The GTA Leaks Could Change Everything, But They Won’t

As I’m sure you’re aware, GTA 6 leaked over the weekend. For some reason, it took Rockstar over 24 hours to confirm and then begin to take down the leaks, by which point anyone who wanted to had already seen them, either through downloading them personally or just looking on social media. Now that the dust has settled on GTA’s leaks though, it’s worth looking at how things could change from all this and, more importantly, how things probably won’t.

The scale of these leaks is unprecedented. Usually when things leak, it’s often just a YouTuber breaking their embargo to act like a big shot. It’s often stuff journalists know but have agreed not to report on, then when a YouTuber ‘breaks the story’ they become a bastion of good reporting, before going back to their usual content of reading out someone else’s work on camera. We saw this happen recently. These leaks are annoying for devs, sure, but it’s info they were just about to make public anyway. TheRealInsider’s downfall was telling us the Assassin’s Creed names three days before Ubisoft planned to tell everyone.

If leaks ever are journo side, it’s usually “this game will/won’t be in today’s Nintendo Direct”, or “this game has been delayed”. The big leaks, such as gameplay footage and the like, are almost always either from influencers or closed alpha/beta tests. It feels like journalists and YouTubers are positioned against each other, but we don’t need to be. There are a lot of great content creators doing fantastic work in a space that allows for unique and personal media. But there’s also a bunch of people who claim to be the ‘real’ journalists, sitting in gifted Cyberpunk 2077 chairs and sipping from gifted Destiny water bottles while calling us shills, using our reporting as their content. The ‘leakers’, who are really just embargo breakers, are almost exclusively in this latter camp.

The GTA leaks did not come from this of course, but instead a bona fide hack. Still, it’s important to remember the environment leaks swirl around in. Likewise, there’s the harassment to consider. The antidote to leaks is not to be tighter with your security, but to be more open.

There’s definitely a sense of entitlement in gaming. Players think we’re owed a look at GTA by now, and if these glimpses aren’t up to their satisfaction they will make their thoughts known, often directly to the devs. Other developers from other studios have pointed out this is why gaming needs such secrecy, and hey, I’m sure they know their business. Journalists also get harassment and death threats, so I can understand how annoying, perhaps even insulting, it is for an interloper like me to comment on the issue. But Skate and Dead Space have shown us the healthy way devs can communicate with players on their own terms with glimpses at games still deep into development.

Even with its trousers pulled down before the world, Rockstar is keeping tight lipped. Though it (eventually) confirmed the leak, it used ‘the next GTA’ repeatedly, distancing itself from even confirming a title. And for all those suggestions that the game faces a million year delay or that the vengeance of Lucifer has been unleashed, it was a fairly mild tweet that development continues as planned. Is that Rockstar merely being secretive and covering things up? That sure would suggest the company hasn’t learned its lesson, right? Side note: wanting a mega billion corp to throw an individual in jail for showing you a toy being made is deranged behaviour.

Gaming is married to these huge reveals and bombastic trailers, but film is more transparent. Films, especially blockbuster Marvel movies, keep a lot of things under wraps, but we frequently see actors in mocap suits set against green screens, and no one is put off the final product. The most press Barbie has gotten was when Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were rollerblading on location in Santa Monica. Film is becoming more secretive, but gaming seems to be going the other way and becoming more open.

Of course, it’s not that open. While it’s probably fair to mock the extremely angry and misguided takes on how GTA looks, it’s not their fault they don’t know what they’re talking about. Nobody wants to tell them. Part of the harassment issue is, sure, people are just bastards. But a non-zero part of the issue is that devs are sworn to secrecy and nobody has any idea how any of it happens. Even after launch, all we get is specific anecdotes we don’t really understand. ‘At one point in development, every time you shot a gun your shirt would change colour! Isn’t that funny?’ Um, sure I guess. Any explanation why, or how you fixed it, or how a gun even fires? Oh, wait, you’re gone.

Live-service games deal with this in a unique way too. Most games are made then sold. Live-service games are constantly being made even as we play them. Destiny holds its weekly TWAB, but various peeks under the hood down the years have resulted in toxic backlash. Meanwhile, the most recent season of Apex Legends is the first one not to have leaked in a long time, suggesting something behind the scenes has changed in order to maintain more secrecy.

This is a complex issue. My overall take is that it’s good to see the sausage get made, and some press and fans are being a little too defensive of Rockstar over this. Leaking, when it means getting something directly via NDA then sharing it for clout, is cut-and-dried bad. It’s a selfish, short-term thinking strategy that just makes access harder for everyone. Leaking, when it means outsmarting the most secretive company in the world and revealing so much footage, is a little blurrier. We’re encouraged to give GTA a pass for its morals and sexism/transphobia/racism/the list goes on, and to admire it on a purely technical level. Well, on purely a technical level, this leak is magnificent. Gaming is embracing sharing development footage a little bit more, but until we get there, there’s no way to stamp out leaks. In fact, with the increased emphasis on including non-journalistic content creators in press briefings, it will only get worse.

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