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Fired Disco Elysium devs allege fraud at Studio ZA/UM, say "civil and criminal charges are on the table"

That's a spicy meatball

Just over two weeks ago I predicted the ZA/uM situation would only get messier, so slap my face and call me Mystic Meg. Disco Elysium's game director Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov have, at least partially, offered up their side of the story on why they were fired from Disco dev studio ZA/UM in a Medium post titled 'TO FANS OF DISCO ELYSIUM, CONCERNING THE SITUATION AT ZA/UM'. Short answer is: they allege fraud.

Long answer: in October, Martin Luiga (one of the founding members of the ZA/UM art movement, which let's not forget is a separate thing to the dev studio) revealed that Kurvitz, Rostov, and writer Helen Hindpere were all fired at the end of 2021. Now, we've got Kurvitz and Rostov's explanation of events, and they say their stake in the game is via an Estonian company called Zaum Studio OÜ. The initial investor in Zaum Studio OÜ was businessman Margus Linnamäe (Kurvitz's company Telomer still has a minority stake). In 2021 Linnamäe was bought out by Tütreke OÜ, which Kurvitz and Rostov call a "vehicle" for the Estonian businessmen Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel.

Kurvitz and Rostov, who say they refrained from speaking out until now due to both their own mental health and consideration for those still working at ZA/UM, claim they were excluded from daily operations as soon as Kompus and Haavel took over. They also allege they were fired within weeks of asking for documents and financial data.

"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," says the statement's most eyebrow-raising paragraph.

Kurvitz and Rostov further allege that this fraud was perpetrated with "support" from Kaur Kender (who they describe only as "another minority shareholder", but he's also a writer who helped Kurvitz self-publish the novel the Disco Elysium setting is based on).

"Must have" seems like pretty definitive language, but it doesn't actually say "we have evidence of", so we're still in the wait-and-see holding pattern. Kurvitz and Rostov's statement also makes no gesture towards another post Luiga made, where Luiga says Kurvitz was out on his ear for "claims of 'creating a toxic workplace environment'" and that he was "manipulated by psychopaths".

Like I said: messy. Kurvitz and Rostov say they're "in the process of reviewing our legal options. Both civil claims and criminal charges are on the table — in Estonia and the United Kingdom," which is at least partially borne out by the legal filing Kotaku AU spotted. If they can't prove fraud, and they sold the Disco IP lock and stock... well, I guess that's capitalism for you.

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Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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