A few months ago, Rockstar, the company behind the unbelievably popular Grand Theft Auto series, announced one of their lead producers would be leaving the company following a sabbatical. The producer, Leslie Benzies, says there is more to the story than that, after filing a lawsuit against Rockstar and their contracted publisher Take-Two Interactive Studios for $150 million in unpaid royalties. Benzies filed the claim earlier this week with the New York Supreme Court, and in a press statement says that he had been “enticed by Rockstar” to take a sabbatical in 2014, and that while on leave one of his fellow producers and principals Sam Houser conspired to force him out of the company. Rockstar and Take-Two swiftly responded by suing Benzies for breach of contract, saying that he officially resigned in writing April 2, 2015 and still demanded full payment for the entirety of his contract, but Rockstar claims that because he resigned without “good reason” that the contract was breached.
The contract in question was signed between Rockstar heads and Take-Two Interactive, a distribution and publication agency and parent company of Rockstar, as well as Firaxis Games and 2K Studios. In 2008, Take-Two entered into a contract with Rockstar principals Leslie Benzies, Sam Houser, and Dan Houser. The new contract offered an unique incentive, a profit sharing deal for the three which offers a cut of profit off future games, as well as partial ownership. At the time, the deal was unprecendented in its allowance of the company to retain intellectual rights to their properties, as well as have an equal share in sales. The contract came after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. Despite GTA IV not being the monster that it was expected to be, Take-Two renewed that contract in 2011. Since then, Grand Theft Auto V has been released and become one of the top selling titles of recent years, with GTA Online alone bringing in $500 million in profits (according to Benzies’ lawsuit).
In September 2014, Benzies started his sabbatical. Benzies did not offer a reason for the extended leave, though it began shortly after Benzies’ purchased the property rights to St. Stephen’s Church in Edinsburgh, so it may have been to oversee the building’s preservation efforts while also taking a break after the hectic release of Grand Theft Auto V. Benzies claims that on April 1, 2015, he attempted to go back to work at Rockstar North, only to find that his key was inactive, and that he’d been cut off from entering. Upon being let in by security, he was told to leave the building. This began a long mediation process between Rockstar, Take-Two and Benzies, in which Benzies said he was entitled to be paid the full amount listed in his contract. In January 2016, Rockstar announced that Benzies had decided not to return to the company, effectively ending his fifteen year tenure with the development giant in the public eye.
On Monday, April 11th, Rockstar filed for a declaratory judgement on the 2009 Royalty Contract. One day later, Benzies filed his lawsuit against Rockstar and Take-Two with the New York County Supreme Court. Benzies’ suit talks at length about the success of GTA V, and about his relationship with Sam Houser. The lawsuit says that Benzies’ and Houser always enjoyed an amicable relationship (with Houser even naming Benzies as his son’s godfather), but that Benzies’ believes that Houser was partially behind his ousting. He also claims that Houser retroactively changed the spirit of the contract, now claiming it does not spread profits equally between the three principals. It is in Benzies’ lawsuit the industry found out that GTA Online had made the half billion sum.
Rockstar has released a statement to the press on the matter, further defending the company and calling Benzies’ claims “bizarre”:
Leslie Benzies was a valued employee of our company for many years. Sadly, the events that culminated in his resignation ultimately stem from his significant performance and conduct issues. Despite our repeated efforts to address and resolve these issues amicably both before and after his departure, Leslie has chosen to take this route in an attempt to set aside contract terms to which he previously agreed on multiple occasions. His claims are entirely without merit and in many instances downright bizarre, and we are very confident this matter will be resolved in our favor.
A core ethos since Rockstar’s inception has been the concept of ‘the team’. It is deeply disappointing and simply wrong for Leslie to attempt to take personal credit for what has always been the tremendous efforts of the entire Rockstar team, who remain hard at work delivering the most immersive and engaging entertainment experiences we can for our fans. We do not intend to comment further on this matter.
The full suits for both sides can be found below.