Rockstar says new lawsuit is 'without merit,' 'downright bizarre'
Glass house(r)s, stones, etc. Rockstar has released a brief statement responding to yesterday's court filing by former Rockstar North president Leslie Benzies, who is suing his former employer and parent company Take-Two for $150 million.
The studio maintains that Benzies's suit is "entirely without merit and in many instances downright bizarre," which makes for great headline material (including this one), but let's actually examine that for a second. To Rockstar's credit, yes, there are parts of Benzies's 71-page court filing which are a little weird, but the reasons for that are manifold. For instance:
There's like a complete biography in here
Benzies (rather, his legal representatives who filed the suit) spends multiple paragraphs outlining his childhood interest in games and personal fondness for them.
"Mr. Benzies grew up in Elgin, Scotland with the desire to create amazing videogames. He started programming at age 11 and by age 12 had created his first videogame," the document reads in its introduction. "Mr. Benzies’ love for videogames continued into adulthood, causing him to strive to create better and better games by pushing the boundaries of video game technology."
The suit describes his studio's acquisition by Rockstar, and Rockstar's later acquisition by Take-Two. It also goes to some length to paint a picture of the Grand Theft Auto franchise as critically and commercially unsuccessful prior to Benzies involvement starting with Grand Theft Auto 3, which you could make a case for, certainly -- but that's not what's under dispute here. While these background details are clearly meant to establish Benzies's credibility, his expertise in his field, and how sympathetic he is, the amount of space dedicated to seemingly irrelevant stuff like his early childhood just comes across as surreal.
It turns into a developer postmortem on Red Dead Redemption at one point
It appears Benzies and/or his legal team felt it was necessary to describe, in methodical detail, his contributions to Grand Theft Auto 3 and subsequent titles, but the filing doesn't stop there. It also describes Benzies's "role as a troubleshooter" for Red Dead Redemption, leading to this amazing section:
[Rockstar co-founders] Sam and Dan Houser took the lead on the development of Rockstar’s game Red Dead Redemption. Mr. Benzies had no assigned position on the game. As the game’s delivery date grew near, Sam Houser urgently reached out to Mr. Benzies in an October 22, 2009 e-mail, writing, “The ups and downs are VERY extreme. We have to fix this. Quickly. Help! I’m freaking!” As Sam Houser reviewed more of the game that he had overseen for many years, he became more desperate writing to Mr. Benzies the very next day, “This [RDR] 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!!!” As reflected in his October 24, 2009 e-mail to Mr. Benzies, Sam Houser’s desperation was escalating, “PLEASE help me/us get rdr [Red Dead Redemption] into shape. I am a jabbering wreck right now. I need The Benz!”
We get a brief insight into a very weird, almost definitely toxic studio culture
One of the claims Rockstar has leveled at Benzies is that his dismissal from the company was due to "significant performance and conduct issues." This is a bit funny, given that Benzies's suit features this passage:
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.
...And it's even funnier when you consider that Benzies, in a position of considerable authority at Rockstar, had no small say in what went on in his building. Keep in mind that this is a studio Benzies has worked with for about 17 years, roughly 15 of which saw him as president of Rockstar North. In other words, if Benzies found this company culture objectionable, he had more than ample opportunity and leverage to change it.
Why didn't he? You'd have to ask Benzies that -- maybe he felt his position with the Housers was too precarious, even back then; maybe this conduct didn't strike him as being so bad at the time but he's since had a change of heart. But considering this same legal document describes Benzies as overseeing "over 900 professionals around the globe," it's hard not to consider him at least a little responsible for those people under his care.
None of this is to say that Benzies, the Houser brothers, Rockstar, Take-Two or anyone else involved in the lawsuits are in some way at fault or somehow "deserve" their present situation. That's for the courts to decide, much as it pains me to use that cliched turn of phrase.
But it is striking that both sides of this debacle are predicating their arguments on some moral high ground -- Benzies with the above passage on company culture; Rockstar on Benzies's implied selfishness for taking "personal credit" for the studio's games -- when neither would appear to have firm footing in that regard. We'll see how this all shakes out as the lawsuit, and Rockstar's counter-suit, go ahead.
(h/t The Guardian.)
Kris Ligman is the News Editor for ZAM. In Kris's opinion, the funniest part of Benzies's lawsuit is where it claims GTA doesn't resort to "childish 'potty' humor" anymore. On Twitter: @KrisLigman.