Founding member of Disco Elysium studio claims core devs 'involuntarily' left the company

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(Image credit: ZA/UM)

Update 10/03/22: ZA/UM has issued the following statement: "Like any video game, the development of Disco Elysium was and still is a collective effort, with every team member’s contribution essential and valued as part of a greater whole. At this time, we have no further comment to make other than the ZA/UM creative team’s focus remains on the development of our next project, and we are excited to share more news on this with you all soon."

Original story follows.

Martin Luiga, a founding member of Studio ZA/UM and an editor on Disco Elysium, PC Gamer's 2019 Game of the Year and Top 100 chart-topper, has announced the "dissolution of the ZA/UM Cultural Association" via a post on Medium (first spotted by independent journalist Nibel on Twitter). 

Luiga delineates the ZA/UM "cultural association" as distinct from the company, and claims that Disco Elysium lead designer Robert Kurvitz, writer Helen Hindpere, and art director Aleksander Rostov involuntarily left the company at the end of 2021.

On October 2, Rostov tweeted that he, Kurvitz, and Hindpere were no longer with the studio, and signed the message as being from the three of them.

Luiga asserts that ZA/UM as a cultural project "no longer represents the ethos it was founded on." Luiga explains that he believes ZA/UM was a success, and that "most of the mistakes that were made were contingent, determined by the sociocultural conditions we were thrown into."

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In a response to a comment on Medium, Luiga seems to blame ZA/UM's investors for its change in character and the departure of key team members. Luiga also concedes that he doesn't know if ZA/UM would have been able to fund itself without those investors' contribution. "For a while, it was beautiful," Luiga concludes. "My sincerest thanks to all who have rooted for us."

Luiga signs off on the post as writing from "Tallinn Inpatient Treatment Centre of Psychiatry Clinic, Ward IX." Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is where ZA/UM first coalesced. It's unclear to me if the location signature is a genuine indication of Luiga's current state, or an extremely dark joke. I sincerely hope that Martin Luiga is safe and well.

Luiga, Kurvitz, Hindpere, and Rostov were all members of the punk collective that eventually became Studio ZA/UM, as outlined in various interviews and the Disco Elysium artbook. Kurvitz and Hindpere in particular were driving forces on the game's lauded script, and Rostov's impressionistic art style remains one of the game's defining features.

As for the sequel, with its job postings mentioning "a love of sci-fi and space", Luiga doesn't seem as worried about it as you might expect. In another tweet, he writes, "I think that things with the sequel are actually sweet enough, you might even get it the way it was meant, it might take a shit ton of time but RPG fans are sorta accustomed to waiting, ain't they".

We have reached out to Studio ZA/UM for comment and will update this story if we hear back.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.