in-app purchases on the IOS store I have heard nothing from Steve Wilcox or Elite at all."
Some of the developers, such as Steve Crow, have entire six-game DLC packs dedicated solely to their work.
"I am the author of Starquake, Firelord, and Wizards Lair for the ZX Spectrum," Crow said.
"Like the other game developers here Elite Systems have been selling my games illegally, with no rights or contract to do so and making money from my original work which I hold all rights to. Check out the Steve Crow pack on Elite's iTunes ZX Emulator. In my opinion, I have serious concerns about this Kickstarter project and whether the Bluetooth ZX Spectrum keyboard will ever see the light of day."
Steve Wilcox responded by temporarily removing the iOS and Android apps, and issued the following statement:
"The public statements are far too wide-ranging to be addressed in this single response. However I acknowledge that I, as a director, may have failed in my duty to ensure that some of the reports and some of the payments - due to the ZX Spectrum game developers, with whom Elite has contractual relationships - were made in accordance with the agreed terms.
I am working toward that unacceptable position being remedied within the next 28 days, sooner if possible. I believe that all of the ZX Spectrum games included or included as in-app purchases within the above referenced apps were included with written consent, where such consent is available but I will need to review the written records relating to some 200 games before making a more fully informed comment."
The fourteen developers listed above responded to this with a group statement, written by Rod Bowkett. "We are so enraged by Mr. Wilcox's 'statement' that we have one of our own," it began.
"Given what we've been telling you over the last few days can you imagine how offensive we find 'we take our contractual relationships most seriously'? Frankly, anyone who buys that deserves to lose their money.
"We ask you to not purchase any Elite product that either includes any of our games or supports in-app purchases of them. Mr. Wilcox has no rights to them because he has repeatedly failed to honour the terms of the agreements with us and is as a result in breach of copyright. In the case of Steve Crow he never even had an agreement in the first place.
"In a court of law he wouldn't have a leg to stand on and he knows it. Do you honestly think he's going to suddenly change his modus operandi when it comes to this project? Good luck with that!"