This past weekend Rockstar was the victim of an unprecedented leak: 90 videos of in-development Grand Theft Auto 6 gameplay were published online after a hacker “illegally accessed and downloaded confidential information from [Rockstar’s] systems,” according to the company.
The leak already sits among the most consequential in gaming history for several reasons, chief among them the value of the targeted project: Grand Theft Auto 6 is the follow-up to the most profitable entertainment release of all time. For many, the leak is a fun, unexpected peek at one of the most anticipated video games of all time. To Rockstar, Take-Two, and their investors, however, the hack and subsequent leak are unexpected, potentially expensive roadblocks that threaten the development plans for a product worth billions.
The leak had immediate consequences for publisher Take-Two, whose stock dipped upwards of 6% following the leak, though the lasting effects won’t become clear for some time. Rockstar says development will “continue as planned,” yet only time will tell how the impact on team morale and/or development practices will ultimately affect GTA 6.
Following the Rockstar hack, we’ve assembled a list of five other big leaks that came as a result of a third-party intrusion (hack, theft, etc.). Less nefarious leaks — such as Walmart Canada’s E3 2018 blowout or the GeoForce Now datamine — are not included. (You can find a list of such leaks compiled in our Most Infamous Leaks in Video Game History story.)
Half-Life 2 Source Code
In September 2003, Half-Life 2, then one of the most-anticipated upcoming games, had its source code stolen from Valve’s internal network. The hacker, a German man named Axel Gembe, purportedly shared the code with another individual, who then uploaded it online, according to Gembe’s recounting of the events with Ars Technica.
Unlike other hackers you’ll read about on this list, Gembe claims his motivation wasn’t financial. Rather, he was a Half-Life fan curious about development progress on the sequel. Despite his intentions, the actions were criminal, and Gembe was arrested after falling for a clever rouse orchestrated by the FBI and Valve. After confessing his crimes to Valve’s Gabe Newell, Gembe sent a follow-up e-mail asking for a job. Valve and the FBI took that opportunity to set a trap, convincing Gembe to explain his crime in detail during an “interview.”
Gembe ultimately admitted to his crime in court and was sentenced to two years of probation. Half-Life 2 would be released in late 2004 to critical and commercial success. Things may have worked out for Valve, but according to Gembe’s recollection of events, German police told him he was responsible for “damages in excess of $250 million.”
The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 Source Code
In February 2021, CD Projekt was the victim of a ransomware attack. The hackers accessed the company’s internal servers and reportedly pulled the source codes for The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Gwent, and “an unreleased version of Witcher 3,” in addition to accounting and administration documents.
CD Projekt shared the ransom note on Twitter, which said the company had 48 hours to respond to protect its data. The company refused to negotiate with the hacker(s), and days later, the source codes were reportedly sold. According to GamesIndustry, the hackers put the material to auction with a starting bid of $1 million USD and an immediate purchase price of $7 million, though it ultimately accepted an outside offer for an undisclosed amount.
In June 2021, CD Projekt acknowledged the stolen data was being circulated online, adding it “may include current/former employees and contractor details in addition to data relates to our games.” [sic] CD Projekt said at the time it was working with multiple law enforcement agencies, though there have been no public updates on the investigation in the year-plus since.
Capcom’s Upcoming Games
In November 2020, Capcom suffered a ransomware attack that resulted in the destruction and encryption of data on Capcom’s servers and, subsequently, the publication of its tentative release schedule through March 31, 2025. Among the leaked games were Street Fighter 6, Dragon’s Dogma 2, and Resident Evil 4 Remake — all of which have since been confirmed.
Capcom confirmed the hackers left a ransom note, though “there was no mention of a ransom amount.” The company said it “took no steps” to contact the hacker(s). (A report from Bleeping Computer (via VGC) claims the hacking group stole 1TB worth of data and was demanding a ransom of $11 million in Bitcoin.)
Capcom said it was working with law enforcement in Japan and the U.S. While those investigations have not yet concluded, Capcom completed its own internal investigation in April 2021, according to VGC. That investigation determined over 15,000 accounts had definitely been compromised, though the hack could have affected up to 390,000 people.
In addition to security costs and incalculable damages on its future projects, Capcom became the subject of an unexpected lawsuit following the hack. According to BBC, photographer Judy Juracek took legal action against Capcom alleging copyright infringement after “at least one” of her artworks appeared in the leaked Capcom files. Juracek sought $12 million in damages, though the case was “amicably resolved” outside of court, according to Polygon.
In 2020, Nintendo was the victim of a massive hack, with over 2TB of data reportedly stolen. The leak, known colloquially as the “Nintendo Gigaleak,” included information on canceled games, prototypes, source codes, development tools, internal communication, and more. It’s a leak unlike any other, featuring fascinating behind-the-scenes looks at Nintendo’s secretive development processes.
The leaked material stretches from the SNES through the 3DS eras. Among the most notable discoveries were a character model for Luigi in Super Mario 64, a canceled Pokemon MMO, a Yoshi’s Island prototype, and source code related to the Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Wii consoles.
Considering this leak pertained to Nintendo’s legacy catalog and consoles, rather than current or upcoming releases, it’s harder to measure the impact on Nintendo. However, during a 2022 investor call, Nintendo did seem to confirm the leak led to increased security measures, which all but certainly came at a cost.
Frostbite Engine and FIFA 21 Source Code
In June 2021, hackers breached EA’s systems and reportedly stole 780GB of data, including the source code for both FIFA 21 and DICE’s Frostbite Engine. As reported by Vice, the hackers gained access to EA’s network after buying stolen cookies for $10 and entering an EA channel on the workplace messenger Slack. A representative for the hackers told Vice that, from there, they messaged IT support claiming they needed a new multifactor authentication token after “we lost our phone at a party last night.”
A follow-up report from Vice, details how the hackers began leaking the stolen source code online after failing to extort EA. The Frostbite source code is a particularly unique piece of property that EA has good reason to keep secret; it’s invaluable as both a blueprint for competitor game engine creators and a resource for cheat makers, especially those who create cheats for the Frostbite-created Battlefield online shooters.
What do you think the biggest theft or hack has been over the years? Let’s discuss in the comments.
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Author: Jordan Sirani