One of the most recently acclaimed titles from dev studio ZA/UM, Disco Elysium, has been hit with several allegations. In a blog post on Medium, director Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov pulled the curtain back on the situation.
Both are shareholders at ZA/UM but noticed that once the studio was acquired by Tütreke OÜ, things began to turn sour.
“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,” they claim. “Our firing came weeks after we started asking for documents and financial data, which is still being kept from us.
“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, money that belonged to the studio and all shareholders but was used for the benefit of one. Money that should have gone toward making the sequel.
“We believe that these actions — which in our view, and the view of our lawyers, amount to criminal wrongdoing punishable by up to three years imprisonment — were perpetrated by [ZA/UM CEO] Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel with support from Kaur Kender, another minority shareholder.”
The post continues with a breakdown: “We are now in the process of reviewing our legal options. Both civil claims and criminal charges are on the table — in Estonia and the United Kingdom.”
“While we are confident that ZA/UM will prevail in court once all the facts are heard, we believe it is necessary to address baseless claims and falsehoods if only to rightly defend ZA/UM and protect our employees,” the studio asserted to GI.biz.
“The rumour 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 was a decision that had to be taken for the well-being of the collective.
“Further, ZA/UM denies any claim of financial malfeasance or fraud that is being held against us. The vast majority of profits from Disco Elysium have been invested back into the studio in order to fund our next projects, which are currently in development.”
Some of the accusations from the studio include being paid for not working at the studio over two years, leaving colleagues to pick up the slack. Fostering a toxic environment “antithetical to the ZA/UM culture,” and misconduct while interacting with the team including gender discrimination and verbal abuse.
“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. In addition to creativity and innovation, ZA/UM also stands for professionalism, kindness, decency, and fairness, which we expect from all our employees. It would be shortsighted to accept anything less, as we need team players for the highly collaborative process that is creating games.”
And now it appears both sides of this situation will take the battle to the courtroom. It’s a mess and one that may impede process on the studio’s next game which is currently being shopped around to investors.