You may recall back in January of this year that Leslie Benzies, the former President of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North, left after 15 years with the company. Benzies’ departure was significant and, from the outside looking in, surprising. His fingerprints were on the majority of Rockstar’s major projects, including every 3D entry in the Grand Theft Auto series. Reportedly, Benzies’ exit came after a lengthy sabbatical, which began back in September of 2014. When Benzies’ exit was confirmed via Rockstar, the company painted this as Benzies’ decision. Now Benzies is challenging that assertion as part of a lawsuit announced today, in which the former producer is asking for $150 million in unpaid royalties.
According to the announcement, Benzies’ sabbatical was part of a “lengthy deception” allegedly designed to freeze Benzies out of royalty payments. Back in 2008, when Take-Two announced a profit-sharing initiative for key members of the publisher’s team, Benzies was the only one called out by name alongside the Houser brothers–ostensibly painting him on equal ground with the Housers–but details of the suit assert otherwise, and during the sabbatical period, Benzies stopped receiving payments altogether.
The announcement also alleges that Benzies was prevented from returning to work following his sabbatical, which runs counter to Rockstar’s statement on his exit from the company.
“When attempting to resume his duties upon conclusion of his sabbatical on April 1, 2015, Mr. Benzies found himself unable to enter the Rockstar North office because his facilities access device had been deactivated. After being let inside by building security, Mr. Benzies was then ordered to leave by the Rockstar North office manager without reason.”
Take-Two, Rockstar, Rockstar North Ltd, Sam Houser and Dan Houser are all named in the suit, but special mention is made regarding “a lengthy deception by Sam Houser,” who allegedly sent numerous emails to Benzies intended to reassure him of his security within the partnership, before ultimately exiling him following his extended absence.
For its part, Rockstar has already filed a countersuit, alleging that Benzies isn’t owed any additional payments, citing a breach of contract. Rockstar claims that in March of 2015, Benzies sent an email demanding “exact financial parity with his co-Principals, prospectively and retroactively as of the Effective Date of the 2009 Royalty Plan,” something Rockstar believes Benzies had no right to do, as per the terms of the profit sharing agreement.
The one thing both parties seem to agree on is that they had been involved in a mediation process prior to the dual lawsuit filings, one that ultimately proved unsuccessful. Benzies’ legal team claims that Rockstar’s statement on Benzies’ exit back in January came during this mediation period, and was “out-of-bounds and inaccurate.”
It’s too early to know exactly where these suits are headed, but the level of grievance being expressed here gives one the impression that a settlement isn’t likely to be on the immediate horizon. We’ll keep you apprised of any developments as this story unfolds. For more details on today’s filings, check out GameSpot’s story.