“[You] know you will never produce anything with 1/1000th the artistic merit yourselves so now you have to grind it down for fertilizer”.
Disco Elysium got an unexpected addition last week: A brand-new Collage Mode (opens in new tab) that lets you arrange the game’s characters however you like, add stickers and custom text, and generally build a whole scrapbook of snaps.
But what might initially seem like a novel, harmless add-on has gone down like a lead balloon with a lot of fans, who see it as a hamfisted attempt by ZA/UM to distract players from the ongoing and bitter legal conflict (opens in new tab) between Disco Elysium’s departed lead creatives—Robert Kurvitz, Helen Hindpere, and Alexander Rostov—and the company’s current leadership, whom the former lead devs accuse of using funds “stolen” from ZA/UM to actually buy out ZA\UM from under them. Company CEO Ilmar Kompus, and others named by the former lead devs, deny the accusations, but plenty of fans back Kurvitz, Rostov, and Hindpere to the hilt.
In that context, Collage Mode struck fans less as a fun, frivolous addition to a game they love, but as an attempt by ZA/UM’s current owners to cynically leverage people’s affection for Disco Elysium’s characters and distract them from an ongoing injustice, and a way to strip the game of its anti-capitalist politics and turn it into a vehicle for shipping and memes.
“You people have one product, because you stole it,” said Twitter user Quendergeer (opens in new tab) in response to the Collage Mode announcement tweet, “[you] know you will never produce anything with 1/1000th the artistic merit yourselves so now you have to grind it down for fertilizer”. Another, Qualtrop (opens in new tab), wrote “Of course it wasn’t enough to rob the creators of their own work, you had to turn it into this meme ridden sludge, too”.
Too many users to list by name simply reposted a quote from the game (opens in new tab): “Capital has the ability to subsume all critiques into itself. Even those who would *critique* capital end up *reinforcing* it instead”. The fact that this quote is itself uttered by Joyce Messier, a hyper-wealthy company rep in the game’s world, is an irony right at home in Disco Elysium.
The backlash wasn’t confined to Twitter. Plenty of users over on Steam and Reddit have been lambasting ZA/UM over on Reddit and in Steam reviews. A ‘positive’ review on Steam from, uh, aggressive diarrhea man (opens in new tab) (again, something that could very plausibly fit into Disco Elysium itself), says “Oh my god they released Collage mode guys! It is one of the best updates I’ve ever seen in my life! … I love how much in touch ZA/UM are with us fans! … It’s not like they kicked out the main developers responsible for the whole game! Can’t wait for DE2 live service with a battle pass!”
Being a bit of an empath myself, I think I can tell you that aggressive diarrhea man doesn’t really mean all that stuff, and may in fact mean just the opposite.
Plenty of reviews, meanwhile, implore you to simply pirate the game unless and until it’s returned to the stewardship of Kurvitz, Hindpere, and Rostov. To be fair, that’s been the case ever since the legal furore broke out, but the Collage Mode addition prompted a new wave of such reviews. One of them, a negative review from a user who literally has no name somehow (opens in new tab), is just a cut and paste of the Wikipedia article for qBittorrent, a torrenting client.
And over on the Disco Elysium subreddit, one of only two pinned posts is a detailed breakdown of just why fans are so upset about Collage Mode (opens in new tab) (the other pinned post? The Collage Mode announcement). The top-rated comment, from loudmouth_kenzo (opens in new tab), reads, “Stealing another’s created world, one that had been developed over years and with the input of close friends, is not just theft of intellectual property. It is a crime that shows an internal rot, a black mark on the soul. Absolutely demonic.” If the Collage Mode was meant to distract people from the struggle around ZA/UM, it seems to have achieved just the opposite.
There’s no sign of that struggle letting up any time soon, either. Despite recent claims from ZA/UM that its various legal troubles had been either resolved or dropped, Kurvitz and Rostov told PCG that they still see their dismissal from the company as “part of a larger campaign against us” and that they will “pursue legal options accordingly”.