As a long-time fan of Disco Elysium, I was initially intrigued by the recent addition of Collage Mode. Players have been asking for a photo mode since the game’s release, and while collage mode offers players a new creative outlet to express themselves within the game’s world, I can’t help but feel that its introduction serves as a smokescreen for the ongoing disputes and allegations surrounding the game’s developer, ZA/UM. Many fans of the game feel the same, with many commenters on Reddit calling the new update soulless, spitting in the face of the legacy of the original creators. Even on Steam, the most recent reviews are flooded with fans decrying the actions of ZA/UM.
Disco Elysium has long been celebrated for its immersive storytelling and world-building, tackling themes such as identity, politics, and morality. With such a strong narrative focus, the Collage Mode, which allows players to create quirky scenes using game assets, filters, and stickers, seems at odds with the game’s somber atmosphere. Some fans have even expressed concerns that this new feature is blatantly out of place, detracting from the carefully crafted environment that made Disco Elysium so special.
While I understand the concern, I believe it’s important to note that the Collage Mode is an optional feature. Players must activate it from the menu before it appears in the game. Therefore, it’s not likely to distract new players from the original experience of Disco Elysium’s story, as it’s entirely up to the individual whether or not to use this mode.
However, my primary concern lies not with the potential for narrative dissonance, but with the timing of this update. Collage Mode was released shortly after the settlement of a legal dispute between ZA/UM and the game’s original creators, Robert Kurvitz and Aleksander Rostov, who filed unfair dismissal claims against the company. They accused ZA/UM’s majority shareholders of misusing company funds to increase their stake in the company, an accusation which they allege led to their unfair dismissal.
Recent reports indicate that Kurvitz and Rostov are not backing down from their claims, despite ZA/UM’s insistence that the developers dropped their allegations of unfair dismissal due to a lack of evidence. In a statement provided to GamesIndustry.biz, Kurvitz and Rostov called ZA/UM’s press release “deeply misleading” and said, “We see our dismissal as part of a larger campaign against us and will pursue legal options accordingly.”
In their statement, Kurvitz and Rostov also addressed a separate claim from Disco Elysium producer Kaur Kender, who initially accused ZA/UM majority shareholders Ilmar Kompus and Tõnis Haavel of taking over the company by buying a story draft and four sketches made for the Disco Elysium sequel and reselling them back to ZA/UM for €4.8 million. They noted that “Paying back stolen money, however, does not undo the crime; here, it does not undo the majority that Kompus and Haavel have illegally gained in ZA/UM.”
It is also worth noting that ZA/UM only spoke out about the supposed toxic work environment and other accusations after Kurvitz and Rostov had made their own public statements regarding the alleged fraud. To me, the timing of these claims appears suspect, especially given that no employees have come forward to corroborate ZA/UM’s account, even though the accused parties no longer hold power within the company.
The integrity of ZA/UM seems to be in question, and it’s difficult to separate their actions from what appears to be an attempt to capitalize on the immense success of Disco Elysium after the IP was sold to them in good faith.
Even if ZA/UM is able to weather the storm of negative publicity and legal challenges, their treatment of Kurvitz and Rostov has already alienated many fans. I can’t imagine many of those fans would be interested in a sequel without the original creators at the helm. The quality and integrity of any future Elysium games or spinoffs would be in question, and I find it unlikely that they would possess the same depth of storytelling and world-building that made Disco Elysium so beloved. Given the extensive history and personal investment that Kurvitz himself has in the world of Elysium, having spent over two decades developing the world since his teenage years, it’s hard to imagine a sequel without his involvement.