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GTA VI leaks show gaming companies need to improve security

In what’s being described as the biggest game leak of all time, stolen pre-alpha footage of Grand Theft Auto VI totalling 50 minutes was posted online over the weekend. Will this prompt game developers and publishers to finally improve their security measures?

Considering Grand Theft Auto VI realistically won’t be in stores for at least another three years, waking up on Sunday (September 18) to see the title trending online was a surprise. For Rockstar Games, it certainly was not part of the plan.

Scrabbling around on Twitter to see exactly what was going on, it quickly became apparent that content from an early build of the game had been leaked.

Over 90 separate videos totalling 50 minutes appeared on GTA forums, and seemingly in the blink of an eye spread throughout all social media platforms. I’d like to say that I didn’t indulge, but I’d be lying.

The leak originated from a user called ‘teapotuberhacker,’ who attempted to barter with the publisher for the return of further unreleased data, including the supposed source code for Grand Theft Auto V, the second biggest selling game of all time and most profitable piece of media ever made.

While some were initially dubious as to whether the videos were legitimate, their authenticity was confirmed when Rockstar’s parent company Take-Two Interactive appeared in several copyright strikes across YouTube.

Details of the leak

A day after the footage emerged, Rockstar released a statement on Twitter clarifying that an intruder had illegally downloaded assets from the development of Grand Theft Auto VI.

The unknown perpetrator, who also claimed to be behind the recent hack into Uber’s ridesharing app, said they grifted Rockstar’s material from a company Slack channel. If you listen carefully, the platform’s message notification can actually be heard sporadically throughout many of the clips.

In terms of what the footage actually entrails, it’s predominantly pre-alpha footage where specific mechanics or animations are being tested – during which visual development tools keep appearing, including character pathing.

One video shows a figure shooting out the passenger window of a car, another contains a female protagonist walking and running, and a more detailed scene features a semi-rendered mission where a couple hold up a diner and make a getaway.

The voice acting and characters are fluidly animated, but many of the NPCs resemble monochrome dummies. The environment is also relatively sparse and unpopulated, suggesting the build is at a very early stage.

An ongoing joke from gamers on Twitter is that Grand Theft Auto VI in its current state would probably qualify as a AAA Ubisoft shooter. I’m keeping out of it.

With the game being prematurely revealed to the masses at such a tentative stage, you have to wonder just how damaging this leak could be. After such a high profile incident, will companies now begin to take stricter precautionary measures during development?

Ramifications for the wider industry

Just a day after Rockstar’s flagship title leaked, early footage of Blizzard’s Diablo IV received the same treatment. Yep, it’s been a bad week for gaming heavyweights and the problem is obviously snowballing.

Over 40 minutes of gameplay from the hotly anticipated ARPG was recorded during a private Discord stream and quickly spotted on Reddit by a user called iV1rus0. Clearly further along in development than Grand Theft Auto VI, this could still impact the final game on multiple fronts.

Thankfully, in the case of Rockstar, it appears its roll-out timescale will be unaffected. But that doesn’t mean to say that this hasn’t been a significant setback. Given how successful its previous entry to the franchise was – and the fact it dropped nine years ago – people are expecting huge things from the next one.

Fans are already trawling through clips with a microscope, and a portion of the gaming community has overreacted to what they’ve seen. Despite this, it bodes well for Rockstar that it has already garnered a strong reputation through seminal releases like Red Dead Redemption II and Grand Theft Auto V.

If the same thing were to happen to a burgeoning company and an entirely new IP, however, a project could be killed stone dead before even getting off the ground.

In-progress game footage is hardly ever representative of the quality game makers are aiming to achieve, and yet people could pass up on an experience based on a misinformed first impression.

If negative sentiment starts to spread on social media, a publisher’s stock value could drop and raise difficult questions from important shareholders.

Beyond this, there’s also a very real possibility that the unauthorised release of game code may allow aspiring developers and ‘modders’ to compile it and create their own iteration of playable software – in other words, straight up theft.

A developer’s trade secrets will be concealed within its coding and making that accessible to anyone could mean that studio loses its unique edge. You can bet your savings developers would love to get their hands on the inner workings of a behemoth like Grand Theft Auto VI.

The situation with Rockstar is still largely unresolved – or if it has been sorted, we may not yet have heard – and the hacker has been silent since Sunday. ‘We have already taken steps to isolate and contain this incident,’ and ‘work on the game will continue as planned,’ reads a statement.

If the code has been sifted, any potential release in the future could be subject to further hacks and exploits. Hopefully, game companies will be more aware of security and can safeguard the games we’re excited to play in the future.