The departures of Disco Elysium’s core developers from ZA/UM were shrouded in controversy, with game director Robert Kurvitz and art director Aleksander Rostov disagreeing with ZA/UM on the circumstances of their exit.
Kurvitz and Rostov claimed they were kicked out by investors who ripped each other off for a majority share of the company, while ZA/UM reps disagreed and said the duo were fired for misconduct professional.
Kurvitz and Rostov detailed their full allegations in a Medium article and claimed that the majority stake in ZA/UM, previously held by Estonian businessman Margus Linnamäe, was bought out by Tütreke OÜ, an entity owned by two people named Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel. After the ownership transition, the duo alleged that Kompus and Haavel drove them out of the business.
“As soon as they became majority shareholders, we were quickly shut out of day-to-day operations, our jobs were terminated, and our access to company information was cut off,” Kurvitz and Rostov wrote. “Our dismissal came weeks after we started asking for documents and financial data, which are still hidden from us.”
They then claimed that Kompus and Haavel had fraudulently obtained the majority stake using ZA/UM money.
“We believe that the money used by Tütreke OÜ to buy the majority stake was illegally taken from Zaum Studio OÜ itself, money that belonged to the studio and all shareholders but was used for the benefit of only one. Money that should have been used to make the sequel,” they write. “We believe that these actions – which, in our opinion and in the opinion of our lawyers, constitute wrongdoing punishable by up to three years in prison – were perpetrated by Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel with the support of Kaur Kender, another minority shareholder.
Studio ZA/UM released a starkly different statement to Gamesindustry.biz and said the recently terminated employees – no one was specifically named – had “limited no commitment in their responsibilities and work, created an environment of toxic work, misconduct including verbal abuse and gender discrimination”, and also “attempted to illegally sell ZA/UM’s intellectual property to other game companies”.
The ZA/UM studio claimed that any “rumors” of financial scams were unfounded. Legal filings are underway, ZA/UM confirmed. Kurvitz filed a lawsuit in October to “obtain and examine documents.”
According to other anonymous sources who spoke to Gamesindustry.biz, the situation is not “black and white” and there have been conflicts between the creative team led by Kurvitz and the business team. A source described him as “an intriguing CEO on the one hand, a toxic author on the other”.
Kurvitz and Rostov said they are currently exploring legal options and considering “civil suits and criminal charges” both on the table in Estonia and the UK.
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