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ZX Spectrum game devs raise concerns about soon-to-be-funded Kickstarter (update)

A group of classic game developers are raising doubts about a Kickstarter campaign for a keyboard designed to play what they say are unlicensed versions of their ZX Spectrum games.

The Elite Systems keyboard is designed to emulate the ZX Spectrum microcomputer produced in the 1980s. The keyboard is designed for use with Elite's dedicated ZX Spectrum app on iOS and later planned for Android and Windows devices. The Kickstarter campaign advertises two functions for the keyboard: use as normal keyboard and as a controller for Elite game emulator apps, but only guarantees the later at launch.

The accompanying Elite emulator app includes ZX Spectrum games that a group of Spectrum developers say have not been officially licensed to the company for reproduction and sale. Despite being contacted by Elite and declining involvement, decathlete Daley Thompson said the company published a mobile version of Daley Thompson's Decathalon anyway. Odin Computer Graphics developer Steve Wetherill wrote on his blog that he and another developer, Paul McKenna, gave Elite the rights to sell their games in 2010 but are no longer receiving royalty statements from them despite continued sales. The statement was retweeted by Dynamite Dan developer Rod Bowkett — who says he gave Elite rights but has also not received royalties. A handful of other developers have posted in forums stating their games are being used with permission, but Polygon was unable to independently verify them.

Developer and writer Robert Fearon raised separate concerns about Elite's claim to the Spectrum ZX name and image, noting on his blog that the current license holder is not indicated by name in the Kickstarter. The rights were initially sold by consumer electronics company Sinclair Research to electronics company Amstrad, before again passing on to BSkyB when the company purchased Amstrad. The Kickstarter page notes that Amstrad, "was acquired" but not by whom, and that Elite has entered an agreement with the unnamed "acquirer" to use the ZX Spectrum name. Additionally, the only former Sinclair designer listed on the Kickstarter is Rick Dickinson under a "special thanks" section —and while he does appear in the campaign pitch video, he is not mentioned as working on the keyboard itself.

At the time of writing, the last update to the keyboard's Kickstarter states backers should expect "last day drama" and to "hold your nerve."

"We're anticipating plenty of that in the next 24 hours, as the desires of all genuine and enthusiastic backers do battle with needs of those that are also a little cash-strapped, (we sympathize ... but we need you to stick with it)," reads the post.

The campaign has already exceeded its £60,000 funding goal by just over £5,000 and is set to wrap up at 5 p.m. ET today. Polygon has reached out to Elite Systems for comment but did not receive a response at the time of writing. Earlier today the company noted it was preparing a statement in response to the criticism.

"A number of the appeal's backers have requested that we make a statement in response comments posted on the forum of the Kickstarter appeal for the Bluetooth ZX Spectrumm," a representative for the company wrote in the campaign's comments. "We are preparing a statement which we trust will satisfy the appeal's backers."

Update: Elite Systems' Steve Wilcox posted a statement in the campaign comments section asking developers who have spoken out against the company to contact them directly.

"We wish to assure all of the appeal's backers, including the game developers that have posted, that having been in business for 30 years we take our contractual relationships most seriously," Wilcox wrote. "We urge the game developers to set out any issues which they wish to be addressed in writing and send them to us directly, using the email address below. We will then investigate and respond in writing and in detail and if able to do so will place our response in the public domain."

Polygon has reached out to affected developers and will share more details as we receive them.

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