The clearest possible timeline on what's up with this new Rockstar lawsuit
The funny thing is, if you google "Grand Theft Auto lawsuit" you will get a handful different court filings even from the first page. Folks have penned actual listicles on the "best" court cases involving the open world franchise developer Rockstar and parent company Take Two -- it's part of the studio's brand image, that willingness to embrace a South Park level of courted controversy.
This new lawsuit, however, reads more like The Social Network than your typical GTA-related filing. In the plainest possible language, the facts are these:
- In 2008, when Take Two bought Rockstar, it offered long-term contracts with a "profit sharing arrangement" to studio co-founders Sam and Dan Houser, as well as to Leslie Benzies, then president of Rockstar North (which has historically played a major role developing the Grand Theft Auto games).
- Benzies claims that the terms of this contract were the same for both him and the Housers, but that he was progressively removed from the arrangement through "a lengthy deception."
- Benzies further claims that this contract and accompanying profit sharing arrangement (the "Royalty Plan") entitles him to some $150 million in royalties.
- In 2014, following the release of Grand Theft Auto V, Benzies went on paid leave from the company.
- According to a statement from Benzies's legal representatives, on April 1st, 2015, Benzies returned to the Rockstar North office to discover he no longer had access to the building, and was ordered to leave "without reason."
- On January 12th, 2016, Rockstar confirmed that Benzies had in fact left the studio and framed it as an entirely voluntary decision.
- Benzies's representatives refer to this framing as "out-of-bounds and inaccurate," and that in fact, Benzies and Rockstar were in the midst of a "lengthy mediation" at the time.
- Rockstar confirms it was in mediation with Benzies during this period, but that negotiations were "unsuccessful."
- Benzies officially filed suit against Rockstar and Take-Two today, April 12th, 2016. The full text can be found here.
- Within a matter of hours, Take-Two and Rockstar have already counter-sued, arguing that Benzies is not entitled to the royalties due to a "breach of contract."
- The "breach of contract" in question was... Benzies talking about his contract.
OK, so the last item is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but Take-Two and Rockstar's response essentially breaks down to exactly that: the "breach of contract" is that Benzies was loudly worried about a breach of contract. When things began to go south between Benzies and Rockstar, he sent multiple messages demanding "full parity" with the Houser brothers, meaning an equal share of the royalties. According to his suit, that "full parity" was always part of his initial contract, whereas according to Take-Two and Rockstar's counter-suit, that is not (or is no longer) the case, and he's nullified whatever royalties he was due by asking for that agreement to be upheld.
...Does it sound pretty Catch-22 to you? It sounds pretty Catch-22 to me. Anyway, the long and short of it is that Benzies believes he is due quite a lot of money, and by talking about it, Rockstar and Take-Two are saying Benzies has contractually forfeited his right to said money. Oh, and there's a little wrinkle where the committee that decides who gets what out of the royalties includes Sam Houser, one of the defendants named in Benzies's suit. So this is probably going to get uglier before it gets any better.
Kris Ligman is the News Editor for ZAM. Slow and steady never wins the race but it sure racks up the most bulleted line items. Twitter: @KrisLigman.