The ongoing saga between Disco Elysium lead creatives and studio ZA/UM has taken another turn for the dramatic, with game director Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov straight up accusing their former company of fraud. ZA/UM, not to be outdone, has denied these allegations and made some of their own, alleging that the former employees shirked their responsibilities, created a toxic work environment, engaged in verbal abuse and gender discrimination, and attempted to sell the company's intellectual property illegally.
If this is all news to you, let's try to catch you up without getting lost in the weeds. Throughout October, a war of words has slowly been brewing after Martin Luiga, an editor who worked on Disco Elysium, revealed that some of the key creative minds responsible for the game had departed the studio "involuntarily". Luiga later claimed that Kurvitz, Rostov, and writer Helen Hindpere were actually fired under false premises. Finally, we learned that Kurvitz had filed a lawsuit against ZA/UM with the Estonian court.
The latest on the situation is as follows. Kurvitz and Rostov have published an open letter on Medium to fans of Disco Elysium, concerning the situation at ZA/UM, in which it is alleged that Estonian businessmen Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel (who became the majority shareholders in ZA/UM after the release of Disco Elysium) used fraudulent means to take control of the company. Kompus and Havel were formerly minority shareholders, and their own company, Tütreke OÜ, acquired a controlling stake after purchasing shares from Margus Linnamäe, the entrepreneur who put up much of the capital for the project in the first place.
Kurvitz details the state of affairs, noting that "we have now learned that Tütreke OÜ must have obtained control over Zaum Studio OÜ by fraud. We believe the money used by Tütreke OÜ to buy the majority stake was taken illegally from Zaum Studio OÜ itself, money that belonged to the studio and all shareholders but was used for the benefit of one. Money that should have gone towards making the sequel."
There's more to the matter, including a lot of nuances, but we will move on in the interest of brevity. In response, ZA/UM has issued its own statement to GamesIndustry.biz, denying the accusation of fraud, and addressing the dismissals, stating that "we are confident that ZA/UM will prevail in court once all the facts are heard, we believe it is necessary to address baseless claims and falsehoods if only to rightly defend ZA/UM and protect our employ."
The studio provided its reasoning for the dismissals, alleging that there was "limited to no engagement in their responsibilities and work – including not working at all for almost two years while still being paid by the studio," and that they had contributed to "creating a toxic work environment that is antithetical to the ZA/UM culture and team productivity." Finally, the company cites "misconduct in interacting with other colleagues that includes verbal abuse and gender discrimination," and "attempts to illegally sell to other gaming companies ZA/UM’s intellectual property with the aim of undermining the rest of the team."
It's a lot to take in, and it seems like the situation is only going to become more complex once the now-inevitable court case moves forward. We will monitor the situation and update you on any major developments. What do you think of Kurvitz and Rostov's claims and of ZA/UM's allegations? Let us know in the comments section below.