For video game fans of a certain vintage, it was a beautiful dream. A plan to reboot the classic ZX Spectrum console of their childhoods, but this time as a handheld device.
The company behind the proposed ZX Spectrum Vega+, Retro Computers Ltd, launched a crowdfunding campaign through IndieGoGo to finance the project. Enthusiasts rushed to back the plans, based on the promise of receiving one of the consoles hot off the production line upon launch. More than half a million pounds was raised in no time.
But more than two years after the campaign was launched, there is still no sign of the much-anticipated Vega+. Retro Computers has been put through the ringer, with media stories of boardroom fallouts, squandered cash and technical glitches blighting the project.
Now, having issued a final ultimatum in February giving Retro Computers three months to demonstrate the Vega+ was viable, IndieGoGo has had enough. It has called in debt collectors to recover all of the funds invested in the project on behalf of its backers.
This in itself is a fairly unusual move. IndieGoGo originally suspended the crowdfunding campaign for the Vega+ in March 2017 but then had very little to do with the unfolding controversy surrounding the project. Throughout the unfolding story they have largely maintained a hands off approach to RCL but that now finally appears to have changed.
Act of courtesy
In January 2018, one of the individuals who invested in the console, Rob Morton of Mickleover, Derby, England, successfully pressed a claim against Retro Computers for non-delivery. The judge hearing the case ruled that in some cases individual backers had entered into a contractual arrangement directly with Retro Computers, apparently absolving IndieGoGo of any further responsibility. This judgment appeared to rest on the fact that RCL had allowed Mr Morton to 'order' a console and not 'pledge' to support an unfinished or prototype device.
Unfortunately for the rest of the actual backers who had pledged via IndieGoGo this meant that they remained reliant on RCL fulfilling it's promises, something they have continually failed to do. The fact that IndieGoGo has decided to call in debt collectors anyway suggests that it is well aware of the reputational damage the whole episode has potentially done not only to itself, but to crowdfunding in general. While the majority of crowdfunded projects run smoothly and most vendors make good on their promises, it is believed that 7% of backers do not get what they paid for when they invested.
As the earlier court ruling demonstrates, the crowdfunding companies themselves - the likes of Kickstarter, GoFundMe and RocketHub as well as IndieGoGo - are not under any legal obligation when it comes to non-delivery of projects. Investors hand over their cash largely on faith, and if they do not get what they were promised, it is left to them to recover what they are owed.
IndieGoGo’s intervention is welcome, but it is an act of courtesy, not of obligation.
As for Retro Computers, the company maintains that the project remains viable, that it has largely been undermined by the behaviour of two former directors who left to form a rival company, and that the majority of its backers are happy to wait for the Vega+ to come to fruition.
If it sticks to its guns, IndieGoGo’s debt recovery action seems destined to end up in court, when Retro Computers will have to either prove the product is ready or cough up what it can. Either way, investors are probably in for a lot more waiting.
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