Disco Elysium lawsuit woes continue as fired devs double down on claims of fraud at Studio ZA/UM
"They will not silence us"
The already troubled goings-on at ZA/UM - the studio that developed Disco Elysium - have gotten messier than Harry’s own apartment. Last week ZA/UM announced that one of its legal disputes had been resolved and that they expected the rest of their legal troubles to "fall apart." But fired game director Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov took the oppurtunity to double down on their lawsuit and dispute the studio's claims, calling them "wrong and misleading in several respects."
For the blissfully uninitiated, let’s rewind the clocks. Late last year, it was revealed that several key members of the development team for Disco Elysium - Kurvitz, Rostov, and writer Helen Hindpere - had been fired from ZA/UM, which led to an eventual lawsuit. Kurvitz and Rostov claimed they were fired for asking for financial data, and that the studio had been taken over by Estonian businessmen Ilmar Kompus and banker Tōnis Haavel (previously convicted of investment fraud) through fraudulent means.
Kompus and Haavel bit back, saying the pair were fired for workplace misconduct such as "creating a toxic work environment", "verbal abuse and gender discrimination," and “intending to steal IP”.
Amidst these problems, another fired employee - former marketing manager Kaur Kender - similarly claimed he had been fired for asking questions about the studio’s new management and began his own legal battle. But last week, ZA/UM released a press release to Eurogamer saying that Kender had "divested all his shares in the studio, repaid all his debts to the studio," and resolved the issue. Kender himself said, “I filed a lawsuit which I realised, after seeing the facts, was misguided."
ZA/UM also hinted at Rostov and Kurvitz, saying that the studio "continues to address a series of baseless allegations from former employees who mounted a legal and PR campaign against [the studio]", and that it "expects more of their claims to fall apart under legal and factual scrutiny."
As could have been predicted based on how this has gone up to now, Rostov and Kurvitz found issue with the press release and shot back in their own statement to Eurogamer, saying that "Kompus and Haavel silenced Kender on this matter, but they will not silence us.” Their fighting words continue: “Unlike Kender, we have not participated in the looting of ZA/UM, and Kompus and Haavel have no power over us.” You can read the full statement on Eurogamer, but Kurvitz and Rostov continue to allege that Kompus and Haaval misused ZA/UM’s funds to illegally increase their own stake in the company. “Paying back stolen money, however, does not undo the crime,” the duo say.
Since the story is stuck in a perpetual series of back-and-forths, Kompus and Haaval then responded to this response, saying, "'looting', 'stolen money', and 'crime' are details that make for riveting reading but they are far from reality.” They also point to the duo’s alleged workplace toxicity again. You can also read their full response in, er, that Eurogamer article, which our pals at EG had to update twice to accomodate the statement-slinging.
So, the story is far from over yet, and it seems Kurvitz and Rostov will continue their dispute with the new business team at ZA/UM for a while, tangling this already complicated story even further.
In other news, Disco Elysium has a photo mode now… hurray? It’s a little hard to be excited about a meme-making tool with all these allegations flying about, and I reckon whatever future the Disco Elysium IP has will be shadowed by this debacle.