How we decided to support retroigrostroy and what we did
Somewhere in 2014, I suddenly got the idea to play old games for the ZX Spectrum, which my friends and I played at school after (and instead of) lessons, exchanged cassettes, rewrote them and created our own collections. And also to watch and play all the other games for which there was not enough time or they did not visit our “cloud” at all and even to Russia. But this article is not about memoirs, but about what is now and what will be in the future.
Back in 2014, libraries of old games already existed on the net, some more or less complete. For example, archive WoScollected by enthusiasts from Europe (where the Spectrum was most common) was the best at that time, but not without problems: some of the games were under copyright, and, accordingly, binaries (that is, images of cassettes) were not attached to the game pages.
In addition, a very poor online emulator was attached to the site, and in order to play the game normally, you need to download the binary and run it under an offline emulator. And this greatly complicates the entire process of viewing games. It should be noted that about 25 thousand games were written for the ZX Spectrum, and if you download each one and then upload it to an offline emulator, then you need to spend, probably, six months just to skim through everything.
To fix all the above problems, I decided to write your own website with games, the most comfortable for viewing and further playing retro games under the ZX Spectrum.
For half a year of work, a Java emulator was actually made from scratch (which was later rewritten in JS, since support for Java snippets was cut out of browsers), the maximum amount of information was collected on all games, including binary files. A save mode has been added to the emulator so that you can play games comfortably. In the site itself, you can save lists of your favorite games, completed games, and the like.
This is how Viva Games still works, it violates copyrights, and there is no monetization there. The site is on the Russian domain, in Russian, and more than 90% of visitors are from Russia or the countries of the former union. Perhaps that is why no one has come to us with a complaint about copyrights so far. Although no, the Poles came a couple of times with a request to remove their games from the site.
Around 2018, I and some other fans of the ZX Spectrum platform came up with the idea to use my life experience and skills gained in serious commercial projects to develop games for the ZX Spectrum. By the way, the development of games for the spec never stopped, up to a dozen titles came out a year, but it was then that the boom of retro games began (apparently, forty-year-old old farts began to miss their young years). And instead of posting our crafts somewhere for free, we decided to try to somehow monetize our creativity. And such a dream, by the way, was also in my youth – they say, let’s write a cool mega game and sell discs 🙂
Posting games on Viva Games to monetize is not an option. Therefore, a new site was created, ZX Online, already with an international focus (built-in support for the three main languages of the ZX Spectrum platform), and in order to avoid any problems with copyrights, we decided to publish games only by those authors who themselves wish to place their products on this site. Simply put, it turned out to be a very niche marketplace.
The first few published games showed good results. Despite the fact that there are only 20-25 thousand active users on the ZX Spectrum all over the world (this is evidenced by the numbers in public on Facebook), some of the games managed to earn more than 10 thousand euros (for each). Not bad for a computer from the 80s with up to 128 kB of memory?
The retro boom in computer games also spawned a renaissance of the hardware of these same platforms. For the ZX Spectrum, for example, a group of enthusiasts from Europe, with the help of Kickstarter, developed an official successor – ZX Spectrum Next, which has not only full compatibility with all previous models, but also phenomenal graphics with support for 512 colors per pixel, hardware sprites, 9 channels of polyphonic music, 27 MHz for the Z80 and much more. There are ZX Spectrum clones developed by compatriots, for example, ZX Evolution, which are less widespread, but no less important for the platform as a whole.
Enthusiasts, albeit not immediately, picked up these innovations and began to write software and games for the “new Spectrum”. And, it should be noted that for new developments, game consumers bring in a good (by the standards of the retro community) money.
As for the ZX Online project, now it continues to gain momentum. We accept for publication any games that can be run on the classic ZX Spectrum, its clones or the ZX Spectrum Next. We keep in touch with the developers of new games (which every year become more complex and interesting). We regularly pay both domestic and foreign developers what we have earned (at the moment, leaving nothing for ourselves, we work on enthusiasm and faith in the bright future of the platform), we carry out PR campaigns in social networks, we make mailing lists, we are looking for workarounds and loopholes to provide an opportunity to buy and sell all over the world. In the spring, we held the ZX Online Awards 2022 game competition and plan to repeat it next year (I think everyone liked it).
There are a lot of plans in my head to improve the resource and implement new functions.
In general, friends! In fact, I wanted to not only tell you about the ZX Online project, but also somehow cheer you up, motivate you to take the first step in the most interesting business of retro game building. If you are a fan of the ZX Spectrum in the past and you had an idea to write something of your own, why not shake the old days and try to bring your childhood fantasies to life?
I am ready to answer any questions in the comments, the most interesting ones will be transferred to the text of the article.
PS Yes, we are aware that the itch.io file archive has existed for a long time, where enthusiasts post new developments, including games for the ZX Spectrum. But itch.io doesn’t have
there will never be that Spectrum specificity and that freedom that can be realized
and appreciate only true fans.