Leslie Benzies suing Rockstar over $150 million

Key GTA developer accuses publisher, Houser brothers of forcing him from company, withholding royalties [UPDATE: Benzies owed nothing, says TTWO]

Former Rockstar North studio head Leslie Benzies is suing the company for $150 million alleging "numerous deceptions" from Take-Two, Rockstar, and Sam and Dan Houser. Christopher Bakes, a partner with the Locke Lord law firm representing Benzies, issued a statement regarding the suit today, saying Rockstar's official story of how he left the Grand Theft Auto studio was a lie.

In September of 2014, Benzies went on sabbatical from Rockstar North. This January, the studio released a statement saying he decided not to return to work.

"In fact, 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," Bakes said. "After being let inside by building security, Mr. Benzies was then ordered to leave by the Rockstar North office manager without reason."

The lawsuit also accuses the Houser brothers of trying to force Benzies from the company and unjustly terminating $150 million in royalty payments "based upon arbitrary actions by the company's royalty Allocation Committee, a committee that may or may not have actually ever met." Benzies' complaints also were personal in nature, accusing Sam Houser specifically of "mounting resentment" that Benzies received the same compensation from Take-Two as the Houser brothers.

The company was apparently in mediation with Benzies over the unpaid royalties at the time Rockstar claimed he decided not to return. Bakes is claiming that "out-of-bounds and inaccurate press statement" represents a breach of its mediation obligations.

"Mr. Benzies has spent the bulk of his life in the video game industry, and looks forward to reaching a fair settlement so he can continue creating great entertainment software in a respectful environment that truly values the work of game developers."

As of this writing, a Take-Two representative had not returned a request for comment.

[UPDATE]: More details of the suit are available here.

[UPDATE 2]: A counter-suit from Take-Two and Rockstar is now available to peruse here. In the 10-page document, Take-Two and Rockstar claim that they "have sought unsuccessfully to resolve this issue through mediation and now seek judicial clarification that would resolve this controversy." They also deny that Benzies had any good reason to leave Rockstar North.

"The Royalty Plan provides that since Benzies resigned without Good Reason, he is not entitled to any post-termination royalties. The Royalty Plan further provides that had Benzies been terminated without Cause, or had he voluntarily terminated his own employment for Good Reason, he remained eligible to receive post-termination royalties for three years, but in an amount determined solely by Sam Houser, the President of Rockstar Games," the counter-suit reads.

In addition to a judicial clarification Take-Two and Rockstar are seeking "compensatory damages against Benzies in an amount to be determined at trial," and they expect to be awarded "their costs, expenses, disbursements, and reasonable counsel fees in an amount to be determined at trial."

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Latest comments (6)

Brook Davidson Artist / 3D design 5 years ago
I am a little curious as to what a good reason would be. I mean obviously to the one who left, it would be for a good reason I assume. However, for the company, when would it ever look like a good reason? I feel the contract is purposefully written like that just to screw ex-employees over who decide to leave.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 5 years ago
This is why the current business model of the game industry makes little sense. It's a factory system.

Every other arts / entertainment industry uses a personal brand system. A project-based system. It's who YOU are as a creator that counts.

In the game industry to earn wealth for your core creative, you have to do a second job: corporate admin.

In film and other arts, you have the possibility of YOU personally earning GROSS revenue. NOBODY can force you out of that. AND you don't need to get ensnared in corporate admin stuff to protect that. If the contract says that YOU personally earn the gross, then you earn it. Done!

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Tim Carter on 13th April 2016 1:00am

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Julian Cram Quality Analyst (Test), Wicked Witch Software5 years ago
More evidence that Game Developers needs a union to represent employees.
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Show all comments (6)
The Games Industry is in a real mess currently with regard to evaluation, ownership and reward. Many publishers and investors still try to project work for hire evaluation processes on original game creation, for example. This just does not work. The proceeds to come from a game should be carved up % wise by contract, during the development phase as more parties are added to the mix. Each party should have a right to negotiate their own deal based on the overall value they offer to the project, not just the hours they work. For larger dev teams wages can work as advances against blocks of royalties to be divided between all team members. It is time we shook off the work for hire mentality for good.. that belongs in the past along with the bedroom coder days.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 5 years ago
mo money, mo problems....
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up5 years ago
Without referring to this at all, its long been the case that productivity and reward are at odds in the industry as a whole. Many low productivity individuals score big, whilst others, where the games simply wouldn't make it out the door without them, receive little in terms of financial reward. If you want an equity share, be prepared to break out on your own or with others to get it.
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