This is art from GTA Online, not GTA 6. (Image credit: Rockstar)

In the two decades plus I’ve covered gaming, I’m not sure I can recall a leak more startling than this weekend’s dump of 90 videos from a test build of GTA 6. You could make a case for the Half-Life 2 source code leak in 2003, which Valve considered damaging to the tune of $250 million, but I’m not sure much else comes close. In that instance the affect on morale at Valve (though ultimately not the game’s critical or commercial reception) was well-documented, so we can imagine how aggrieved Rockstar’s developers must be feeling at seeing their unvarnished work stolen and shared. 

Though nothing new for the games industry, and increasingly the wider entertainment media now that everything is digital, working from home and the proliferation of productivity software during the pandemic has surely only increased the risks. What do we make of it all? Here the PC Gamer team chat about how leaks have increasingly become part of fan culture, the likely impact on what’s currently the biggest game in development, and whether we should all try to avert our eyes. 

“I feel bad but I can’t help myself either” 

I have never made a game, and never will, but am sure it’s a diabolical experience to see your work in progress pored over. Christ knows I wouldn’t want an unfinished draft of anything I’ve written in the wild, and the stakes are several billion lower. Keeping this selfishly about me, the thing leak culture reminds me is how little self control I have. Recently, when all sorts of info about Destiny 2’s next big expansion popped up, I knew what I’d get: Some low res screenshots, garbled info about what was going on, and in that case also some looped videos showing preliminary UI elements. Was I better off knowing this stuff? Eh, probably not, but I’m many thousands of hours deep into the game and the thirst for anything new is unslakable. 

Evan and I talked about this in the morning meeting, and part of the problem stems from the fact that gamer culture has completely ingrained the idea that information is parceled out to us in small portions to build excitement. It’s no surprise that when cheese from an illicit source drops into the Skinner Box the inhabitants gobble it down the same. —Tim Clark, Brand Director 

“No other medium does this” 

Moments like this call attention to the fact that only video games are marketed as a drip-feed of information in slow procession. No other medium does this. In films and TV, you get a trailer, perhaps two, along with some celebrity interviews and talk-show appearances right before release. Compare that to For Honor, a run-of-the-mill game from a major publisher, which had at least 60 trailers wrung from it, and dozens of news stories from publications like ours. Studios need us to consume games information incrementally because it grants them a long set of opportunities to draw interest. That long tradition of trickling out information itself helps create the appetite for leaks. —Evan Lahti, Global Editor-in-Chief 

“All software is a small miracle” 

Naïve of me, maybe, to hope for the internet at large to empathize with something instead of thoughtlessly critique it, but I have seen a fair number of YouTube and Reddit commenters genuinely intrigued by this massive peek behind the curtain. Most players don’t fully understand how iterative game development is, so the granularity of debugging tools and test cases shown in these clips will be a revelation. Every piece of software we use, be it entertainment, banking, or medical, is all held together by hope and shoestrings. I’m reminded of Double Fine (intentionally) releasing a reel of their bug triaging meetings recently and, having been in bug triage myself, found it endearing to see developers laugh and sigh together before marking something “known shippable.”

A leak like this is painfully different from developers willingly curating a goof reel of bugs, but I hope players find it equally humanizing. —Lauren Morton, Associate Editor 

“Even GTA 6 leaks are boring” 

I’m largely in the leaks are boring camp. I really don’t like the culture that’s built up around extracting any and all details about games years before they’re real (often shared with the goal of chasing clout). Not only can they mislead or distort our expectations of games, but what actually leaks is so often uninteresting. A trailer and game name two days before it was going to be announced anyway? Cool.

In watching the ongoing arms race to be the top leaker, I’ve started to routinely ignore “breaking” leaks of vague release dates or planned features. Then, once in a blue moon, a major leak comes along from some random forum poster that’s way too intriguing to ignore. I watched the GTA 6 footage as soon as I could. I should have expected that it wouldn’t be all that interesting. I now know that you can rob diners and drive cars in GTA 6. —Morgan Park, Staff Writer 

“Patience is a virtue” 

The existence of an audience to drive these big leaks is concerning to me. I think it speaks to having an unhealthy, fandomy, always-on obsession with media properties, and I would recommend chilling out and being normal about it instead. Whether I hear about the next Mass Effect game tomorrow or in five years’ time makes no difference to me, because I am a modern warrior monk with diversified interests and hobbies. Would life really be so much worse if, instead of this leak, our first look at GTA 6 was a cinematic trailer released six months from now featuring a flyover of the in-game Everglades with a voiceover talking about the American Dream? —Ted Litchfield, Associate Editor 

“It won’t affect how I view the game”

I’m actually way less leery of a leaked game trailer or footage that was never meant to be public than I am the official trailers for movies I’m excited to see. Game leaks usually just give me a tiny peek into how a game was made, but they can’t possibly replicate the experience of actually playing. Movie trailers too often show off every setpiece or majorly foreshadow plot twists. I feel for the developers who want their games to be shown in the best light, but I don’t think some leaked pictures or videos do much to dampen the excitement of playing it, in the end. —Wes Fenlon, Senior Editor 

“This sucks for literally everyone” 

This leak sucks for everyone involved. I feel bad for Rockstar because no one wants their unfinished work shown to the world. Most of the leaked footage is debug sessions, animation tests, and other odds and ends that don’t shed any light on the story, characters, or even give much detail about the world or new things you can do in it, so from a spoiler perspective it’s not even that interesting. It looks like GTA, and I don’t think anyone was expecting GTA to not look like GTA. There’s guns and cops and cars and stuff. We could have guessed.

And this hacker is definitely going to get caught and go to prison. When they let hackers out of prison, don’t they have conditions to their parole, like you can’t touch a computer for the next 10 years or you immediately go back to prison? How was releasing footage from an unfinished videogame worth going to prison and being banned from the thing you’re good at for a decade. Rockstar is unhappy, fans didn’t even learn much, and the hacker blew up their own life. What a waste, for everyone.—Chris Livingston, Features Producer