Former GTA 5 Exec Suing Take-Two, Claims He's Owed $150M in Royalties [UPDATE: Rockstar Responds]
"His claims are entirely without merit and in many instances downright bizarre."
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[UPDATE] Rockstar Games has responded to this case with an official statement. The company says it was Benzies' "significant performance and conduct issues" that ultimately created a situation that led to his eventual resignation. The company also says that his claims are "entirely without merit and in many instances downright 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," Rockstar said in a statement.
"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."
The original story is below.
Leslie Benzies, the former head of Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North who left the company earlier this year, is suing Take-Two Interactive. He claims he is owed $150 million in royalties and alleges that he was forced out. Rockstar parent company Take-Two, however, doesn't see it that way.
In January this year, it was confirmed that Benzies left the acclaimed Scotland-based developer, following a 17-month sabbatical. It is this very sabbatical that is at the heart of Benzies' case against Take-Two, according to Christopher Bakes, a partner at Benzies' legal team Locke Lord LLP.
"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," Bakes said.
The lawsuit (via Polygon) goes on to claim that Benzies is owed "in excess" of $150 million in unpaid royalties for Grand Theft Auto games released throughout the years.
According to Bakes' summation of the lawsuit, Benzies was listed as a "Rockstar Principal" alongside Rockstar founders Sam and Dan Houser.
"This was the company's way of rewarding Mr. Benzies by bringing him into the highest compensation tier. Having reached this height, Mr. Benzies' removal after years of receiving compensation identical to the Housers was the product of what turned out to be a lengthy deception by Sam Houser," the lawyer said. "The complaint describes Sam Houser's mounting resentments after many years of high praise."
A 2008 Take-Two press release confirmed that the company had established a new profit-sharing compensation and royalty program for senior Rockstar employees. It was also at this time that Take-Two announced it had entered into long-term employment agreements with the Housers and Benzies.
A "lengthy mediation" process took place, Bakes said, and it was at this time that Take-Two is claimed to have "breached its mediation obligations by issuing an out-of-bounds and inaccurate press statement regarding his sabbatical and that he would not be coming back to work."
At the time, it was reported that Benzies himself decided not to come back to work. But according to the complaint, Benzies attempted to return on April 1, 2015. However, he was reportedly blocked from entering the building.
"Mr. Benzies found himself unable to enter the Rockstar North office because his facilities access device had been deactivated," the statement says. "After being let inside by building security, Mr. Benzies was then ordered to leave by the Rockstar North office manager without reason."
As part its counter-suit, lawyers for Rockstar Games argues that Benzies resigned from Rockstar "without good reason" and is thus not entitled to any post-termination royalties.
Rockstar's legal team explains that Benzies sent a letter to Take-Two on March 23 asking for "exact financial parity with his co-Principals, prospectively and retroactively as of the Effective Date of the 2009 Royalty Plan." In a letter dated April 2, 2015, the day after he was reportedly kicked out of the building, Benzies "provided notice of termination of his employment relationship with Rockstar North."
Benzies claimed he was terminating his employment with Rockstar for "Good Reason" or that he had been fired "without Cause." After receiving Benzies' letters and demands, Rockstar engaged in "ongoing discussions" with Benzies (the mediation mentioned above) to discuss the terms of his separation from Rockstar. The game developer denied that Benzies had "Good Reason" to end his professional relationship with Rockstar.
Benzies received his final royalty payment as a Rockstar employee on April 28, 2014, according to Rockstar's court filing, which didn't state the amount. "Benzies has been paid all royalties accrued and payable to him prior to his Date of Termination," Rockstar's lawyers said, adding that they have fulfilled all obligations to Benzies as it relates to royalty payments.
"In sum, under New York law and the unambiguous language of the Royalty Plan, Benzies is not entitled to any minimum allocation," the statement goes on. "His demand for full parity with the other Rockstar Principals is inconsistent with the clear terms of the Royalty Plan.
"Accordingly, Plaintiffs now seek judicial clarification that would finally settle the legal issues between the parties and finalize the controversy and offer relief from this uncertainty."
In February this year, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick praised Benzies' contributions to the Grand Theft Auto series and said he is "highly confident" the GTA franchise will move forward without issue.
Zelnick was also asked if he knew anything about Benzies' post-Rockstar plans and if he was worried that Benzies might try to draw out talent from Rockstar. Zelnick dodged this question.
"I have all the respect in the world for Leslie and for everyone else here, current and former colleagues," he said at the time. "Of course, I wish him all the best. I can't comment on his plans."
Taking over for Benzies in Rockstar North management roles are 19-year Rockstar veteran Aaron Garbut and Rob Nelson.
We will continue to monitor this story and bring you more news as it becomes available.
The latest Grand Theft Auto game is Grand Theft Auto V, which has shipped an astounding 60 million copies and continues to make more and more money from microtransactions.
Rockstar's response was filed on April 11 in United States District Court. The case number is 1:16-cv-02699-VSB.