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Report details allegations of toxic behaviour, IP theft at Disco Elysium developer

Sequel development "jeopardised", CEO says.

The fate of Disco Elysium 2 is currently up in the air, the boss of its development studio has stated, as part of a fresh report delving behind the scenes of the troubled company.

ZA/UM boss Ilmar Kompus made the statement in an interview with People Make Games, in which he was questioned on his buyout of shares in the company and whether or not Kompus illegally used company money to do so. The interview forms part of a longer documentary on the recent events surrounding Disco Elysium.

"The status of this sequel is something that has been jeopardised by this PR campaign as such, and the conflict as such," Kompus said, referring to the publicity ZA/UM has faced from former employees in the past couple of years. Although the lawsuit filed by former executive producer Kaur Kender was dropped, the company is still in the midst of another legal battle against writer Robert Kurvitz, who claims he was, along with Aleksander Rostov and Helen Hindpere, fired "under false premises".

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The trio were fired in late 2021, though their departures were only made public just under a year later. Kurvitz claimed he and Rostov had been fired when they had begun to question whether Kompus achieved his share buyout by using fraud, while the studio accused Kurvitz and Saander Taal, a former minority shareholder in ZA/UM, of "belittling women and co-workers", creating a "toxic environment", and "intending to steal IP". Hindepere was fired shortly after. In their interviews, the trio stated they were being isolated from the development team by management, with Hindpere recalling she was not told about deadlines for the script during development for The Final Cut.

Kompus detailed the allegation of IP theft to People Make Games, as he claimed Kurvitz had asked lead technologist Petteri Sulonen to share the source code of Disco Elysium with him. Kurvitz's intention was to take the source code and start a new studio to work on the sequel, Kompus said. Sulonen did not explicity state what had happened between him and Kurvitz, though he confirmed to People Make Games he agreed with the statement made by Kompus.

Other developers on the team have also come forward publicly to discuss their experiences working with Kurvitz, Rostov, and Hindpere. Writer Argo Tuulik described Kurvitz's way of giving feedback as "demoralising", "short" and "inconsiderate". Tuulik, along with fellow writer Justin Keenan and lead artist Kaspar Tamsalu, alleged that Kurvitz, Rostov and Hindpere neglected their duties on development for The Final Cut.

The developers described an inner circle around Kurvitz, and alleged Kurvitz had begun to discuss taking a select few people with him to start work on another project. Keenan and Tamsalu claimed they had been approached by Kurvitz for this project. Keenan further claimed Kurvitz had wanted Keenan and Tamsalu to have creative control over the project, and once it was a success they would tell the executive producers Kurvitz "could be trusted" to be reinstated as creative director the Disco Elysium 2.

Keenan also accused Kurvitz of improper behaviour, where he was asked to set a task to two junior writers with the potential of earning themselves a place on the core writing team for Disco Elysium 2. Kurvitz was supposed to give feedback to the writers, but he asked Keenan to do it in his place instead. "Just tell them the work was really good," Keenan alleged Kurvitz told him, "and also that [Kurvitz] has made the decision that they're not going to be on the core team right away". Kurvitz assured Keenan he had looked at the work done by the junior writers, though Keenan stated he later found out from one of the juniors that Kurvitz had lied to him.

When asked for comment on these allegations, Kurvitz dismissed any allegations as "bait" by Kompus and his business partner Tõnis Haavel to distract from their alleged fraud. He did not deny or confirm whether his alleged actions were true or not.

The fallout from Disco Elysium has been messy, and it's unclear whether a sequel from ZA/UM or Kurvitz, Rostov and Hindpere will ever see light of day. Ownership of the IP will remain contested for a while longer, as the current lawsuit between Kurvitz and ZA/UM is still undergoing. The full documentary from People Make Games (embedded below) is lengthy, but well worth a watch.

Investigation: Who’s Telling the Truth about Disco Elysium? | People Make Games.Watch on YouTube

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