Disco Elysium standalone expansion reportedly cancelled and quarter of staff facing redundancy at ZA/UM

UPDATE 16/2/24: A follow-up report by GLHF has added further fuel to the fire engulfing troubled Disco Elysium developer ZA/UM.

Interviews with two named employees have been published discussing the circumstances behind the current wave of layoffs at the studio, with a third of staff reportedly set to be let go following the cancellation of a Disco Elysium standalone expansion.

In one startling quote, principal writer Dora Klindžić compared joining ZA/UM after its takeover by CEO Ilmar Kompus and his brother-in-law Tõnis Haavel to “being born into Yugoslavia in the ’90s: you’ve just missed the party and now all you get is the bloodshed.

“The last two months of [the cancelled expansion] were rife with crunch, burnout and conflict.”

ZA/UM is yet to comment on the report. Eurogamer has separately contacted the studio for more.

Fellow ZA/UM staff member Argo Tuulik, the last remaining writer to have contributed to Disco Elysium, has described how he and other staff affected by the layoffs discovered they were to be let go.

During a video call, the company bosses announced the project’s cancellation and layoffs alongside a promise the developer was “nurturing intellectual growth, fostering a strong sense of community with our team”. Shortly after, Tuulik said staff being laid off received a letter informing them that they would “have a score assigned to them based on objectively applied selection criteria and the lowest scoring people are gonna go on the chopping board”.

Klindžić alleged that staff “impacted the hardest” by redundancies were those “who raised complaints about working conditions”. The studio’s perceived treatment of women and lack of female staff in senior positions is also highlighted.

“The fish starts rotting from the head, not the tail or the midsection,” Tuulike said, likening the atmosphere at the studio now to “10 seconds before the Chicxulub impactor wiped out the dinosaurs. Gloomy.”

A quarter of Disco Elysium studio ZA/UM’s total workforce – approximately 24 employees – is reportedly facing redundancy following the cancellation of a standalone expansion for acclaimed RPG Disco Elysium, said to be “one to two years away from completion”.

That’s according to Sports Illustrated’s GLHF, which claims the cancelled expansion – codenamed X7 – was the third project to have either been canned or paused indefinitely by ZA/UM in as many years. A Disco Elysium sequel was reportedly cancelled in 2022 (complicating the claim, ZA/UM CEO was still talking about the project in June 2023, albeit saying it had been “jeopardised” following a messy tussle with its former creative leads), while a new sci-fi IP is said to have been paused in 2023.

GLHF, citing “sources close to the matter”, says 24 employees at ZA/UM are now at risk of redundancy following X7’s cancellation, with the job losses mostly affecting “the X7 team but also [its] non-development teams and non-X7 projects.” Redundancies are set to impact employees in ZA/UM’s UK offices as well as its EU studio, with writers, engineers, artists, animators, and staff in production and IT all affected.

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ZA/UM boss Kompus insisted the studio was “approaching this sensitive issue with the utmost care and respect” in an email to staff seen by GLHF, noting that the redundancies are part of a plan to “reshape our team to support our two remaining games”. GLHF says these projects are codenamed C4 and M0 internally, but shares no further information on what they might be.

ZA/UM first entered the spotlight after Disco Elysium launched to massive critical acclaim back in 2019. However, since then, the studio has mostly been in the headlines due to an extremely public legal spat with former key members of the Disco Elysium team. Beyond vague chatter about a Disco Elysium 2, the studio has not formally revealed any of its newer projects.

Eurogamer has contacted ZA/UM for comment on today’s report.

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