The story around ZA/UM and the expulsion of the Disco Elysium creators has taken a new turn. Things are getting messier now, as Robert Kurvitz accuses the investors of fraud, while the management claims the dismissals were due to misconduct.
Robert Kurvitz and Aleksander Rostov
Money intended for Disco Elysium 2 was allegedly used for fraudulent takeover of ZA/UM
On November 9, Disco Elysium game director/lead designer Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov posted an open letter providing their own perspective on the situation around ZA/UM (you can read the background of the story below).
- The majority stake in ZA/UM was originally held by Estonian businessman Margus Linnamäe, who made the initial investment in the studio, while Kurvitz and Rostov remained minority shareholders.
- Things changed last year, when Linnamäe’s stake was bought out by another minority shareholder Tütreke OÜ. It is an Estonian firm run by Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel.
“As soon as they became majority shareholders, we were quickly excluded from daily operations, our employment was terminated and our access to the company’s information was shut off. Our firing came weeks after we started asking for documents and financial data, which is still being kept from us.”
- According to Kurvitz and Rostov, Tütreke OÜ took over ZA/UM by fraud. They claimed Kompus and Haavel illegally used money that belonged to the studio to buy the majority stake.
- These funds were meant for the sequel to Disco Elysium, but were allegedly taken from the development team and other shareholders.
- Kurvitz and Rostov also accused Estonian novelist and ZA/UM shareholder Kaur Kender of helping Tütreke OÜ take over the studio. They also noted that Tõnis Haavel has already been convicted of defrauding investors in 2007.
- Right now, the Disco Elysium creators are reviewing their legal options. They will be suing ZA/UM in both Estonian and UK jurisdictions.
- Kurvitz and Rostov thanked the game’s fans for their support, saying that “no one can take [Disco Elysium and people’s love] from us.”
Brief timeline of the drama around ZA/UM and Disco Elysium
- Last month, Disco Elysium editor Martin Luiga announced his decision to dissolve the ZA/UM cultural association (the development studio of the same name that grew out of it is still functioning).
- He added that three key developers of Disco Elysium left the studio last year: Robert Kurvitz, Aleksander Rostov, and writer Helen Hindpere.
- Luiga said their departure was “involuntary”, later telling GamePressure that “they were fired on false premises and the entire ordeal.”
- Kurvitz eventually filed a lawsuit against ZA/UM, the studio he co-founded in 2016. The details remain undisclosed, with the hearing scheduled for November 28.
Misconduct and toxic management allegations
- In a large statement to GamesIndustry.biz, ZA/UM said Kurvitz and Rostov’s letter was full of “baseless claims and falsehoods.”
- Without giving specific names, the studio claimed several employees were fired due to misconduct, as they allegedly created a toxic work environment “antithetical to the ZA/UM culture and team productivity.”
- The company denied any fraud accusations, saying that the vast majority of profits from Disco Elysium have been invested back into the studio to fund its next games.
“ZA/UM cannot and will not tolerate egregious misconduct, even from individuals who, along with the broader team, have contributed to a game that we are exceptionally proud of and that continues to capture imaginations across the globe.”
- The studio claimed that Kurvitz and Rostov hadn’t worked at all for almost two years and “forced colleagues to compensate for their lack of effort.”
- They also allegedly tried to illegally sell the rights for Disco Elysium to other game companies.
- In an interview with Estonian Ekspress, ZA/UM CEO Ilmar Kompus accused Kurvitz and another minority shareholder Saandar Taal of “humiliating colleagues and intending to steal IP.”
- As one source told GamesIndustry.biz, the situation was “not black and white.” Another source described it as “CEO corporate scheming on one side, a toxic auteur on the other.”
- ZA/UM is now in the process of reshuffling, with Private Division co-founder Ed Tomaszewski being reportedly appointed as the studio’s new president.
- The fate of the Disco Elysium sequel remains unknown.