Disco Elysium, a groundbreaking game released on October 15th, 2019, was well-received by players and critics alike. However, the success of the game was soon overshadowed by internal turmoil within the development studio, ZA/UM. Creator and lead ideasman, Robert Kurvitz, was removed from the studio, leading to a chain of events that would ultimately result in the cancellation of several projects, including a full sequel to Disco Elysium.

One of the most significant events that took place at ZA/UM was the cancellation of X7, a standalone expansion to the original game. Along with the cancellation, nearly a quarter of the studio’s staff was laid off, including lead writer Argo Tuulik. Tuulik, who had participated in a documentary the year prior, was subjected to what was described as a “humiliation campaign” by the studio’s management. He was made to apologize for his statements in the documentary and was repeatedly undermined and belittled by his superiors.

A Toxic Work Environment

The accounts of current and former employees paint a picture of a toxic work environment at ZA/UM. Dora Klindžić, another lead writer on the X7 project, described feeling resentment towards Tuulik for receiving support from fans while the studio’s leadership did not. Klindžić herself had left a successful career in academia to work on the sequel to Disco Elysium, only to find herself in a situation where key team members were being let go and projects were being shelved without explanation.

Following the departures of Kurvitz, Rostov, and Hindpere from the studio, ZA/UM lost a significant amount of creative talent. This loss culminated in the cancellation of not only the full sequel to Disco Elysium but also an unrelated sci-fi RPG that was in development. The decision to cancel these projects left many employees disillusioned and uncertain about the future of the studio.

Despite the controversy and turmoil surrounding ZA/UM, Disco Elysium remains a landmark achievement in the gaming industry. Its innovative storytelling and gameplay have inspired countless developers and players alike. However, the legacy of the game will forever be intertwined with the tumultuous events that occurred behind the scenes.

The cancellation of Disco Elysium’s expansion and the subsequent layoffs at ZA/UM shine a light on the darker side of the gaming industry. While the game itself may have been a critical success, the internal struggles within the development studio reveal the challenges faced by creatives in an industry driven by profit margins and corporate interests. It serves as a reminder that even the most groundbreaking and inspiring works of art can be marred by greed and indifference.

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