Les Benzies, previously president of Rockstar North, the studio that developed the hit franchise from Grand Theft Auto III onwards, claims that he was “enticed” into taking a sabbatical in September 2014, a year after the release of Grand Theft Auto V. He then returned to the office six months later to find that his access to the building had been revoked.
A press release issued by law firm Locke Lord states:
“While on sabbatical, Mr Benzies discovered numerous deceptions on the part of Take-Two, Rockstar, Rockstar North Ltd, Sam Houser and Dan Houser, who sought to force him out of the company and terminate his portion of royalty payments based upon arbitrary actions by the company’s royalty Allocation Committee, a committee that may or may not have actually ever met.
“As the lawsuit describes, based upon agreements in place, as one of three named Rockstar Principals, Mr Benzies is owed in excess of $150m in unpaid royalties.”
The dispute centres on a 2009 royalty plan signed by Benzies and the founders of Rockstar, Sam and Dan Houser, which he claims ensured he would have parity with the brothers.
Take-Two Interactive, the parent company behind Rockstar Games, has now filed a counter suit, claiming Benzies left the company of his own volition, and consequently is not entitled, “to any post-termination royalties”.
Asked to comment on Take-Two’s counter, Christopher Bakes of Locke Lord, the chief litigator on the Benzies case, told the Guardian, “The short answer is that we believe the detailed and extensive factual allegations contained in Mr. Benzies’ Complaint amply address those contained in the somewhat sparse Take-Two Complaint.
“Needless to say, Mr. Benzies believes the issues between the parties are far broader than as presented by Take-Two and Mr. Benzies’ Complaint reflects that.”
Benzies is considered one of the key members of the Grand Theft Auto creative team, having been a producer on the series since the hugely successful third title, released in 2001, which saw development move from DMA design in Dundee to Rockstar North, based in Edinburgh.
The Locke Lord lawsuit claims that Sam and Dan Houser, were attempting to force Benzies out of the company and that there was “mounting resentment” between Sam Houser and Benzies. The lawsuit alleges that Sam Houser was angry when Benzies put his own name at the end of the production credits for GTA Online, a multiplayer mode for Grand Theft Auto V; traditionally Sam Houser’s name is the last to be displayed in the credits for Rockstar titles. The suit alleges that the Houser said Benzies “wanted to take over the company”.
According to Benzies’s suit, Rockstar threatened to make “scurrilous allegations” against him if he continued to assert his rights. “This was a shocking development given that Sam Houser himself had orchestrated and encouraged a company culture involving strip clubs, personal photography of employees in sexually compromising positions, and other conduct grossly in violation of standard workplace norms.”
The Guardian has approached Rockstar and Take-Two for comment.
This article was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 12th April 2016 21.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010