The Biggest Leaks in Gaming History

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Rory Galvin reflects on the industry’s biggest unwanted reveals.

Video games are different to movies in many ways, one of them being secrecy. We hear about films in the works years in advance, whether that be through official announcements or reports from trusted institutions. Games are nothing like that - the earliest we hear about a title is maybe in an earnings call for investors, but typically it is revealed in some blowout event with a big shiny trailer. That’s why, when the most anticipated game currently gets shown way before it’s ready, the internet goes wild.

In case you’re living in a cave (but decided to read this article), I’m talking about Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto VI: a game that’s been in the works for many years, and will probably take a few more to even release. After years of speculation and sketchy information from 4Chan threads, all it took was one teenager on a random Monday night to drop hours of footage - and even source code. Most of it has been wiped from the internet since from copyright takedowns, but look hard enough and you’ll find it. There’s a reason why the game hasn’t been shown yet: the graphics are clearly rough, the gameplay isn’t polished and it’s full of placeholders and reused assets from the fifth entry. It lets your imagination run wild, but at the same time there was plenty of ammo for the internet to ridicule the game in progress. It’s the first Grand Theft Auto game (at least in the mainline series) to have a proper female protagonist; and the internet being the internet led to some poorly sourced backlash. There’s also a return to the parodied version of Miami: Vice City - a setting certainly welcomed by fans. While the animations are rough, there are new gameplay systems such as a new drive-by shooting mechanic and the ability to pick up NPCs over your shoulder (and yes, it’s as funny as it looks). The leaker has since been arrested with connections to other major hacks (like the database of Uber customers), but considering he is actually a teen, the worst thing he’ll get is a computer ban. For some gamers, that could be worse than prison!

This is why developers don’t show their games too early - with the crunch culture still permeating in the industry, games don’t look like their final product until near their release. Alphas and pre-alphas and prototypes are solely for making the foundation of the game, there is no reason to make it look pretty for the developers’ sake. Moreso, games take much longer and are much harder to make in comparison to movies - why would a developer willingly show something that’s not ready? The only example I can think of that’s gone remotely well is EA’s new addition to the Skate franchise, but that required big reminders that this is not what the game will look like - and the only reason it was well received was because people were ravenous for information on it, arguably more so than GTA. Another reason is that not all games actually release for one reason or another, so why show the game until you’re sure it’s actually on track to come out? Beyond Good and Evil 2 has been announced twice and recently overtook the record for longest game in development (over 14 years!); if your game is relying on pre-rendered cinematic trailers for their marketing, is it really ready to be shown? Yet with the nature of leaks, we might find out about it either way just like we did with GTA.

The recent leak for Rockstar’s next title will certainly be put in the history books, but arguably it’s not the worst one for a company. Valve’s Half-Life 2 is considered one of the greatest games ever made, and almost all of it leaked months before it came out. In a similar fashion to the GTA VI leak, this was the case of a hacker breaching Valve’s internal servers and dumping the entirety of the game online - when it was essentially complete. The game was quite buggy, and whoever played it realised that it was not the sequel they were expecting. When a PC-only game essentially releases feature-complete, why wouldn’t the average consumer play that for free instead of forking over full price for something not that different? Considering the impact of the leak, Valve delayed the game by over a year - and it is practically unrecognisable with different level design, weapons and story elements. All things considered, Half-Life 2 was an incredible success when it officially released, and is now recognised as one of the greatest games ever made. It seemed like the fire Valve needed under them to create something truly special. 

Some leaks aren’t even the result of a hacker or insider - sometimes pure incompetence can lead to games being revealed before they should have been. Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the current newest entry in the Tomb Raider series, was leaked on a subway in Montréal, because an employee was working on a Powerpoint for all to see and take pictures of. This was almost two whole years before the game was officially announced, and three before it was actually released. 

Okay, that’s just one game, how about 100’s of unannounced titles? Nvidia hosts a streaming service called GeForce Now - and all of its data stored on the server had a security flaw that made it quite easy to access. Not only did it have data for games that had not been added to the streaming service yet, but you could see the names of apps that developers were using, and that was where the real gold lay. This includes so many games from huge publishers like Sony, Capcom, Square Enix and more; Dragon’s Dogma 2, the Sony PC ports and Payday 3 were some of the biggest titles leaked in my opinion. While these are just titles, knowing some of these games are in development is huge in itself for most gamers, and certainly landed Nvidia in hot water with publishers in the industry. The games I mentioned above have since been confirmed, but the potential for a Titanfall 3, Injustice 3 and Xcom 3 (a lot of threes) is very exciting. We’ll be seeing this leak referred to for years to come right until the last game on that list releases - so we might have to wait a while.

Finding out about games before you should is fascinating to me; it’s that forbidden information that makes you feel like you’re a fly on the wall at the office, even if only for a split second. If you are interested in the world of video game leaks (and want to flex your game knowledge), I highly recommend the Reddit community “r/gamingleaksandrumours”. Yes, I realise I’m recommending a Reddit page, but it is one of the best places you can hear about this stuff first without having to actually use something much worse. There’s always whispers about something, there’s always a leak and there’s always a reason to keep checking for the next huge bombshell. If you hate spoilers, your best bet is to live under a rock - because the internet is making it easier and easier to leak the next big games.