Rockstar Games | Take Two Interactive

Why Leaks Like ‘GTA VI’ Are Bad for Gaming as a Whole

The 'GTA VI' leak is one of the worst ever in the history of gaming. So, what does it mean for the future of the game--and for the industry as a whole?
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In late September, the unthinkable happened. A hacker who managed to phish a Rockstar employee and secure a password and login. They used those credentials to steal a vast amount of data related to the highly anticipated upcoming game Grand Theft Auto VI. The leak included everything from unfinished assets to a sizable portion of the game’s source code.

This is monumentally bad for the game and its developers. For one thing, having the game leaked in an unfinished manner like this is very damaging to public perception. Many customers who are unfamiliar with the development process might see these unfinished assets and think that the final product will also look bad. Moreover, the leak of the game’s source code means that, without substantial changes to the base files, hackers will already be able to access the game’s core functionality the day it releases.

Today, we’re going to take a look at gaming leaks in general and why they’re bad for the industry. No matter how much players might get excited about the chance of getting a sneak peek behind the scenes of their favorite upcoming game series, the reality is that these leaks are only ever harmful to the industry.

The Leak

On September 18, a user on the GTA forums uploaded hundreds of videos stolen from Rockstar’s servers. These videos included pre-alpha footage of Grand Theft Auto VI running in various states of completion, ranging from raw unfinished code to gameplay snippets. Surprisingly enough, the footage also confirmed several rumors about the game.

For one thing, it looks like GTA VI will be the first entry in the series to have a playable female protagonist with her own voiceover lines and story. Reporting from Bloomberg over the summer indicated that the new game’s storyline will take inspiration from the real-life criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde, meaning the two protagonists will likely be romantic partners as well as partners in crime.

The game will also apparently take place in Vice City, the GTA stand-in for real-world Miami. This city was the setting for the masterful GTA III, and fans have been clamoring for a return to the sun-drenched beaches and neon-colored clubs of Vice City for years. This leak has proven that the white buildings and glistening sands of Vice City will once again host the carnage of a GTA game.

Rockstar Replies to Leaks

Rockstar didn’t keep quiet about the leaks. Its parent company, Take-Two Interactive, quickly went to work scrubbing the leaked images and videos from the internet. While you can still find them if you look hard enough, they’re mainly gone from sites like YouTube and Twitter.

Rockstar’s top priority has to be preventing casual audiences getting the wrong impression regarding the game’s quality. After all, a pre-alpha build is hardly indicative of what a game will look like when it’s done. “We recently suffered a network intrusion,” Rockstar confirmed through its official Twitter account. “An unauthorized third party illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from our systems, including early development footage for the next Grand Theft Auto.” Notably, the company also says it doesn’t expect the leak to delay the game, something that many games journalists and fans alike find extremely unlikely.

“We do not anticipate any disruption to our live game services nor any long-term effect on the development of our ongoing projects.” Rockstar’s live game services currently include the effectively-dead Red Dead Redemption 2 Online and the roaring Grand Theft Auto V Online. Notably, the development staff from those two ongoing online platforms have both largely been moved to help complete GTA VI

Why Leak an Unfinished Video Game?

Rockstar is infamously tight-lipped about its upcoming projects. This helps the studio to carefully build hype around its future releases and has made it into one of the most well-regarded game studios in the world. However, in recent years, the pace with which it releases new games has slowed dramatically. The company released dozens of games in the late 90s through the 2000s. 

In the Xbox 360 and PS3 era, Rockstar released fewer titles, but the ones it did were downright massive. These ranged from the first Red Dead Redemption to Grand Theft Auto IV and V, two of the most critically-acclaimed games ever made. In the Xbox One and PS4 era, however, the studio only released a single title: the lauded, but long-coming RDR2

In this light, it’s easy to see why fans were eager for any news about the seemingly never-releasing GTA VI. It’s been almost a decade since GTA V hit stores, and fans who don’t enjoy the series’ chaotic online multiplayer have been clamoring for a new single-player experience for years. 

Games Take Longer Now

It’s worth pointing out that games simply take longer to make these days. Game consoles and gaming PCs have become incredibly powerful, and crystal-clear 4K graphics and buttery-smooth framerates are commonplace now. This is incredibly demanding for programmers, who now need to spend even more time creating assets and developing environments and character models. 

In addition to this added development time, Rockstar has owned up to a public reckoning over its decision to embrace “crunch,” a pattern of consistent overtime for developers that is an unsustainable and unethical practice used to make games in less time. The studio has vowed to not use crunch tactics in its future projects, meaning that developers will have more free time–but this also means the games will take longer to make.

That’s a good thing! The vast majority of players would prefer to play games that are created by happier, healthier developers. If the trade-off for these devs having a healthy work-life balance is that their games take longer to make, that’s a trade worth making. After all, if every developer gets burned out by crunch, there just won’t be any new games to play.

Patience Is a Virtue

GTA loading screen depicting two female characters
Rockstar Games

Players who were desperate for updates on GTA VI had a chance to pore over some extremely rough-looking gameplay footage. Many took to social media to lament how unfinished and sloppy the game looks right now, which is delightfully short-sighted and completely predictable. The kinds of players who are eager to see illegally-leaked game footage are also the kind who won’t appreciate that said footage was never intended for public scrutiny.

Imagine storming into the kitchen and demanding the cook give you the cake that you say is making too long to make. You scarf down the raw eggs, flour, and sugar, then pull a face and accuse the cook of making a terrible cake. That’s what these critical fans sound like by judging a game based on an extremely early build only intended for internal use.

So now, with expectations thoroughly thrown off and some of the game’s most interesting narrative decisions out in the open, Rockstar is faced with a choice: go back to the drawing board to redo things and preserve the surprise, or does steer into the skid and just stay the course?

Leaks Happen in Every Industry

Sadly enough, leaks happen with any hotly anticipated media. Famously, Valve’s megaton sequel Half-Life 2 leaked online before its release, resulting in a complete overhaul of development. The studio completely abandoned the leaked content, and the final version of Half-Life 2 bore no resemblance to the stolen game. This also extended the game’s development time by several years, as it was basically restarted from scratch.

Something similar happened to the Quentin Tarantino film The Hateful Eight. That film’s script was leaked in its entirety online, resulting in Tarantino deciding to abandon the film altogether following a public table reading. However, after retooling the script and changing some events, he relented and filmed an alternate version of the movie for theatrical release. Could Rockstar do something similar with GTA VI?

Given the company’s assertion that the leak won’t impact the game’s release timing, it would be easy to say that they don’t plan to overhaul the game internally. However, GTA VI doesn’t currently have a public release date–or, indeed, even a release window. Fans have no idea whether to expect the game in 2023 or 2026. With Rockstar, it’s anyone’s guess. The studio’s trademark secrecy is part of what spurred the leak in the first place.

Now What?

If you’re dying to see more of GTA VI, you can probably find the leaked footage out there on the internet somewhere. But, bear this in mind: Rockstar didn’t intend for you to see the game in this state. You’re peeking behind the curtain to see how the sausage is made.

Once you’ve seen the process, you might not want the final product anymore. After all, this footage likely won’t resemble what the studio will release. The game might still be years away, and Rockstar will assuredly release plenty of teaser footage and screenshots in the years and months leading up to its release. So, for now, your best bet is to be patient and play through GTA V again for the umpteenth time. Yes, it’s still fun.