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Elite investigating ZX Spectrum game license claims, pulling apps (update 3)

Elite Systems — the company behind the keyboard Kickstarter campaign that came under fire last week amidst allegations that it used licensed games in its app without paying royalties to developers — is working to temporarily withdraw all its emulator apps from app stores, according to an open letter on the company page.

The ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection, ZX Spectrum: Elite Collection HD iOS app and all of Elite's 8-bit games and apps were removed from app stores the morning of Feb. 1. The post notes that some apps are still available, though Elite is making efforts to have them removed on the grounds that is is "inappropriate" for the company to "accrue revenue from the sale of the 8-bit games and apps whilst some of the reports and some of the payments — due to the ZX Spectrum game developers, with whom Elite has contractual relationships — are outstanding."

"This has been a personally chastening experience," wrote Elite's director Steve Wilcox.

Wilcox notes in the post that the decision to temporarily remove the apps was due to public statements made by developers who said they were affected by the campaign for a ZX Spectrum keyboard, which ended Friday evening and pulled in £63,194.

"The public statements are far too wide wide-ranging to be addressed in this single response," Wilcox wrote. "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."

"This has been a personally chastening experience."

Several of these developers told Polygon that they had either signed a contract with Elite for use of their games in the ZX Spectrum emulator and had not seen royalties, or their games were being used in the app with no contract at all.

Polygon spoke with Dynamite Dan developer Rod Bowkett on Friday, who said he has been in touch with other developers dealing with Elite Systems. He said he can confirm that most if not all games in Elite's Spectrum app games are either used without the developer's permission or are part of a signed contract for which developers have not been paid for.

"A lot of us never communicated as programmers, and it's only this week we've really gotten to speak to each other," he said on Friday. "In regards to the Kickstarter, it really enrages me [Elite Systems] is raising money from these folks."

A number of other developers sent Polygon comments about the situation over the weekend. Mike Lewis, the developer behind Redhawk! and Kwah! and Steven Wetherill, known for Nodes of Yesod, both corroborated with Bowkett's statements. Both developers said Wilcox contacted them in a little over three years ago to sign contracts licensing their games for use in the Spectrum app. Both received some royalty statements before they "dried up" completely, as Wetherill put it.

"Beyond the sheer principle of the thing, I am mostly concerned that over $100,000 has been raised on the back of licensed games that have not been paid for," Wetherill told Polygon. "I've been corresponding with around 10 other developers who are in the exact same situation. I would certainly like to receive payment for our games, but I'd actually be happy if Elite would remove our games from his app, and from the app store."

"I'd actually be happy if Elite would remove our games from his app, and from the app store."

"I am not so bothered by the possible royalties but strongly object to Elite Systems running a Kickstarter campaign based on all the licensed games they have when they appear to have not paid the vast majority of developers," added Lewis.

Polygon also received similar stories from former Vortex Software developer Costa Panayi, Simon Ullyatt who worked on Spectrum titles at Cronosoft and Laser Squad and Lords of Chaos developer Julian Gollop.

In the open letter published today, Wilcox wrote that he is in the process of contacting all developers whose games are used in the Spectrum app and notes users who already purchased the above mentioned apps should be able to use them as normal, albeit without in-app purchases.

"The game developers who made the public statements have been urged to set out any and all issues which they wish to be addressed in writing and send them to us directly, using the email address below," he wrote. "I will then investigate and respond in writing and in detail and if able to do so will place our response in the public domain.

"Friday I received in excess of 450 emails to my usual email address and our domain handler was unavailable, hence the dedicated address. Additionally, I am now writing directly to each of the ZX Spectrum game developers, using their last known email and / or postal address."

Polygon has reached out to the developers with games in the ZX Spectrum app for comment and will share more details as we receive them.

Update: Bowkett told Polygon this morning that he thinks Wilcox's open letter is still part of a ruse.

"This statement is clearly just another feeble attempt at obfuscation by Mr. Wilcox," Bowkett said. "He still desperately clings to the hope that by pulling the wool over our eyes he'll keep all the balls in the air and live to see another day. He urges us to 'set out all issues which we wish to be addressed' when thousands of people are already fully up to speed on the ‘issues'. He seems to have failed to notice that social media has rendered transparency one the of most important tenets of modern business. In the 21st century, a tap on the table is all that's needed to bring down a shabby little house of cards such as his, as unfolding events will clearly demonstrate."

Update 2: Vortex Software developer Panayi told Polygon he thinks Wilcox's statement is an attempt to "hide the truth."

"This shows he is still trying to hide the truth — that he blatantly withheld all royalty payments for his own profit and was actively engaged in preventing any progress towards any contractual resolution," he said.

"He knows very well what the issues are, my solicitor has written to him on numerous occasions," he added.

Update 3: Simon Ullyatt of Cronosoft told Polygon that he believes that it is irresponsible of Wilcox to be unaware of the developers' issues.

"I'd just like to say that I'm very disappointed that it's been left up to the developers, which to the best of my knowledge none have been paid, to contact Mr. Wilcox with their 'issues,'" he said. "As Mr. Wilcox was the one who initiated the contracts in the first place, he should be completely aware that the developers have been ignored and unpaid for such a long time. It seems like a frantic damage limitation exercise at best, to add a positive spin on some very shady business."

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