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Leaks That Changed Gaming Forever

Whoever originally said "patience is a virtue" clearly never told modern audiences. Whenever a new video game is announced (or sometimes even before it is officially announced), audiences try to dig up any information they can find. Usually their searches are fruitless, but every now and then they hit paydirt and find nuggets that have yet to be officially revealed.

Regardless of how internet sleuths gather info, either by illegally hacking into servers or sitting next to developers on airplanes (no, seriously), they are almost always tempted to leak their findings onto the internet. Once these spoilers hit the web, they turn into an epidemic of information as word spreads unabated. No matter how much developers try, almost everything they wanted to keep secret is laid bare, so you might wonder how they deal with the problem once the cat is out of the bag. They could do nothing, or they could rewrite the cat out of existence.

If information leaks early enough, game studios have plenty of time to comb through the spoilers and change in-game assets so they no longer resemble those pillaged secrets. Plot twists are rewritten; characters are redesigned, and level topographies are upheaved. These leaks can also lead to the dissolution of long-standing partnerships. All this and more can happen when a game studio wants to ensure customer enjoyment isn't spoiled by leaks — and here are a few notable examples.

Mass Effect 3

After audiences finished "Mass Effect 2," they eagerly awaited "Mass Effect 3." So imagine their surprise when an early build of the third game leaked onto Xbox Live in 2012. Of course, the leak was accidental, but by the time it was removed, the damage had already been done — especially since hackers had sifted through the code and posted the game's script online (via PC Gamer).

Since the "Mass Effect" games focus heavily on narrative, leaking a game's script before its release is a major kick in the teeth. What's the point of playing a game for the story if you already know what will happen? Seeing how fan feedback can alter an in-development game sounds like a pretty good reason.

When Eurogamer sat down with BioWare co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk to discuss the leak, Muzyka claimed the company listened to gamer reactions regarding the leaked build and would be able to change the gameplay and narrative accordingly. According to game archivists, certain story beats, such as the opening trial of Commander Shepard and the role of the DLC Promethean Javik, were altered between the leak and final release. Unfortunately, the divisive ending of "Mass Effect 3" was not part of the changes.

While BioWare was initially disheartened by the leak, the company eventually saw it as a blessing in disguise. The online narrative dump got people talking about "Mass Effect 3," and in the entertainment world, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Splinter Cell: Conviction

Ubisoft's addiction to the open world formula is a running gag. Once the company found success with "Far Cry 3" and "Assassin's Creed," seemingly every game it published had to squeeze into a similar mold. Ubisoft attempted to do so with "Splinter Cell: Conviction," but reality got in the way.

In 2006, promotional material for "Conviction" leaked onto the internet showing a version of series protagonist Sam Fisher who looked like he had been through the ringer and could blend into crowds "Assassin's Creed"-style. Come 2007, official presentations and trailers demonstrated the leak's legitimacy, as well as the game's focus on open world interactivity. Many gamers were excited, but many more, including outlets such as Eurogamer, had their doubts. Apparently Ubisoft higher-ups sided with the critics.

According to GamesRadar, the 2007 demo illustrated a disconnect between expectations and the game's ability to meet it, especially if "Conviction" was going to hit its original 2007 release date. Moreover, Creative Director Maxime Beland was doubtful his team could deliver a quality title in its current iteration. Perhaps it was stress caused by leak-spurred hype, or perhaps Ubisoft realized it bit off more than it could chew, but in 2008, "Splinter: Cell Conviction" was sent "back to the drawing board" and reemerged in 2010 as a third-person shooter with light stealth elements.

While the exact reasons for Ubisoft's changes are mostly unknown, one could argue that "Conviction" demonstrates the dangers of too much hype, especially when generated prematurely via a leak. If you're worried you can't deliver on your promises — or the wild fantasies of excited gamers — maybe it's time to start from scratch and hope for the best.

Team Fortress 2 & Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Source code is the DNA of a video game; everything is dictated by and bound to the code. If the source code says the player character can't jump, then nothing can make them magically leap like a kangaroo. Normally, getting your hands on a game's source code will only affect your own experience, but imagine what one could accomplish with the source code of a multiplayer game. Whatever you just envisioned is probably more extravagant than reality.

During the summer of 2020, someone leaked the source code of "Team Fortress 2" and "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" onto the internet. At first glance, this might seem like a nothing sandwich, but rumors quickly spread it could turn into a triple-decker malware burger. "TF2" and "CS:GO" players claimed they were being hit with Remote Code Executions — basically, hackers were taking direct control of their computers. While players didn't immediately freak out over the rumors, the fear still clung to the backs of their minds.

You might assume that once news of this leak hit the internet, Valve employees dropped everything they were doing and quickly patched out any potential vulnerabilities, but they actually didn't need to. According to sites such as Eurogamer, the code was from 2017 and had first spilled onto the internet in 2018, so leaked the source code was totally outdated. Valve reassured the "TF2" and "CS:GO" communities that the leak was completely harmless. It's hard to tell if the rumors of exploits/malware had any factual basis, but the scare notably taught many players not to panic whenever they hear source code has been leaked — it might turn out to be nothing.

Half-Life 2

How do you get a job at a big game studio? You could go through the application process — or you could hack into the studio's servers, steal the source code of an in-development game, and then contact them and say you will give the code back in return for a job. On second thought, don't try the latter.

In 2003, German hacker Axel Gembe achieved an otherworldly amount of infamy by stealing the source code for "Half-Life 2" from Valve. However, according to an interview with Ars Technica, Gembe maintains he didn't leak the code onto the internet. Instead, he may have sent it to an unnamed third-party individual who then dumped the code onto the web.

When Valve co-founder Gabe Newell learned of the leaked code, he recruited the aid of the "Half-Life" community, and when that proved fruitless, he contacted the FBI. However, they didn't receive a break in the case until Gembe emailed Newell, admitted his crimes, and asked for a job at Valve in return. Newell agreed to play ball and interview Gembe for a potential position at his company. While Gembe had his doubts, his desire to work for Valve outweighed his paranoia. He should have listened to it, though; the "interview" was actually an FBI sting operation.

Gembe was arrested, but he turned his life around and found a job in IT security, writing code to make sure nobody could pull the same hacking stunt he did. And all it took was the FBI teaming up with a game publisher one of the first times in video game history.


Many gamers would probably love to uncover video game spoilers, post them on the internet, and then yell, "CALLED IT!" when the game releases and their leaks prove true. While not great, nobody gets hurt there, save a developer's pride — and maybe their paycheck. When a leak includes personal information, that's when things can truly get dangerous.

E3 2019 will live on in infamy for a number of reasons, chief among them the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which runs the expo. Freelance journalist Sophia Narwitz discovered that the ESA's E3 website, for some unexplained reason, gave unrestricted public access to a spreadsheet containing the personal information of registered attendees. While journalists for established outlets only provided their company credentials, freelancers weren't so lucky. The ESA unintentionally revealed the home addresses and phone numbers of these journalists for hire. According to Kotaku, several of these journalists received "crank phone calls" after word spread of the leak.

Once the ESA learned of its horrific gaffe, it hunted down and removed all these lists. The company's search even uncovered a cached third-party archive, which was promptly removed. Furthermore, the ESA contracted a cybersecurity firm to update the E3 website with "enhanced and layered security measures" to prevent future doxxings.

Given the ESA leak's severity, those journalists are lucky the worst they had to endure was fear of receiving a call asking if their refrigerators were running. Hopefully, a leak like this won't happen again.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

Video game leaks are a lot like chips: you just can't stop at one. Ergo, once code sleuths stop leaking spoilers for one game, they move onto the next — and since there's always a studio out there developing new games, there's always someone leaking game info.

Well before the release of 2021's entry into the "Call of Duty" franchise, "Call of Duty: Vanguard," some secrets were already floating around the internet — and purportedly affecting the game's development. In fact, the leaks began before the game was properly announced. When the website Modern Warzone broke news of an upcoming installment tentatively titled "Call of Duty WWII: Vanguard" (which has obviously been proven correct, minus the "WWII" part), the outlet also floated a rumor the game would feature "a new fictitious timeline where World War 2 didn't end in 1945."

According to DualShockers writer and noted "Call of Duty" leaker Tom Henderson, the "CoD" community responded to the news with resounding apathy instead of the usual anticipation. When that happened, Henderson claims the devs at Sledgehammer Games listened. Henderson continued and stated that Sledgehammer was "reportedly stepping up development to give fans the best World War II title they could deliver" in response to the criticism and lack of interest.

Sledgehammer Games has yet to admit whether or not the leak caused the team to begin doubling down on development to put its best foot forward. Given Henderson's track record of "Call of Duty" leaks, though, it's certainly plausible.

Doom 3

NDAs are serious business. Whenever a company is contracted to work on a game, its employees are similarly bound to silence. If a rogue element breaks that NDA to leak an early build of the game, their actions can jeopardize the company's future, positive feedback be damned.

In 2002, an alpha version of "Doom 3" leaked onto the internet. The alpha, understandably, barely resembled what would become the final product — its HUD, in-game models, and level layouts were different, and the alpha also included scripted sequences that never made it into the release version. More importantly, the leaked alpha might have ruined id Software's relationship with ATI Technologies.

Id Software's John Carmack was reportedly "upset" at the time of the leak and said it would "have some impact on how [id Software deals] with some companies in the future" (via Eurogamer). As for the company that had upset Carmack and id, The Inquirer pointed fingers directly at ATI Technologies when it came to the leak. Moreover, sites such as Ars Technica posted purported chat sessions from level and sound designer Christian Antkow that seemingly corroborated this rumor. These chats claim that Carmack put ATI on a "s**t list" and refused to deal with the company "until further notice." On the bright side, though, the chats confirmed that audiences liked the illegal alpha preview.

Since AMD (ATI's current parent company) is now supporting iD Software games such as "Doom Eternal" with GPU updates, tempers might have since cooled. However, this leak serves as a warning to all coders: You must keep your NDA-protected project a secret.

EA Source Code

The ugly truth of game leaks is they are usually the result of ill-gotten gains. Somehow, someone snuck into protected servers and made off with data. Sometimes they leak their findings because they want to share their stolen secrets, but other times they leak the information because they are throwing a temper tantrum.

During the summer of 2021, hackers made off with almost 800 GB worth of data from EA's servers, including the source code for games such as "FIFA 21" and "Battlefield 2042." The crown jewel of the pilfered data was EA's proprietary Frostbite engine. Gamers didn't know whether to pity EA or hope the hackers would store random bits of source code into loot boxes and sell them back to the company, one box at a time.

Hackers quickly tried to blackmail EA, but their demands fell on deaf ears. The thieves eventually resorted to unconventional tactics, such as recruiting Vice to pass along a ransom note. When even that failed, the hackers threw up their hands in frustration and just dumped all the data onto the web (via The Record).

According to Kotaku, EA is beefing up its security to prevent future hack-and-dumps. Moreover, the company has been "actively working with law enforcement officials" to get to the bottom of the massive hack. Kotaku also raised a pertinent point: The leak provides a "peek under Frostbite's hood" that might titillate cheat-makers. Will fans begin to see new anti-cheat measures patched into Frostbite-powered games in the near future? Will EA make any changes to "Battlefield 2042?" If so, gamers have this leak to thank.

The Legend of Zelda Netflix series

Few adaptations have escaped the video game movie curse. The four-season "Castlevania" show succeeded where others failed and became a beloved (and genuinely good) show based on a video game. If rumors are true, "The Legend of Zelda" could have received that recognition if someone kept their lips shut. No, not IGN's infamous April Fool's Day "Zelda" trailer — an actual bonafide "Zelda" show.

In 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported that Nintendo was working with Netflix to create a live-action series based on "The Legend of Zelda." Several months before his death, Satoru Iwata told Time Magazine no "Zelda" live-action show was in the works. However, according to comedian Adam Conover, Iwata's claim was a half-truth.

During an interview with The Serf Times, Conover revealed that while working at CollegeHumor, he helped to develop a claymation "Star Fox" pitch (think "Fantastic Mr. Fox," but with spaceships and barrel rolls). Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto even visited the CollegeHumor office to check it out. But, a month after Miyamoto's historic tour, Nintendo pulled the plug. Conover asked his boss what was up, and they claimed someone at Netflix had leaked the existence of a "Zelda" show. As a result, Nintendo went into full panic mode and axed every adaptation based on their properties currently in production, including the "Zelda" and "Star Fox" series.

Had The Wall Street Journal not broken the news of a "Legend of Zelda" show — or had the leaker at Netflix just kept silent — fans could be enjoying five seasons worth of live-action "Legend of Zelda" and three seasons of "Star Fox" claymation goodness by now.