Following an ugly schism with Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive last year, former producer on Red Dead Redemption and a number of other Rockstar titles (including every GTA game since GTA III), Leslie Benzies has returned to the video game industry with a slew of new game development companies.
Benzies once had a tight-knit friendship with Dan and Sam Houser, the brothers who founded Rockstar Games. He even accepted a BAFTA award alongside the duo, as well as Aaron Garbut back in 2014 for their work on GTA V. In the same year, Benzies was offered a sabbatical and offer he took up.
When he tried to return to work in 2016, his security card no longer worked and upon trying to clarify the issue, security “removed” him from the building. Some time later, Rockstar released an official statement that Benzies has left the company, making it seem like it was his decision, and implied that they parted on friendly terms. The statement even wished Benzies the best in his future endeavors.
It’s likely that that last part would have been omitted had Rockstar known his “future endeavors” would include a lawsuit accusing Rockstar of owing him over $150 million in unpaid royalties, as well as the Houser brothers of unlawfully forcing him out of the company. The legal tug-of-war is still very much in its first stretches, and will likely go on for years seeing as it is a personal matter between two wealthy entities.
Animosity between Benzies and the Housers would have seemed impossible a few years ago, but rumors of a falling-out flared up around the time GTA Online released a bit after GTA 5. Allegedly, the Housers didn’t much care for the Online component and would have been content with it taking a shape more like the GTA IV version. However under the guidance of Benzies, it grew into what would become one of the most profitable games in the history of the industry.
While later on, the Housers became enthusiastic about Online (possibly due to its profitability), initially they didn’t even want anything to do with it. And yet, when Benzies placed his name in a ‘prestigious’ position on the opening credits, one where usually the Houser brothers are named, the two took offense. Of course, this is little more than a rumor.
Nonetheless, now that there is a $150 million lawsuit hanging in the air and the obvious fact that the trio will never work together again, the future of Rockstar’s games, and their quality in particular, is in question. Benzies was the producer on 2010’s Red Dead Redemption, and though he only came in on the project late in development, he saved the game.
Sam Houser sent various emails to Benzies as RDR’s deadline approached, describing the state of the game as a trainwreck, and practically begging for Benzies’ assistance. This is cited in the lawsuit as well, which sought to describe the vital role Benzies played at Rockstar, including that the Housers weren’t adept enough in project management to finish a large project on their own without his help.
The ups and downs are VERY extreme. We have to fix this. Quickly. Help! I’m freaking!'”
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!!!
PLEASE help me/us get rdr [Read Dead Redemption] into shape. I am a jabbering wreck right now,I need The Benz!’
Benzies, however, isn’t sitting on his laurels while the lawsuit proceeds. Oh no, with that kind of experience and resumé, letting it ebb would be a waste. So Benzies returned to the industry, and in a damn flashy way too. The Scotsman reported that Benzies incorporated four different companies related to gaming, with three software development companies and one that seeks to develop VR hardware, such as headsets and controllers.
What seems to be the primary of the game dev companies, Royal Circus Games Limited, has already been submitted to the IPO (Intellectual Property Office) with the development of PC, console and mobile games cited as its function. What’s more, the first trademark under software has also been filed, indicating the company’s first project being called “Time for a New World”. The accompanying hashtag #TFANW has also been trademarked.
While this seems to be the name of Benzies’ first independent project, it could also be a reply to Rockstar’s rather blatant trademark, filed around the time of the schism. Rockstar filed a trademark for the term “Judas”, which is an obvious allusion to treason – though, if Benzies’ version of the story is to be believed, this is a bit backward.
Of course, Rockstar could also be working on a project called “Judas”.
Benzies’ first trademark, on the other hand, might reference a new world where he works in the gaming industry on his own and not with Rockstar. With the kind of resumé Benzies has to show for himself, and the kind of cash he racked up during his time at Rockstar, he should have no difficulty funding AAA scale projects and lining up investors.
We’re interested to see how Benzies’ companies will fare in the future, and what kind of games he’ll be working on. Red Dead Redemption 2 will also be the first Rockstar title to be released without Benzies’ influence, and we’re more than curious to see what kind of an effect his absence will have for this project.