Grand Theft Auto 5 data leaks & spoilers: who’s really to blame?

By Brenna Hillier, Tuesday, 27 August 2013 08:03 GMT

GTA 5 has been spoiled and you’re very unhappy abut that, but the fact that anybody cares at all is just more evidence of how important Rockstar’s next open-world epic is, Brenna argues.

Picture the scene. The good ship VG247 hums unceasingly as it traverses the depths of space. The crew are slumbering in their bunks. One lonely figure is on watch, twisting slowly in her chair and playing a lonesome song on her space guitar, her blazing hair silhouetted against a view screen that shows only the black reaches of infinity.

Then: an alarm. Red and purple flashing lights. Klaxons. A robotic voice proclaiming that this is not a drill. The word NEWS in four-foot letters on the monitors. We come tumbling and somersaulting through the air from all directions, landing in action poses, scrambling into our sentai uniforms. “Report, Sailor Steph!” Pat bellows, slamming his hawk-billed visor over his face so only his grim, outlaw-stubbled jaw is visible behind the holographic display of our logo. “What’s the status?”

“Captain. All channels on red alert. Someone has data mined Grand Theft Auto 5’s preload files. There are spoilers all over the Internet. Every blog is reporting it and people on Twitter are very unhappy.”

On either side of Pat, Dave and I slowly lower the keyboards we’ve been flourishing like ninja weapons, poised to deliver analysis, commentary – you name it. There is a moment of silence.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” our grizzled leader sighs. “Go on then, top slot it. Whatever. I’m going back to bed.”

Very few people who work in games media are surprised that GTA 5 has been data mined. Files are ripped out of pre-launch downloads all the time; we just don’t bother to report on it. It’s particularly egregious on home PC formats, because more people are motivated to browse around in their Windows innards than have bothered to learn how to fossick around inside the PlayStation 3, but the Xbox 360 is no stranger to leaked files either.

Publishers and platform holders do their best to keep these assets secure, of course, but it’s a never-ending war of attrition on the side of the millions of people out there with an interest in bypassing safeguards – be it for the intellectual challenge or more nefarious purposes – and the trade off for the convenience of pre-loading is we will occasionally see leaks of this magnitude.

Mostly, we don’t pay any attention because even the very, very small number of people picking apart the files don’t care that they’re doing it. They’re spoiling some aspects of the game for themselves, or perhaps going in search of code or assets for use in or inspiration for personal projects, and while frowned upon it doesn’t really harm anybody. It’s only when whatever they dig up has an element of human interest that things get viral; remember when data miners uncovered a bunch of on-disc DLC in Capcom games? That’s a story, a headline.

The data miners don’t seem to have found or shared anything scandalous, or hugely surprising, this time – just miscellany like the soundtrack, and details pertaining to the story. If you look at it, you will know something about GTA 5 that you would otherwise not have known until you played the game, or some wanker with a lot more free time than you got on Facebook and talked about it openly, earning himself an instant de-friending and probable beer in the face next time I meet him in the pub, Robert.

But Grand Theft Auto 5 is human interest all by itself; there doesn’t need to be a hook. The data-mining of GTA 5’s preload is all over the headlines because Grand Theft Auto is Grand Theft Auto. Nobody cares when B or even most A-list games are data mined. But everybody cares about Grand Theft Auto.

With any other game, we’d be looking at each other sideways and wondering if we didn’t have a lemon on our hands. With Grand Theft Auto 5, we’re not; we know that Rockstar doesn’t have to promote Grand Theft Auto 5. It promotes itself, lumbering along under its own power.

It’s a phenomenon few properties can lay claim to. It takes a real juggernaut to produce stories of this kind. Almost every game – PC or console – makes its way to the wilds of the Internet pre-release, too, but we only report on it when it’s something so hugely anticipated that if we don’t report it people nag us as to why – like Gears of War 3, which in another time was a thing people almost killed themselves with longing for. (Historical perspective really takes the shine off anticipation for the next big release, doesn’t it?)

Grand Theft Auto is one of those rare juggernauts I mentioned; I’d go so far as to say it is the premiere one. Call of Duty may be the industry’s regular best-seller but it doesn’t evoke the kind of scrutiny Grand Theft Auto’s sporadic releases generate. Both in calendar 2013, and in the past 12 months, the second most popular Google search term related to video games was “GTA”. The first was “games”. The third was “game”. GTA ranks among the name of the thing itself. It’s almost biblical.

Rockstar hasn’t actually done much promotion of Grand Theft Auto 5. It’s only released a few trailers, and has barely shown the game to press. It occasionally updates its website, and when it does so, it may email members of the press to alert them to it. Marketing materials haven’t really shown up much and at three weeks out I’m starting to wonder when and if they will. With any other game, we’d be looking at each other sideways and wondering if we didn’t have a lemon on our hands.

With Grand Theft Auto 5, we’re not; we know that Rockstar doesn’t have to promote Grand Theft Auto 5. It promotes itself, lumbering along under its own power, while fans voraciously and greedily vacuum up every little snippet of information – including the spoiler-filled leaked assets that would barely have caused a ripple or a fluttered eyelid had they pertained to almost any other game.

Whoever it was made a stab at Internet fame by leaking GTA 5’s assets knew exactly what they were doing. This was their big break. We don’t know the details of how they got hold of the assets. It’s possible either Sony or Rockstar were lax in securing them. It’s just as likely that the files were secured as well as any other pre-load, and that Grand Theft Auto 5 is simply the victim of its own fame in being singled out for attention. Regardless, if GTA 5 has been spoiled for you because you clicked on a headline, and then on a referral link, and then on another link, and read or viewed materials marked as leaked, it’s maybe time to ask who’s really to blame.

Grand Theft Auto 5 launches on September 17 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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