Not long ago, I was thinking about leaks and how silly they are. Just this past few months alone, so many games have been leaked, with many of them falling victim to their own early-shipped marketing materials. I argued that the leaks are largely the fault of the publishers, whose collective, stubborn drive for secrecy at all costs is not sustainable. Now we have another example.
This month, just ahead of E3, Witcher developer CD Projekt Red has been the alleged subject of a huge leak of content directly related to Cyberpunk 2077. This is a game that was announced years ago and has likely gone through many stages of development since. The Witcher 3 was much more of a success than expected as well, likely having an effect on the whole situation.
Somebody got a hold of who knows how much Cyberpunk 2077 information. Instead of just tossing it out in the wild or keeping it to themselves, the unnamed party has instead opted to threaten CD Projekt Red and hold the information at ransom. CD Projekt Red released a statement in response stating the company has no interest in bowing to the demands and that the information in the supposed leak is outdated and unreliable anyway. Instead, look for the developer to release reliable information in official capacity.
But what if that information isn't bad or entirely out of date and CD Projekt Red is merely offering a corporate-style response to draw down the heat and attention? There's no way of knowing for now, but this situation opens up some questions. How did a leak on such an ostensibly large scale happen? What can developers do to fight them, and should they even bother? What role does the non-developer gaming population have in all this?
I would like to reiterate, without victim-blaming the assuredly nice folks at CD Projekt Red for this particular instance, that more transparency in the industry would curb a lot of this bubbling frenzy for innocuous information. Just look at Hollywood and other forms of media. Secrets like “X game exists and is being made” do not last long, because these things are announced well ahead of time and people just know to chill out until they’re available. Just look at things like Marvel movies. The entire slate of releases for the next several years has been publicly, officially available for some time.
Just because some of the industry suffers from wrongheaded business practices doesn't mean situations like breaking into a company’s data mechanisms and holding their intellectual properties ransom is okay. We, as consumers, also need to chill out whether or not a video game has a release date. That's just silly. Sometimes I think about how nuts people go over relatively meaningless information like release dates or a game going gold. These types of announcements are foregone conclusions. Of course a game being worked on my a AAA studio is going to get finished eventually unless something drastic happens - that would be the real news.
Granted, these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. Publishers withhold information and encourage uncritical, unthinking hype to build pre-order numbers. We buy into it every single time, despite whatever the controversy of the week is. Then we swear off the company and the cycle starts over with the next big sequel announcement.
So what can be done? Companies can be more transparent and less secretive about ongoing projects. They can also ease back a bit on things like building brands around people who build their identities around things they buy. They can also divert resources away from lavish marketing and other wasteful endeavors like DRM, and push more cyber security like any other current company needs to put more effort into.
Conversely, gamers need to chill out and find other ways to be excited about and celebrate games. Screaming, scratching, and clawing over bread crumbs dropped in front of you by PR folks is a bad look. Be critical, but not over junk like frame rates and review scores. Deepen the conversations; be willing to talk about games for longer instead of jumping to new things every week and making content more disposable. Don't fall for marketing and buzzwords!
We live in a weird world right now, both inside and outside of video games. People on the ground are more and more capable, thanks to things like cloud data and the barrier of entry into technology shrinking. At the same time, video game marketing has never been more powerful and successfully influential. It's no surprise that these things all intertwine and get out of control, resulting in leaks that don't matter, or leaks that involve an attempted ransom situation. Ultimately we all need to figure out what's important, and what hills not to die on.