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Ousted Disco Elysium devs allegedly created environment of harassment at ZA/UM

More information about the situation between ZA/UM and its fired Disco Elysium staff has been revealed.

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

November 9, 2022

2 Min Read
Cover art for ZA/UM's Disco Elysium.

Developer ZA/UM is acknowledging recent allegations of ex-senior staff fostering a culture of harassment and mismanagement at the Estonian developer. 

Talking to the Estonian Ekspress (translated via Google), ZA/UM's CEO Ilmar Kompus credited the studio's "toxic environment" to Disco Elysium's ousted game director Robert Kurvitz, along with art director Aleksander Rostov and former shareholder (and ex-ZA/UM UK LTD director) Saandar Taal. 

"[Kurvitz and Taal] treated their co-workers very badly," said Kompus to the Ekspress. "Despite talking to them repeatedly, things did not improve. Therefore, the company was forced to fire them. [...] It would be very short-sighted of a growing international company to tolerate such behavior."

Both Kurvitz and Rostov, along with Disco Elysium writer Helen Hindpere, were allegedly "forced out" of the developer in 2021. Since the news of their firing broke this past October, Kurvitz has filed a lawsuit against his former employer without any involvement from either Rostov or Hindpere. 

However, earlier today, Kurvitz and Rostov published a statement alleging their firing was brought about by Kompus and fellow Estonian businessman Tõnis Haavel. Per Rostov and Kurvitz, they were forced out after becoming minority shareholders in ZA/UM Studio OÜ, which owns everything related to Disco Elysium.

Both sides have made some serious accusations

Kompus further claimed that Rostov in particular would "belittle women and co-workers in the past," and that Kurvitz conspired with Taal to "steal [ZA/UM] IP," including Disco Elysium, to sell to other "well-known large game industry companies." 

In a statement to GamesIndustry, ZA/UM wrote that it "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 rumor that our decision to terminate the contracts of these individuals was taken for financial gain is entirely unfounded and does not in any way reflect the facts," it continued. "ZA/UM denies any claim of financial malfeasance or fraud that is being held against us." 

However, those who spoke to both the Ekspress and GamesIndustry said that the situation between ZA/UM's Kompus-led business team and the creative side of the company previously led by Kurvitz is more complicated than it seems. Reportedly, Kurvitz was more focused on making games, and often clashed with the shareholders goal of making money.

Additionally, staff who worked with Kurvitz allegedly felt uncomfortable speaking about him out of respect, as they felt he was why they were hired at ZA/UM to begin with. More recent hires, meanwhile, admitted to not knowing enough to speak on the situation. 

One anonymous source told GamesIndustry that things could best be summed up as "CEO corporate scheming on one side, a toxic auteur on the other."

These allegations made by both parties represent some of the worst circumstances a game developer can find themselves in. However the legal proceedings play out, it's clear that there are developers at ZA/UM badly impacted by the situation.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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