The gaming world is losing its marbles over the recent drop of internal data from Rockstar Games on Grand Theft Auto 6. A hacker going by the name “Tea Pot” managed to get their hands on an unfinished build of the most hyped game of the generation. It got us thinking about other times that game studios have sprung a leak. Developers typically try to keep a tight grip on information to control their marketing cycle, but sneaky spies and hardcore hackers always seem to find a way in. Here are 10 leaks that dramatically shook the gaming world.
1. The Last Of Us 2
It was apparent very quickly that The Last Of Us was going to be an important franchise player for Sony, so a sequel felt inevitable. But when a culprit leaked major plot details from TLOU 2 in May of 2020, it shook the industry to its core. The rich, compelling plot is one of the game’s biggest selling points, so to have all of that spoiled—complete with video clips to back up the shocking twists—was a big deal. The identity of the leaker was never released publicly, and although there was some fan backlash The Last Of Us 2 was a massive critical and commercial success, so no real harm was done.
2. GeForce Now
The distribution chain for games opens up lots of possibilities for information to reach the public too early. One of the most massive examples came from Nvidia’s GeForce Now cloud gaming service. In September of 2021, a developer from Ukraine managed to access the service’s database backend and discovered a huge list of upcoming games—many of which hadn’t been announced to the public at all. Some of the most notable included Kingdom Hearts IV, Crysis 4, and Street Fighter 6. Sheerly by volume, this is one of the most impactful leaks of all time, affecting dozens of companies and still being proven right over a year later.
3. Fallout 4
Modern game development contains hundreds of moving parts that need to be coordinated, and it’s hard to keep a secret under those conditions. So even though Bethesda was trying to play things close to the vest with the hotly-anticipated Fallout 4, it didn’t take long for people to get ahold of some stuff. Jason Schrier at Kotaku obtained and published casting documents from an unidentified source that confirmed the game would be set in Boston and the player character would be voice-acted for the first time. Fans were excited, but Bethesda wasn’t too happy, immediately blacklisting Kotaku from its coverage and refusing to answer questions or provide review copies of any of its future games.
4. Mass Effect 3
Sometimes leaks aren’t the result of a malevolent conspiracy but rather just human error. In November of 2011, someone at Microsoft took a beta build of Mass Effect 3 that was intended for internal testing and just…uploaded it to Xbox Live for anybody to download and play. Needless to say, fans freaked out, especially because the game saw some big changes. Most notable was the inclusion of three separate modes—Action, Story, and RPG—that let players choose what kind of experience was most compelling to them. BioWare actually made lemonade from these lemons, as player feedback to the unfinished game was used to further refine it before release.
5. Half-Life 2
It’s easy to forget that before Valve was a massively dominant force in digital games distribution, it was just a humble developer studio making one of the most anticipated first-person shooters of all time. In September of 2003, it was preparing for Half-Life 2’s Christmas release when German hacker Axel Gembe infiltrated the company’s internal network and leaked the game’s beta code to the public, revealing that it was still not nearly close to completion four days before the game was scheduled to ship. Valve noticed immediately and went into damage control mode. It ended up delaying the game to November of next year, a move that was estimated to cost the company $250 million. Gembe was arrested in a sting operation in 2004 and sentenced to four years probation.
6. Super Smash Bros.
The Entertainment Software Review Board is a monolithically powerful group that, under strict secrecy, evaluates and rates games so parents know what’s appropriate for their children. But even the ESRB is fallible, and in August of 2014, shortly before the release of Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS, a 4chan poster showed just how much. A series of images showed the complete roster for the game, including unrevealed characters, the stage select screen, and more. The smoking gun? Player 1’s name was “ESRB0083.” It’s still unknown how the Smash info made its way into the wild, but doubters were quickly silenced when the finished game matched up almost exactly to the leaked materials.
In November of 2020, a hacking group using the Ragnar Locker ransomware revealed that it had gained access to Capcom’s internal development servers and made off with over a terabyte of source code for some of the company’s most notable games, including several unreleased Resident Evil titles. The group demanded $11 million to unencrypt the data it left behind, but Capcom did not pay and it wasn’t long before people all over the internet were picking through design documents, development builds, and more from across the company’s history. The malware was able to gain access through an outdated VPN server that was working as a backup unit while the company upgraded its network.
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8. Nintendo Gigaleak
Getting a peek behind the scenes at Nintendo has been a gamer’s dream for decades, but when an anonymous 4Chan user dumped a massive trove of data in 2020 it was a nightmare for the company. This data wasn’t just upcoming games—it also featured source code for Nintendo consoles and even unreleased prototypes of games like Star Fox 2. The data was doled out over 10 individual releases of over 3GB, but some estimate that over 2TB of information was actually gathered from the company. The release was a huge boon for historians, emulator developers, and other Nintendo fans.
9. Cyberpunk 2077
Cd Projekt RED’s futuristic role-playing game was…a bit of a mess at launch, but things were looking up for the game after a few solid patches. And then the unthinkable happened when a hacker managed to penetrate their network and snag copies of the game’s source code along with a bunch of other projects. The perpetrator tried to auction it off on the dark web, but before long the Cyberpunk 2077 source code had been released. Hacking group HelloKitty claimed responsibility for the move and threatened the developer with the release of other internal information if a ransom was not paid.
10. Gears of War 3
Before Fortnite, Gears of War was Epic’s big money maker, and expectations were high for the release of the third installment in 2011. But in July of that year, just a few months before the game was to be released, an unfinished build popped up on torrent sites and was widely downloaded and streamed. And that build…was pretty bad. Speculation was that the build was stolen from the developers at E3 that year, and Epic quickly swooped in to say that it didn’t represent the current state of the game.
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