On Sunday, a pirate fled over 90 clips of developer Rockstar’s mid-pregnancy heir, prompting a mix of excitement and criticism from fans and outrage from game developers. But in truth, it probably changes the overall trajectory of “GTA VI” very little. It’s just more water for a content mill born out of a secret industry and a social media ecosystem that incites sensationalism and bad faith.
Without a doubt, this was one of the biggest leaks in video game history, although it consisted of images (apparently obtained from Rockstar’s internal Slack messaging system) rather than into stolen source code that could actually delay the finished product, ala the the infamous 2003 leak of Valve’s “Half-Life 2”. However, he was met general wringing of the hands developers and experts from across the industry, who expressed their sympathy for Rockstar to show the unfinished business to the teeming masses. While many fans visibly watched the first footage of player characters escaping the police and exploring a quiet nightclub with indulgent eyes, some expressed outrage at having waited nearly a decade for what they perceived as a sloppy hodgepodge of poor graphics and stiff animations.
For the uninitiated, this may seem like a strange reaction. After all, as Kotaku points out, people don’t look at Hollywood set photos and assume that the background of a finished movie will be all green. But the video game industry — at least, when it comes to big-budget productions that rival Hollywood in scale and cost — has long been obsessed with tightly controlled PR campaigns in the service of numbers. preorder upholstered. Games aren’t usually shown to the public until they’re both gorgeous and spectacular, or their unpolished edges are hidden behind gameplay-less, computer-generated trailers and non-guiding demos for years. . Companies have spent decades insisting on absolute control, keeping employees under NDA and pretend whole games don’t exist just to maintain it.
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This comes up against an inescapable reality: the games really don’t come together until they’re near the finish line. The developers use gray walls and boxes to simulate what will eventually become vast cities or dew-covered forests. Characters T-pose instead of walking, running or flying. Glitches abound. Despite efforts – often by smaller developers – to demystify the unsexy realities of game development, neatly nurtured PR cycles have contributed to the idea that games come out of the oven fully formed. Conversely, if they don’t debut in pristine condition, that must be a sign of trouble.
It’s not helped by the fact that big companies have used the hype to veil half-baked games, most notoriously when CD Projekt Red’s massively anticipated 2020 release “Cyberpunk 2077” launched in a state so unfinished that Sony ended up pulling it temporarily from the PlayStation Store (just one of many consequences).
The low-key approach of major publishers has allowed social media to fill the void. On YouTube and Twitter, as well as many smaller websites that feed off of Google traffic, there’s a whole cottage industry of rumors surrounding games like “GTA VI.” These people have already spent years pretending to be insiders knowing intimate details about the creation of “GTA VI” when in reality most of them are making things up. They regularly post articles and videos that contain fake maps and screenshots, as well as false claims that a release date is fast approaching. Some of them collect millions of views. This has a ripple effect: fans eventually hear so many about “GTA VI” – even though it’s actually a big load of nothing – they assume the game must be almost ready for prime time.
Content creators are incentivized to do this because of the way major platforms are structured: games like “Grand Theft Auto” are hugely popular, meaning people search for them every day and increase content focused on them in the upper echelons of the algorithms. The constant turnover and continued silence from companies means there are few consequences to getting it wrong. Wait a week or two and everyone will forget or move on.
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So-called leaks have become such a mainstay of online video game culture that some have begun to “leak” information even upon receiving it through legitimate means. This week, for example, a leaker who went through “The Real Insider” handle slipped and turned out to be a YouTuber with nearly 200,000 subscribers who had just used another account to notify people of upcoming releases like “Assassin’s Creed Mirage” before publisher-designated press embargoes were in place.
The same social media content mill that sent fans into a frenzy before the leak is enjoying it now. While Rockstar has done its best to remove actual gameplay footage from major platforms, with many YouTube videos sporting sensational titles like “Rockstar Calls GTA 6 Leaker a Liar?!” dissect everything from “GTA VI”‘s graphics to its impact on publisher Take-Two’s stock price (currently $119.98, down 6.16% in the past five days).
It is worth asking who really benefits from this state of affairs. Not the fans, who learn nothing of value until publishers are ready to begin profit-maximizing, sometimes misleading (or until reporters investigate them). Not the individual developers, whose hard work ends up being misunderstood and maligned, which regularly leads to harassment. Recognizing this, some developers at other studios spent the week posting videos of previously released games like Remedy’s “Control” and Microsoft’s “Sea of Thieves” at a time when they were in unflattering states. It was eye-opening to see these multi-million dollar products without animation and with Giant mustachioed pill taking the place of the characters, but it shouldn’t. Every game starts somewhere, after all.
Only big publishers and companies like YouTube reap measurable rewards by honoring their respective ends of this toxic cycle – and even that is debatable. A leak like this isn’t going to sink Rockstar or its parent company, Take-Two, nor will an intentional debunking of Rockstar’s game-making process led by those who make the game. When “GTA VI” releases in several years, it will almost certainly sell tens of millions of copies on name value alone, putting smiles on shareholders’ faces and money in their pockets. It’s also likely to be a stellar video game, if Rockstar’s previous pedigree is to be believed. Fans will likely be sated. The escape will become a distant memory.
With this in mind, what is the point of all this secrecy, of allowing bad faith actors on fatally flawed platforms to dictate the discussion around new games? Why continue to do things this way, other than the fact that this is how the video game industry has always done it?