One thing is rotten within the state of Revachol. This 12 months has seen the gradual unfurling of a bitterly ironic real-world story, one through which the creators of maybe the very best PC recreation ever (opens in new tab) seem to have been systemically cut-out of the corporate (opens in new tab) they co-founded, Disco Elysium studio ZA/UM, and are actually combating for it within the courts.
How did it get up to now? One of many solutions is comparatively easy: 4 idea sketches of a person in a shawl, the primary glimpses of a Disco Elysium sequel, which had been allegedly purchased final 12 months for simply over €1 by a shell firm managed by a ZA/UM govt, after which instantly re-sold to ZA/UM for €4.8 million.
The primary group of gamers on this battle consists of Robert Kurvitz and Aleksander Rostov, the important thing creatives behind Disco Elysium, and Kaur Kender, who acted as govt producer and advertising and marketing supervisor on the sport. All are companions in Studio ZA/UM.
On the opposite facet are Ilmar Kompus, the director and largest shareholder of Studio ZA/UM, and Tõnis Haavel. The Estonian Ekspress newspaper (opens in new tab) describes Haavel as a “smooth-talking ex-banker who was convicted of funding fraud in 2015 and obtained a seven-month suspended jail sentence.” He was additionally an govt producer on Disco Elysium.
The allegations round Disco Elysium and ZA/UM come from a listening to held in Harju County Courtroom in October, Estonia’s largest county courtroom. Presently, there are claims and counter-claims, however none of it has been settled.
The Estonian Ekspress experiences (opens in new tab) that the issues started when Margus Linnamäe, who largely financed Disco Elysium and was ZA/UM’s largest shareholder, determined to promote up in 2021. There was an expectation that Linnamäe would cut up this shareholding among the many companions however, as a substitute, he allegedly bought all of it to Kompus.
Kurvitz and Rostov didn’t learn about this on the time. Their suspicions had been raised once they had been apparently demoted internally and, after checking the Estonian registration of firms, realised that management of ZA/UM now belonged to Kompus. The pair allegedly started demanding solutions, shortly after which they had been sacked. Each nonetheless personal minor shareholdings in ZA/UM.
On the listening to, Kurvitz and Rostov argued that Kompus had used cash that ought to have gone to the studio and shareholders, and funded Disco Elysium’s sequel, with a view to purchase these $4.8 million sketches. This was the alleged sleight-of-hand.
The shell firm Tütreke, managed by Kompus, by some means acquired these 4 sketches (described as being for a recreation referred to as Pioneer One), and allegedly paid precisely one pound sterling for them earlier than re-selling to ZA/UM for $4.8 million. This quantity is what was apparently used to purchase Linnamäe’s massive stake, and put it within the palms of Kompus.
Kompus allegedly hoped that ZA/UM and Disco Elysium might be resold shortly. The listening to heard that suitors together with Microsoft and Tencent had been tempted, whereas Amazon studios was enthusiastic about making a TV sequence set on the earth.
However there remained an issue: Robert Kurvitz is the creator of Disco Elysium, nonetheless owns a chunk of it, and has the suitable to dam any acquisition. These IP rights total are nevertheless held by a ZA/UM UK subsidiary, the pinnacle of ZA/UM UK being Ilmar Kompus (he owns a fifth of this firm).
By this stage, the Disco Elysium govt producer, Kender, had additionally begun to ask tough questions, so Kompus allegedly handled him by placing him on depart after which firing him.
It’s Kender who despatched this into authorized overdrive, claiming in courtroom that Kompus cheated him out of just below €1,000,000. He argued to the courtroom that it ought to seize Kompus’s stake in ZA/UM to forestall its sale throughout any ongoing motion and the cash disappearing abroad. The courtroom agreed, and has finished so.
Kender’s lawsuit additionally targets Tõnis Haavel, alleging that Kompus was appearing beneath his route. To chop to the chase, ZA/UM UK owns a subsidiary firm referred to as Yessirnosir Ltd, which is the holder of the IP rights to Disco Elysium, and this firm was believed to be owned by Kompus. In reality, the director is Anu Reiman, who additionally owns “over 75%” of it (opens in new tab), and is the companion of 1 Tõnis Haavel.
Kender claims Haavel’s function is being stored secret as a result of Haavel is bankrupt to the tune of an astonishing €11.2 million, which is as a result of he is liable to pay compensation attributable to an notorious scandal referred to as the Baku land affair: an funding bubble promising to purchase up land in Azerbaijan the place all the cash vanished. That is the supply of Haavel’s 2015 conviction.
Ilmar Kompus denied there was any lawsuit in opposition to him to the Estonian Ekspress. The paper then despatched him the authorized paperwork. He checked out them and didn’t reply additional.
Haavel instructed the Ekspress that the allegations are “utterly absurd” and he would not touch upon any order he hadn’t seen. Once more he was despatched the order, and once more he went quiet.
That is the monetary facet of the battle for Disco Elysium’s soul, however it might get much more severe. Kurvitz and Rostov imagine that ZA/UM’s new house owners ought to face felony fees.
On November 9, Studio ZA/UM supplied PC Gamer with an announcement (opens in new tab) elaborating on its causes for firing Kurvitz and Rostov. In response to this, Kurvitz and Rostov confirmed “restricted to no engagement of their accountability and work” together with “not working in any respect for nearly two years.” The corporate additionally accuses the pair of “verbal abuse,” “gender discrimination,” and “makes an attempt to illegally promote” ZA/UM mental property “with the intention of undermining the remainder of the group.”
The assertion goes on to say that ZA/UM “denies any declare of economic malfeasance or fraud” and that “the overwhelming majority of income from Disco Elysium have been invested again into the studio” to fund new initiatives.
The following improvement will likely be a normal assembly of Studio ZA/UM the place, amazingly sufficient, small shareholders (corresponding to Kurvitz and Rostov) will vote on whether or not the studio ought to file its personal lawsuit in opposition to Kompus. Kompus won’t be allowed to take part within the vote.
To summarise: Disco Elysium’s key creatives owned minority shareholdings in ZA/UM however, whereas they targeted on issues like creating video games, the corporate’s largest shareholding was allegedly bought-out by way of a chunk of economic chicanery whereby the studio itself paid for the shareholding on behalf of 1 particular person.
The aim wasn’t essentially to squeeze the creatives out, however they are saying that they had been fired not due to skilled misconduct, however as a result of they observed what had occurred. The alleged intention was to make use of Disco Elysium’s success to promote the rights to a tech big for tens of thousands and thousands, and get wealthy fast earlier than these anarcho-commie designers even observed what occurred.
So Kompus and Haavel wish to promote the rights however, as a result of Kurvitz can block any deal, they will not have the ability to—as issues stand, anyway. Equally, Kurvitz, who spent upwards of 20 years creating this extremely wealthy setting, will not have the ability to work with it once more as a result of the rights reside with ZA/UM UK.
What a large number. It needs to be borne in thoughts that, whereas the courtroom might have taken motion when it comes to seizing Kompus’s shareholding, it has not but made any findings both means. The accusations in opposition to numerous events stay simply that, for now, and little question there will likely be additional twists and turns within the battle over Disco Elysium’s future. The worrying side being that, if this does not get sorted out definitively, it might not have one.
I’ve requested Studio ZA/UM for remark, and can replace with any response.