History of Video Game Leaks: From Fallout 4 to Grand Theft Auto 6 (Infographic)

September 18, a massive GTA 6 leak (the most notable one for Rockstar Games since Red Dead Redemption 2), 50 minutes of in-development footage.

Despite how hard Rockstar tries to prevent them, leaks keep happening. Same with other studios. Why? Is it for better or worse? And how do they impact developers and gamers?

The rise of technology creates new avenues for scammers—cyber-attacks and data theft. Obviously, game developers have a vested interest in helping to prevent these crimes. But the gaming industry is moving pretty fast, so it becomes progressively harder to protect internal data. Especially considering GameDev studios do not specialize in cyber security, per se.

Today, we’ll talk about the most high-profile and surprising leaks in the video game industry. And while the industry is still deeply affected by the GTA 6 leak and is waiting for the official release, we’ll discuss whether leaks are indeed devastating for game developers.

Game Leaks: What They Are and Why They Happen

A leak is some kind of information about a game put out before it’s officially released, usually online. It can be something as small as announcing a release date or the name or as revealing as long-format video footage and mechanics or plot details.

Leaks can come from two different sources: internal (retailers, developers themselves, interns, and employees from other departments) and external (malicious actors exploiting a vulnerability).

What’s rather interesting (and contentious) is the fact that some internal leaks are controlled. Developers make these leaks themselves to create hype around an upcoming release, which works to varying degrees.

Opinions on the Impact of Game Leaks: Good or Bad?

Most times, it’s hard to know whether it’s real hackers responsible for a leak or the studio. That poses the question of whether studios actually benefit from leaking info. The first school of thought believes that leaks boost followers, subscribers, and traffic. A sensational leak will likely get more coverage than a scheduled announcement, if not in the media, then from regular users.

There is also an argument about “rumour beta.” Depending on how in advance the leak happened, there could be more or fewer issues uncovered, which developers, in turn, can fix prior to the official release.

The second school of thought is adamant about the damaging effect of game leaks. It places developers under massive amounts of stress and exposes them to unfounded criticism. A leak is not a glimpse of truth; it’s an uncontrolled message that lacks the full context. It can also hurt the company’s bottom line as reputational damages translate to financial ones.

Finally, it robs players of the first-time polished experience. Even if you don’t care about the marketing schedules and unwarranted opinions about an unfinished game, players deserve to see official announcements carefully curated to set the scene and hint at the adventure ahead.

History of Video Game Leaks - Infographic

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A Quick Recap of Video Game Leaks

The recent GTA VI leak is considered one of the most consequential events in the industry, which is to be expected from a follow-up product to the most profitable entertainment release. But at this point, game leaks are close to being commonplace. Anyone close to GameDev, professionally or recreationally, could have seen it coming simply based on the rich history of leaks.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 (2004), a first-person shooter and the second installment of the Half-Life fiction universe, was created by Valve, recently booted off Steam after nefariously naming its company Very Positive. The hacker posted the source code, which represented about a third of the total game.

The leak pushed back the release a few months, which was perceived as a convenient excuse for the game’s slipping schedule by players. The most recent reports show the game sold over 12 million copies.

Gears of War 3

Gears of War 3, a third-person shooter and the final harrowing tale of hope and survival in the trilogy, was developed by Epic Games, known for its commercially successful game engine and, now, Fortnite. The torrent 2011 leak showed an unfinished build, as well as info on the full campaign and multiplayer modes.

Epic Games said the build was not representative of the final game, and Microsoft commented that they were working with law enforcement. Luckily for both, the game drew the big franchise crowd and sold 3 million copies in the first weeks alone.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4, a post-apocalyptic, role-playing, open-world game about the sole survivor of Vault 111 in search of their missing child, was developed by Bethesda Game Studios, responsible for some of the highest-selling games known to the industry. The leaked content revealed some of the script and setting.

Vice president Pete Hines was “upset” with the leaks and refused to answer a single question about them. But arguably, the more upset party was the online community.

Fallout 4

With plenty of time between the leak and the release, F4 sold over 13 million.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV, a dark tale packaged into field exploration and combat (RPG), was developed by Square Enix, one of Japan’s most prolific video game studios. Due to the leak, users learned about major negative story consequences and, most importantly, the entire ending.

The director Hajime Tabata made a statement asking anyone who had an unauthorized copy to “spoil the surprises for everyone,” but spoilers dispersed at lightning speed. The sales hit more than 9.5 million copies worldwide.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2, an action-adventure game about America’s unforgiving heartland, was created by Rockstar Studios, known for some of the most successful, controversial, and innovative games. A series of leaks over the course of three years showed an astounding number of details, from gameplay to plot.

There were so many leaks that users said they were coming “every year with allergy season.” And Trusted Reviews, a resource that leaked the confidential document, agreed to pay a hefty donation as an apology. Results? Forty-five million units sold.

Red Dead Redemption 2

The Last Of Us Part II

Five years after the events of The Last of Us, the two leads embark on another journey in The Last Of Us Part II, made possible by an elite developer Naughty Dog with a controversial co-president Neil Druckmann. A YouTube leak showed massive spoilers—major plot details and pivotal cutscenes.

ND asked people to ignore the leaks, and Sony maintained a narrative that it was not an employee or contractor responsible for the incident. The game eventually hit a milestone of 10 million units.

GTA 6

An untitled Grand Theft Auto (sixth installment) will supposedly feature the series’ first female protagonist, and the two leads are rumoured to be heading back to Vice City. But that’s not nearly the end of it; the hack turned out to be one of the most revealing leaks.

Development is back to “business as usual.”

Following the GTA leak, Neil Druckmann shared a wholesome message to developers on Twitter:

GTA 6

Aftermath and What to Expect Next

While fans were piecing together the details of the leak, Rockstar Games denied any disruptions to the ongoing development in a statement:

Rockstar Games

A few days later, The City of London police announced that they detained a 17-year-old suspect in the hacking attack. This is an unprecedented turn of events. While most development companies would want to punish leakers to get the “next guy” to think twice, that rarely happens.

The City of London police

The most recent update by Eurogamer reported that the detainee breached his bail conditions and pleaded not guilty to computer misuse.

The future of the saga seems auspicious. Multiple sources claim the release is scheduled for sometime in 2025, but it’s more of an educated guess. So, players will have a lot of time to speculate further about GTA’s setting being modern-day Vice City and all-new areas, the character-switching system between Jason and Lucia, and new mechanics (stealth, health buff items, etc.).

Takeaway

Journalist Christopher Dring succinctly put it this way “nobody really wins when a video game leaks.” With just a couple of exceptions over the years, where a leak actually helped boost a release, leaks are harming developers, players, and the industry as a whole.

From the developer’s perspective, leaks can be seriously disruptive to business and marketing plans. From the player’s perspective, they lose out on a precious moment of seeing a new product for the first time. Or worse, a leak can spoil the game altogether.

When leaks happen, some developers choose to stick to their original plans—an unfinished product would go through changes or iterations anyway. Some listen to constructive feedback and fix bugs and other imperfections. And most agree that leaks shackle development and production.

The solutions to leaks are multifold. First, they need to be investigated internally. Then, if the leak turns out to be caused externally (by an outsider hacking the servers), the company must initiate new security protocols, and there might be government authorities involved. As for players, all they can do to help is to prevent the spread.