As we reported yesterday, former Rockstar North president Leslie Benzies has filed a lawsuit against Rockstar, Take-Two, and Rockstar founders Sam and Dan Houser alleging that he was forced out of the company, and that he is owed more than US$150 million in unpaid royalties. The filing has set the stage for a public battle between millionaires, with Benzies alleging that he was encouraged to go on sabbatical, after which time his staff were fired, his email access revoked, and his company keycard disabled. He also claims that people he had known for 20 years were instructed not to talk to him. It’s a high-stakes suit, but it’s also surprisingly personal.

Now, Benzies’ full 71-page filing has been posted online, so we combed through it to bring you some highlights. Rockstar’s 10-page countersuit is also available online, but frankly, it’s nowhere near as interesting, and doesn’t air nearly as much dirty laundry. So without further ado, the world of Rockstar according to former director Leslie Benzies:

GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour

6. GTA III: Godzilla

Benzies’ filing plays up the large hand he had in transforming the Grand Theft Auto franchise from an ailing cult series into a juggernaut. It highlights his creation of Bugstar, a groundbreaking digital system for tracking game bugs, and also plays up his programming proficiency.

“It was Mr. Benzies, assisted and supported by Messrs. Garbut, Vermeij, Fowler and their team, that developed and created all of the industry-altering innovations that took GTA from being a game with sales in decline – a downward trend of fifty percent between GTA 1 and GTA 2 – to the most popular video game in the world,” it reads.

However, one smaller detail stands out: in or around 1999, Benzies and DMA colleague Aaron Garbut began working on a prototype of a Godzilla-type game. However, when Rockstar acquired DMA, it was quickly recognised that many of the game’s innovations were better suited for a third GTA game, and the rest, as they say, is gaming gold.

GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour
Aaron Garbut, Sam Houser, Dan Houser and Leslie Benzies.

5. Burnin' down the Houser

Although it credits Sam Houser and Dan Houser as story and character developers for all GTA games from Vice City onward, Benzies’ filing also delivers more than a few slaps to the faces of the Rockstar founders. Here are a few choice phrases:

"Sam Houser and Dan Houser made no contribution..."

“Mr. Benzies is the only ‘Rockstar Principal’ with a technical background in coding, which is what makes computers and video games function.”

“Mr. Benzies had substantial control over all key phases of game development and design. By comparison, Sam Houser and Dan Houser made no contribution to the Design Plan and no quantifiable contribution to the Game Flow Chart for GTA 3.”

“Sam and Dan Houser had their respective functions within the company and in the overall process that eventually presented and marketed a finished game to the public… However, while expert in their respective contributions, Sam Houser and Dan Houser did not help invent, create, or develop any of the paradigm-shifting game development, design, and artistic innovations in GTA 3 that so dramatically elevated the GTA franchise. Sam Houser and Dan Houser both lack that background, and as a result were incapable of guiding GTA to the level that Mr. Benzies and his team enabled and designed it to reach.”

“While Mr. Benzies had a Bugstar access account in support of his design and development work, Sam Houser had no account. During one period, Mr. Benzies alone added and/or detected 15,000 GTA 4 development tasks using Bugstar, while the whole of the New York Rockstar office (where the Housers and several other executives were located) detected 1,000 in total.”

GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour

4. RED DEAD REDEMPTION AND THE HOUSER FREAK OUT

The filing claims that although Benzies wasn’t officially part of the Red Dead Redemption team, Sam Houser begged him to come and help out, because he was well out of his depth, and the game’s development was a trainwreck.

“As Sam Houser himself recognized, the Houser brothers were incapable of completing large and complex games without Mr. Benzies’ oversight, management and skill in taking unwieldy designs and making an understandable, cohesive, and enjoyable game,” the filing reads.

"We have to fix this. Quickly. Help! I’m freaking!"

Here’s one email from Sam Houser to Benzies: “The ups and downs are VERY extreme. We have to fix this. Quickly. Help! I’m freaking!”

And the next day: “This is a (recurring) nightmare. But one i/we need to get out of. I have problems with the camera all over the place. So much so, that I can’t be rational or specific about it. The darkness!!!”

And another: “PLEASE help me/us get rdr into shape. I am a jabbering wreck right now. I need The Benz!”

According to the filing, once Benzies intervened, the game was finished within a few months.

GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour

3. GTA ONLINE makes serious bank

The filing asserts that Benzies created a revolutionary design plan for GTA Online – one that drove the Rockstar team to create one of the company’s most successful products that millions still play to this day. It also claims that “the Houser brothers had little interest in GTA Online, and did not focus on its development, all as reflected in Bugstar”.

Despite their disinterest, GTA Online would go on to generate “at least” US US$500,000,000 in revenue.

GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour

2. Sam Houser said he loved Benzies, then stabbed him in the back

Now things get personal. Benzies’ filing goes to great lengths to portray Sam Houser in particular as a two-faced liar who told Benzies they were the closest of friends, before committing massive fraud and stabbing him in the back.

It asserts that once Benzies had risen to the level of “Rockstar Principal” – a position that meant he would receive the same bonuses as Sam and Dan Houser – Sam Houser plotted to deny him his bonuses and literally shut him out of the company. It is this point that most of the lawsuit seems to revolve around, and it’s clear that Benzies feels betrayed by the man who once claimed to be his friend.

it’s clear that Benzies feels betrayed by the man who once claimed to be his friend

A side note: the Rockstar Principal group is described as “a privileged, connected and financially equal group of three” whose bonuses were detailed in something called the 2009 Royalty Plan. However, at the time the Plan was drawn up, Take-Two and the Rockstar Principals created Another Game Company LP, a new entity that was basically an exit strategy for the three. As per the filing: “The Rockstar Principals would collectively enjoy royalty-free rights to use certain Rockstar and Take-Two intellectual property, and financing arising from the Royalty Plan.”

After Benzies signed the Royalty Plan contract, Sam Houser sent him a follow-up email, re-affirming his loyalty:

“Hey man, All cool with the Hajaj? How do you feel??? Just signed your life over to the psycho for another few years? Or excited about total domination? Or both? I’m excited – and scared. Time to stick the hammer down on it all and destroy!!! We have a lot to do. On so many levels. Let’s do this. Partners for real this time!!! I think this is incredible. We’ve spoken about it for so long, but now we’ve made it happen. Awesome!!! True family. So unique and special. We’ll never look back. Let’s make sure of it. Fingers crossed. Love, Sam.”

Some excerpts from other emails Sam Houser wrote to Benzies that are being used as evidence of Sam’s deception:

“So grateful to have you as my partner!”
“As ever, I feel so fortunate to have you as a friend and a partner.”
“You know I will do everything in my power to deliver the right situation for everyone. I won’t stop until we have it.”
“It’s always a pleasure to look out for you. Love, Sam.”
“Dan and I are so proud to be partners with you. Feels very real and very right. We've wanted this for so long and we've finally made it happen. It's a glorious thing! Love, Sam.”
“Being together – you and me – not in a creepy way – is what goes through my mind …”
“We’re going to keep this world growing and building forever. Amazing opportunity on so many levels!”
“Let’s start ’14 where we left ’13. Dominating!!! So excited for what lies ahead and to be in this with you. Fingers crossed. Happy New Year! Love from all of us in London. Sam.”
“Happy New Year! Just let off some serious fireworks! Thanks again for everything this year. I’m so proud and honored to be your friend and comrade! Here’s to together forever!!! Fingers crossed. Love, Sam.”

Of course, Benzies would soon find himself on the outs, unable to access his company email, or the company itself.


GTA III: Godzilla, the Red Dead panic, strip clubs and scurrilous behaviour

1. THE CULTURE AT ROCKSTAR WAS... INTERESTING

According to Benzies, once it became clear that he would pursue royalties he believed he was owed, “Take-Two and Rockstar responded by making scurrilous allegations, a revenge tactic they had used before with other respected employees”. As the next sentence makes clear, it sounds like they were accusing Benzies of ungentlemanly behaviour:

“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."

JUICY.