Former Rockstar North President Leslie Benzies, whose credits include titles like Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto V, Max Payne 3, and Red Dead Redemption, has suffered a setback in court regarding his $150 million lawsuit against Rockstar Games and parent organization Take-Two Interactive. The suit alleges that Take-Two owes him $150 million in unpaid royalties as part of a profit-sharing plan dating back to 2009.
In 2016, Benzies’ attorneys issued a statement that Benzies’ employers enticed him to take a sabbatical in 2014 before forcing him out. The suit claims that during his sabbatical, Rockstar Games co-founders and executives Sam and Dan Houser changed the terms of Benzies’ royalty agreement to distribute Benzies’ royalties to them. The suit was filed on March 23, 2015 to demand “exact financial parity” with the Housers. Shortly after filing the suit, Benzies claims he was not allowed inside Rockstar North’s studio and was told to leave by the office manager.
The New York Supreme Court has ruled that the profit-sharing agreement Benzies signed was unambiguous, and that Benzies is not entitled to the money he thinks he’s owed since the profit-sharing scheme allows for discretionary royalty payments and doesn’t contain language that requires equal pay among the principles. While this is a potentially devastating blow to Benzies’ suit, the court did rule that he “remains entitled to receive certain royalties.”
In April 2016, Rockstar Games issued a statement citing “significant performance and conduct issues” for his departure. The statement also said that the company attempted to resolve the issue amicably to no avail, and that Benzies’ claims are without merit.
Benzies, an AIAS Hall of Famer, announced his departure from Rockstar Games in 2016 after the aforementioned extended sabbatical. Benzies is currently working on Everywhere, an open-world game featuring multiple narratives, alongside other former Rockstar Games employees.
We knew early on that this would be a messy situation for all parties involved, and this seems like a major setback for Benzies, who feels as though he is owed a hefty sum of money. He was so instrumental in building the Grand Theft Auto brand, and it’s sad to see his relationship with the company he did so much with soured. Hopefully this resolves in a way that all parties feel satisfied, though it definitely isn’t trending that way for Benzies at the moment.