Former president of Rockstar North and Grand Theft Auto producer Leslie Benzies has filed a lawsuit against GTA publisher Take-Two Interactive, for $150m (£105.2m). Take-Two had filed a suit against its former employee for "breach of contract" on 11 April, but Benzies responded with his own on 12 April.
In January 2016, reports that Benzies left Rockstar emerged following a sabbatical that began in September 2014, a year after the release of GTA 5. The company confirmed this at the time.
Benzies, however, claims he was "enticed" into taking a sabbatical. When he returned to the office on 1 April 2015, he found that his access to the building had been revoked. After he was led inside by building security, he was ordered to leave by the Rockstar North office manager "without reason".
He also disputes that he chose to leave, saying he was in the midst of a "lengthy mediation" with Rockstar during the sabbatical. While Rockstar confirmed the company had been in mediation with Benzies, it says negotiations were "unsuccessful".
According to a statement provided by law firm Locke Lorde LLP: "While on sabbatical, Mr Benzies discovered numerous deceptions on the part of Take-Two, Rockstar, Rockstar North Ltd, [and founders] 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."
The alleged deceptions include unpaid royalties worth over $150m.
Considered a key member of the GTA creative team for almost two decades, Benzies was a producer on the series since the hugely successful GTA 3 in 2001, and worked on Manhunt 2, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire and Max Payne 3.
The lawsuit centres on a 2009 royalty plan signed by Benzies, Sam Houser and Dan Houser, which named each of them Rockstar Principals with identical contracts, according to Benzies's lawsuit. It also claims that Sam's move to take Benzies out of the arrangement was driven by "mounting resentments after many years of high praise". The suit claims Sam said Benzies "wanted to take over the company".
Take-Two's complaint, on the other hand, argues that Benzies agreed never to contest the royalty allocation and in violation of that agreement is demanding it now.
"Benzies agreed not to assert the very claim he has threatened to assert," reads the publisher's complaint. "As a direct and proximate result of Benzies material breaches, [Take-Two] has suffered damages in an amount to be determined at trial." The company also claims that Benzies left the company without "good reason" and therefore could be excluded from collecting pre- and post-termination royalties.
Rockstar Games released a statement regarding the legal battle with Benzies.
"Leslie Benzies was a valued employee of our company for many years," Rockstar Games told Polygon. "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."
The messy lawsuit could potentially reveal quite a bit of insight into the company's inner workings. The studio is already in the midst of another lawsuit with Lindsay Lohan, who claims it used her likeness in GTA 5. It is also suing BBC over last year's drama, starring Daniel Radcliffe, about the GTA series.