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Sordid story of former Grand Theft Auto producer leads to fiery lawsuit

Leslie Benzies also claims credit for shipping Red Dead Redemption.

Feb 29, 2020, 8:40 am*

Internet Culture

Dennis Scimeca 

Dennis Scimeca

The loss of a key Grand Theft Auto creator was bad enough, but if the claims in that series’s producer’s new lawsuit are true, the Red Dead Redemption series will also suffer for his absence.

Leslie Benzies, the producer of three Grand Theft Auto titles and game designer on Grand Theft Auto V, is suing former employer Rockstar Games for $150 million. He claims that he was locked out of his due royalty compensation for GTA V, a game that crushed video game sales records in September 2013, and was fired without cause or warning after taking a sabbatical in September 2014.

Benzies wants the royalty payments that he says Rockstar owes him, but Rockstar has countersued, claiming that, because it fired him in April, he is not owed compensation.

The specifics of Benzies’s lawsuit tell a story of the sudden and unexpected deterioration of his relationship with Rockstar, a dramatic fall for a man who for more than a decade was considered just as important to the company as its two founders, Sam Houser and Dan Houser.

The lawsuit claims that, in addition to his sizeable contributions to the success of the GTA series, Benzies also sorted out production issues with the critically acclaimed Red Dead Redemption after the game’s creative leads asked him for help. Benzies also takes credit in his lawsuit for the development of GTA Online, the persistent-world portion of GTA V, which earned Rockstar $500 million.

According to Benzies’s suit, after his sabbatical began, Houser ceased communications with him and disabled his company Blackberry. Benzies claims that he was also locked out of his official Rockstar email account at the time.

Benzies claims that Houser fired or forced out key members of Benzies’s creative team without consulting him, and that he received no shared company profits despite a 2009 royalty plan agreement. This, he says, also violated an agreement that Benzies signed before he took his sabbatical.

Benzies claims that, when he attempted in February 2015 to arrange his return from sabbatical, Rockstar told him not to return and offered him a severance plan that would preclude further royalties. 

According to his lawsuit, Benzies did not know whether or not he had officially been fired when he returned to the offices of Rockstar North in Edinburgh, Scotland, on April 1. But when he arrived, he was told to leave the premises.

On April 2, Benzies left Rockstar, claiming that he had been terminated without cause.

Rockstar’s countersuit claims that Benzies had no good cause to terminate his employment and is no longer due any further royalties because he broke agreements with Rockstar. The company wants a judge to validate its position and dismiss its ex-employee’s lawsuit.

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*First Published: Apr 14, 2016, 3:51 pm