The true implications of the Grand Theft Auto and Diablo leaks.

On 09/17 A user named Teapotuberhacker went to a Grand Theft Auto forum with allegedly 90 clips from Rockstar Games’ next big putative hit, Grand Theft Auto VI. “[It’s] Possibly I could leak more data soon, GTA 5 and 6 source code and assets, GTA 6 test build,” they wrote.

The hack was real. The next day, Rockstar confirmed that it “suffered a network breach where an unauthorized third party illegally downloaded sensitive information from our system.” This included early footage from the upcoming game, so parent company Take-Two scrambled to remove videos posted to platforms like YouTube and Twitter as quickly as possible. (Rockstar did not respond to requests for comment.)

The Grand Theft Auto leak is one of the biggest leaks in the gaming industry, if not the biggest. The scope of what the hacker was able to steal, from videos to possibly GTA V and GTA VI source code – the building blocks that allow developers to create their games in unique ways – is startling. But despite a massive breach, Rockstar Games is not alone. This week, a Reddit user posted 43-minute beta footage of Blizzard’s upcoming Diablo IV. Earlier this month, news about Ubisoft’s next Assassin’s Creed, Assassin’s Creed Mirage, was leaked online ahead of the company’s eye-popping announcement; A YouTuber has since come forward to admit responsibility for the leak after breaking an embargo. In the past, hackers have targeted prominent developers like Naughty Dog and released unpublished information about The Last of Us Part II.

Immediately following the GTA VI leak, Take-Two’s stock fell and the company assured investors it had “taken steps to isolate and contain this incident.” But the real impact may not be felt for some time. Content leaks are a development nightmare. The playmakers spoke to WIRED to describe it as a demoralizing, even demotivating, incident. “You work on a project for years and then there’s a partially completed version of it online,” says longtime creative director Alex Hutchinson, whose projects include Assassin’s Creed III and Far Cry 4. “And you get endless negative comments about what you can’t defend yourself because you’re just giving oxygen to a bad moment.” And the fallout can be even worse.

Players have already criticized the leaked build of Grand Theft Auto VI and the look of the still running game. A lot of this stems from a misunderstanding of how development works and what games will look like when they’re done. Think Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Taking to Twitter, Naughty Dog developer Kurt Margenau posted an early build of a chase scene with hero Nathan Drake driving a jeep down what appears to be a 3D diagram, a road that’s neatly square past buildings made out of kid’s blocks could be built. “His goal is to represent the gaming experience as accurately as possible,” he tweeted. “Then iterate.” The video ends with a glimpse of the final version, a shiny city full of color.

Developers say leaks distort the public’s perception of the game and inculcate in players that the version they’ll buy will be… well, crap. “If you watched a Marvel movie full of green screens and no special effects, you would have a completely spoiled impression of the final quality, and if you never saw the final film, that would be your lasting impression,” says Hutchinson.

The effect is more than superficial. It can create barriers between developers and their community and make projects more secure and private. This impact continues, sometimes creating a trust vacuum for departments believed to have been the source of the leak. In some cases, it can lead to excessive crunching. “Leaks usually mean delays,” says former Activision Blizzard developer Jessica Gonzalez, as companies shift resources to investigating and preventing further leaks. (Rockstar has said it currently does not anticipate any “long-term impact on the development of our ongoing projects.”)

If a hacker actually has the GTA VI source code, Rockstar’s problems could get worse – because, according to Gonzalez, this code “shows how we write the game”. Another developer with over 20 years of experience working on AAA titles, who requested anonymity so he can speak freely, tells WIRED that “it’s bad, but it’s also pretty complicated.” Here, he says, leakers do real damage. “Source code is fluid,” he says, “so it’s a snapshot of a specific place and time that isn’t really designed to be navigated without a lot of time and effort, but could still do tremendous damage to a team, if it were proprietary or licensed code therein.”

In games, developers are often portrayed as being overly secretive in their work, and they are often asked to share more of their process in order to promote development expertise and demystify the work required to develop a game. Some developers, like those behind Quake, choose to release source code so people can play around with it and build their own features. But there is a difference between developers releasing their code and having it stolen.

“Leaks in particular reduce the likelihood of companies getting involved, even if the leak has nothing to do with the community in general,” says the AAA developer. “When your house gets robbed, you start putting locks and bolts and cameras in it and not trusting your neighbors that much and that just sucks for everyone.”

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