Disco Elysium, released in October 2019, was met with critical acclaim and widespread praise from players and reviewers alike. It seemed like nothing could go wrong for the studio behind the game, ZA/UM. However, this success was short-lived, as a series of events unfolded that would tarnish the reputation of the studio.

Following the success of Disco Elysium, lead developer Robert Kurvitz was unexpectedly removed from the studio, leading to a chain reaction of other key staff members leaving as well. This caused tension within the studio, with allegations of fraud and insults being thrown around. Despite attempts to resolve the issues, the situation remained volatile.

As a result of the turmoil, ZA/UM made the decision to cancel the full sequel to Disco Elysium. Additionally, an unrelated sci-fi RPG that was in development was also put on hold and eventually canceled. The most significant cancellation, however, was the X7 expansion, which was scrapped in February.

One of the most troubling aspects of the X7 cancellation was the treatment of lead writer Argo Tuulik. According to current and former employees, Tuulik was subjected to a “humiliation campaign” within the studio. He was forced to apologize for his participation in a documentary and was made to feel incompetent and unfit to lead his own project. This treatment led to a quarter of the studio’s staff being laid off, including Tuulik.

The fallout from these events was significant, with creative talent leaving the studio and projects being canceled left and right. Former academic physicist and space mission scientist Dora Klindžić, who had left her job to work on the sequel to Disco Elysium, expressed regret over her decision, feeling as though she had abandoned her career for nothing.

The controversy surrounding ZA/UM and the cancellation of Disco Elysium’s X7 expansion serves as a cautionary tale for indie studios and the industry as a whole. It highlights the importance of effective leadership, communication, and respect for employees. As fans and critics alike reflect on the rise and fall of ZA/UM, it begs the question: can a studio recover from such a tumultuous period? Only time will tell.


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