Leslie Benzies, the ex-lead designer of Grand Theft Auto and president of Rockstar North, is suing his former employer for $150 million.
Benzies was said to have left the company after 15 years working there in January, following a sabbatical that began in late 2014.
However, Benzies now asserts that the decision and subsequent “out-of-bounds and inaccurate” announcement of his departure wasn’t his, and that Rockstar forced him out of the company by restricting his access to the studio’s offices upon his return to work in April 2015.
Benzies’ sabbatical itself was described by his lawyers as part of a “lengthy deception” engineered by Rockstar founder Sam and Dan Houser, as well as Rockstar and its parent publisher Take-Two, to halt Benzies’ reception of royalty payments.
Benzies has now issued a lawsuit seeking $150 million as compensation for the unpaid money.
Rockstar quickly countersued, claiming that Benzies breached his contract by resigning on grounds of “significant performance and conduct issues” and thus gave up his right to royalty payments.
"Leslie Benzies was a valued employee of our company for many years," the company said in a statement. "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."
Sam Houser was singled out specifically as one of the driving forces behind Benzies’ treatment, with his lawyers stating that “Mr Benzies’ removal after years of receiving compensation identical to the Housers was the product of what turned out to be a lengthy deception by Sam Houser. The complaint describes Sam Houser’s mounting resentments after many years of high praise.”
They added: “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."