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Disco Elysium dev files lawsuit against the studio that allegedly kicked him out

The writer will do something

Harry Du Bois from Disco Elysium The Final Cut lifting weights
Image credit: ZA/UM

Alright folks, bear with me, because it doesn't look like this one is going to get less messy. As reported by Tech News Space, it appears that Robert Kurvitz, the lead developer and writer on Disco Elysium, is suing Studio ZA/UM, the development studio of Disco Elysium, via his own company Telomer. Kotaku AU seem to have corroborated this, finding a record on the Estonian Ministry of Justice's website showing Telomer has filed an application against ZA/UM Studio to "obtain information and review documents", which you can see for yourself here.

This comes after Martin Luiga announced (in a frankly kinda weird post) the dissolution of The ZA/UM Cultural Association, and that Kurvitz, writer Helen Hindpere, and art director Aleksander Rostov were no longer working at Studio ZA/UM.

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ZA/UM the dev studio business entity is separate from ZA/UM the Estonian countercultural artistic movement. Disco Elysium is set in the same world as Kurvitz's book The Sacred And Terrible Air, as well as a long-running custom D&D world that predates both ZA/UMs. Thus there is speculation that Kurvitz is trying to get the IP rights back - but we have no idea what the filing is actually for, so the speculation is just speculation at this point. A hearing is taking place on the 28th of November. I guess set a reminder in your calendar?

Luiga, who used to work at Studio ZA/UM, claimed in an interview that Kurvitz and the others were fired "on false premises". Luiga has sinced followed up with a longer, weirder blog post in which, among things that kind of read as unintentional burns on Kurvitz, he claims "Robert was fired from the company whose heart and seed he was due to claims of ‘creating a toxic workplace environment’". We've no confirmation of that from anyone involved (though Rostov tweeted confirmation that he, Kurvitz and Hindpere had left the studio).

Meanwhile, I've been poking around in the different Companies House listings for things called ZA/UM, after one of our commenters Dave L. correctly identified they make for interesting reading. You can see ZAUM UK LTD did a lot of restructuring in March last year, appointing someone called Ilmar Kompus as the new director. Kompus created a new company called ZAUM STUDIO LTD just ten days ago. I have no idea what this means, but I can tell it's definitely part of the tangled web that is this whole situation.

Back when Luiga first posted about dissolving ZA/UM the art collective, Studio ZA/UM responded with a statement to Eurogamer saying that "the development of Disco Elysium was and still is a collective effort, with every team member's contribution essential and valued as part of a greater whole," and that the team is focused on developing their next project.

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