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[Update] Rockstar Comments On $150 Million Lawsuit Accusing Benzies Of 'Conduct Issues'

by Mike Futter on Apr 12, 2016 at 11:15 AM

Update 2: Rockstar Games has issued what it says will be its only comment on the Leslie Benzies lawsuit. The company says that it attempted to work with the former Rockstar North president during and after his departure from the company to address issues it says are related to performance and conduct.

“Leslie Benzies was a valued employee of our company for many years," the company says in an emailed statement . "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.” 

Update 1: Additional details added and Benzies suit against Rockstar added to sourcing.

Original Story (April 12, 2016 @ 11:26 a.m. Central):

Leslie Benzies has filed suit today against his former employer, Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games. The former president of Grand Theft Auto studio Rockstar North is claiming he is owed $150 million in unpaid royalties as part of a plan enacted in 2009.

Benzies had been on sabbatical from September 1, 2014, and as far as the public knew there was no other action until his resignation earlier this year. Today, his attorneys, Locke Lord LLP issued a press release indicating that Benzies is suing and that he claims his former employers enticed him to take the sabbatical before forcing him out.

The suit filed against Rockstar and Take-Two claims that during the sabbatical, the Housers moved to tilt the terms of the royalty agreement, distributing everything to themselves and awarding nothing to Benzies. According to the complaint, when asked why he received nothing, Benzies was told "Sam [Houser] thinks you've had enough," a determination he should not be able to make under the terms of the royalty plan. 

According to a suit filed yesterday by Take-Two and Rockstar, on March 23, 2015, Benzies demanded “exact financial parity” with the co-principals (Rockstar Founders Sam and Dan Houser). According to his complaint, Benzies says he attempted to return to work on April 1, was permitted to enter the building, but was immediately told to leave by the Rockstar North Office manager. The next day, April 2, 2015, Benzies terminated his employment for "good reason," citing terms of the contract that would allow him to do so. This occurred nine months prior to news breaking of his departure. 

Between April 2015 and January 2016 the parties have reportedly been attempting to settle the matter amicably. The dispute is over the terms of Benzies’ departure, which would directly impact his ability to claim against the royalty plan. According to Take-Two and Rockstar, Benzies is in breach of contract simply by disputing the determination of the royalty compensation committee. The royalty pool in question is said to be 50 percent of Rockstar's net operating income on a quarterly basis. Its purpose is to provide bonuses to eligible employees, included by not limited to Sam and Dan Houser and Leslie Benzies.

Take-Two’s counter-suit is an endeavor to have the courts make a final determination about Benzies departure and his compliance with the contract. By extension, this would settle the matter of what, if anything, he is owed.

Benzies suit doesn't pull punches, making allegations about the Housers' ability to complete Red Dead Redemption and their need for Benzies to step in to help finish the game. The complaint also includes a number of alleged threats, including that the Housers and Rockstar would blame Benzies for Grand Theft Auto V and Online delays and failure to perform his job. These are juxtaposed with emails that paint a cozy, fraternal picture of the relationship between Sam Houser and Benzies.

Correction: This story previously referred to Rockstar's suit against Leslie Benzies, which was filed on April 11 improperly. Benzies' suit was filed on April 12. We also corrected an error related to employees eligible for the royalty pool. We have corrected the errors and apologize for our mistake.

[Source: KCEN, Supreme Court of the State of New YorkUnited States District Court for the Southern District of New York]


Our Take
This is going to be messy, and in the process shine a light on a trio of individuals who are typically known to shun attention. The Housers and Benzies built the Grand Theft Auto franchise together, and this is a tragic and ugly end to a long, fruitful working relationship.