The leaky faucet gets the wrench
For those of you not already in the know (read: weren't glued to your computer screens watching it for yourself) parts of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare were leaked via Twitch exactly one week before the game was set to launch. While Activision promptly nuked the offending stream, the damage had been done, and Sledgehammer Games co-founder Glen Schofield is not happy about it. "We took 3 years 2 make a game," Schofield tweeted regarding the leak. "Kept it quiet 4 the fans & it has to be stolen & leaked a week b4. That sucks. A real bummer. Thanks a lot." Man, I didn't even watch it and I still feel bad.
Now that Advanced Warfare has released for real, it's got me wondering about other massive game leaks throughout history. From illegally distributed material, to broken NDAs, to companies doing it to themselves, research shows that gaming's leaky past runs the gamut from sad to weird to completely hilarious. It'd be wrong to keep all this info to myself, so here you'll find the biggest leaks in gaming history, broken down into bite-sized, slide-shaped chunks.
Far Cry 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction
With Far Cry 4 on a countdown to release, and rumors flying about the release of Splinter Cell 7, it's easy to forget the days when Far Cry 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction were the new hotness. Has it really been seven years since those games were officially announced? And eight years since the surprise was blown when data about their development was leaked? Man, that takes me back.
Much of the data contained in the 2GB rar file stolen from Ubisoft servers in late 2006 was concept art, making this leak seem pretty tame. However, it was all about the timing. While some of the games featured in the stolen material had already been announced, like Assassin's Creed, the company had said virtually nothing about Far Cry 2 or Conviction. I'm willing to bet there was some stress ball testing at Ubisoft that week.
StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm
Talk about ruining the surprise. In 2010, a good two years before StarCraft 2: Heart of the Swarm was set for release, its ending cinematic was leaked and spread across the internet. Massive spoilers hitting the web on release day? So 2008.
Granted, this was the previsualization version, so it still looked pretty janky, with no lip movements and alien hair that stuck straight out in every direction. Still, the voice acting and story concept were there, and it was watermarked by a production company that listed Blizzard as a client. Then cease and desist letters starting rolling out, which sealed the deal for any skeptics. Fans merrily tore into it for a perceived nonsensical plot and (get your forehead-slapping hand ready) bad graphics. Some claimed that Blizzard would certainly change it the story as a result of the leak, but when day came in 2012 the final version of that same ending stared right back from computer screens everywhere. Joke's on you, self-spoilers.
Project Trico (aka The Last Guardian)
As well-loved as Team Ico and its colossal projects are, it's no surprise some fans went nuts when a job listing on Sony Japan's corporate site hinted the developer's next game was well underway. What is a surprise is that none of them stole the game's special announcement trailer from Sony's servers and put it online for the whole world to see. Sony did that itself back in 2009, leaking the trailer on its PlayStation LifeStyle blog. Err, oops?
The catalyst for this one is hard to determine. SCE President Shuhei Yoshida suggested a rogue agent was responsible in an interview with Edge following the incident, and yet the leaky post is still up with no sign of going anywhere. Some have even speculated this was an intentional publicity stunt made to look like a leak. But there were already plans for the game to be revealed one month later at E3 and... ow. Sorry, my head hurts all of a sudden.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Sony isn't the only publisher who's gotten clumsy with their material and had to deal with the inevitable. After the first four characters for Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 were announced at ComicCon 2011, fans flooded the Capcom website in search of more information. Unfortunately, Capcom had made one big error: they hosted image files for all of the game's characters on their server and titled them according to their names. So if you clicked on an image of Strider and replaced his name with Dr. Strange in the URL? You could pull up a picture of a character that hadn't be announced yet. Womp womp.
This culminated in the entire roster hitting NeoGAF and and GameFAQs within hours of the initial announcement, which must be a game leak world record. For their part, Capcom copped to the screw up, saying, "We are very happy with the positive response to the lineup [and] will have a ton of info, videos, screens and playable code in the coming months. Stay tuned!" Classy stuff.
Super Smash Bros for 3DS / Wii U
In contrast to the previous two leaks which were brought about by hilarious gaffs at the production level, some come about despite a publisher's most iron-fisted efforts. See Super Smash Bros 3DS / Wii U. Smash Bros rosters have traditionally been more heavily guarded than some national security secrets, and deliberately spooned out over the course of several years. But then, images of three unannounced characters from the latest versions exploded onto the internet all at once, possibly taken from a source outside Nintendo.
While the source of the leak was never revealed, some speculate that a tricksy individual at the ESRB is to blame, since the player name "ESRB0083" appears in more than one of the images. However, no other proof exists to back up the claim (further confused by the fact that ESRB raters don't actually play the games they evaluate), and Nintendo stamped the leaks out too quickly for any further information to emerge. Still, you can probably bet that whoever's responsible got their just desserts. No one crosses Nintendo.
If Nintendo's reaction to the Super Smash Bros leak was a calm but decisive, the response to Doom 3's leak was a virtual witchhunt. At least, according to the fossils of coverage that remain. A whopping twelve years ago (that's, like 1000 in tech years), the Doom 3 demo showcased at E3 2002 was leaked, giving giddy downloaders the world over access to the game's intro sequence and three early levels.
While there's no official word on where the leak came from, British tech tabloid The Inquirer reported that developer id Software tracked the demo's unique watermark to ATI Technologies. Their source? A user from an unnamed IRC channel called Xian who was actually id employee Christian Antkow, possibly, maybe. The Inquirier also claimed to have access to a leaked company memo wherein id founder John Carmack blamed ATI for the whole incident. Or maybe he didn't do that at all and the whole thing was a hoax. We must dig deeper.
Modern Warfare 3
Turns out Sledgehammer Games is no stranger to leaks of the Call of Duty persuasion. The developer was on the ground floor in May 2011 when Kotaku went no-holds-barred and dropped a mountain of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 info into the internet's lap. Compiled from "multiple sources", the leak provided heavily guarded concept art, gameplay details, audio files, and a blow-by-blow story breakdown of exactly where the single player campaign was going to go. Six months before the game came out. Ouch.
It took about five seconds for the game's devs and publisher to kick into crisis mode. Steering into the skid, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg stated that "Our launch just started." This led to the company jumpstarting advertising efforts, rapidfire releasing four gameplay trailers that revealed the game's locations, followed by a blitz of info over the course of the following weeks. This quick response ultimately saved the game's PR campaign. Modern Warfare 3 has made the company over a billion dollars (which is not hyperbole), and Hirshberg is now asked to give talks on crisis management in business. Well that went better than expected.
The Halo franchise
Halo is no stranger to leaks. Every title in the franchise since Halo 2 has sprung one to some degree, with full pirated versions appearing well before retail release. Heck, the upcoming Master Chief Collection was effectively announced through a leak, and tidbits about Halo 5 have already been thrown to the gaming winds. This series is a study in how keeping a game under wraps can go wrong, and apparently, there's a lot, lot, lot of ways.
It's suspected, for instance, that a copy of Halo 2 was stolen from a European manufacturing plant and uploaded to the internet, making it available three weeks before release. Halo 3 was available a week early due to some stores in the UK selling copies too soon, which French stores countered the following year by releasing Halo ODST a month ahead of schedule. Halo: Reach and Halo 4 take the prize for the most nefarious leaks, the first attributed to stolen codes and the second remaining a mystery. It seems there's one fight that Halo might never finish.
The infamous Half-Life 2 leak (wherein the game's source code was stolen a month before its announced release date) is pretty freaking memorable. Not just because it delayed a highly anticipated title, but because it was so damn bizarre. How else would you describe a theft where you can pinpoint the person behind it because he showed up later, apologized for doing it, and asked for a job?
Unlike most game leaks, the Half-Life leak can be traced back to a known inidividual: German hacker Axel Gembe. After breaking into Valve's servers and making off with their biggest project (supposedly out of sheer enthusiasm), Gembe claims he never intended to release it, but trusted someone else a little too much with its safety. Don't you hate it when that happens? He then approached Valve to apologize and ask for a job as a security consultant, at which point the German government promptly intervened and arrested him. Well, at least he said sorry.
When life gives you leaks...
And there you have it: all the unfortunate, stupid, silly and hilarious things that caused gaming's greatest leaks. Did you catch any of these leaks springing? Not counting Super Smash because that's cheating? Did you indulge in any of the ill-gotten gain? Tell us in the comments below!
Want more on the hottest video game leaks? How about some great hacks? Life hacks that is! Or maybe you'd like to know how Assassin's Creed Unity was a great example of how to handle leaks. Perfect! No need to thank me.