Former Rockstar North boss Leslie Benzies is suing Rockstar Games, its owner Take-Two Interactive, and cofounders Sam and Dan Houser for unpaid royalties that total more than US$150 million.
According to Benzies, he is owed royalties from sales of Grand Theft Auto V, a game that has shipped more than 60 million copies to retailers and generated more than US$2 billion in revenue.
Benzies alleges that after shipping GTA V, he was encouraged to take a sabbatical, and that he signed a "Sabbatical Agreement" that guaranteed him all pay and benefits while on leave.
However, within a few months his company phone and email account were remotely disabled, some of his key support staff were fired, and royalty payments he was owed were not paid.
According to a statement made to the press, Benzies also “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”.
Upon returning to Rockstar, Benzies discovered he was out of a job.
"When attempting to resume his duties upon conclusion of his sabbatical on April 1, 2015, Mr. Benzies found himself unable to enter the Rockstar North office because his facilities access device had been deactivated,” reads the statement.
“After being let inside by building security, Mr. Benzies was then ordered to leave by the Rockstar North office manager without reason.”
Benzies then entered into mediation with Rockstar, Take-Two and the Housers, and alleges that all parties signed an agreement stating they would only give "no comment" replies to any media inquiries about each other until the mediation had concluded.
However, Benzies alleges that agreement was broken earlier this year, when Rockstar issued a statement to the press claiming that Benzies had voluntarily left his position at Rockstar North while on sabbatical – a statement he called "out-of-bounds and inaccurate".
"Mr. Benzies has spent the bulk of his life in the video game industry, and looks forward to reaching a fair settlement so he can continue creating great entertainment software in a respectful environment that truly values the work of game developers," Benzies' statement concludes.
Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games have filed a counter-suit against Benzies. They cite a "breach of contract", claiming that Benzies left the company in April 2015 without good reason, and that's why he was excluded from pre- and post-termination royalties promised in Take-Two's compensation plan.
"The parties to this action have sought unsuccessfully to resolve this issue through mediation and now seek judicial clarification that would resolve this controversy," Take-Two claims.
Meanwhile, Rockstar Games has issued the following statement to the press:
“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.
"His claims are entirely without merit and in many instances downright bizarre, and we are very confident this matter will be resolved in our favour. 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."
Rockstar said it will not be commenting further on the case.
In 2014, Rockstar founders Dan and Sam Houser and Leslie Benzies were all inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall Of Fame.