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The GTA 6 leak was one of the biggest ever, and the only winners were the news writers

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Hey, how was your 2022? Probably better than Rockstar’s. The studio became the subject of one of the biggest leaks in videogame history in September, setting the internet ablaze and giving us all our first, unauthorised glimpse of Grand Theft Auto 6. Then again, the company also continued to pull in hundreds of millions of dollars from GTA Online alone, so that probably cushioned the blow a bit.

It was a wild ride. After Rockstar spoke GTA 6 into existence in a February blog post confirming “that active development for the next entry in the Grand Theft Auto series is well underway,” the studio returned to its characteristic silence regarding its future projects. That is, until a brisk day in mid-September saw a load of videos and screenshots of the next game splayed across GTAForums as if the GTA 6 data truck had overturned on the highway. 

Since then, it’s only gotten weirder and bigger. We’re talking about international black-hat hacking networks, a criminal investigation by UK police and the FBI, and the eventual arrest of an alleged teen hacker.

Wait, what happened?

First, let’s lay down the groundwork of what actually took place and what we learned from it. On September 19, a user by the name of teapotuberhacker dumped a treasure trove of GTA 6 materials on the GTAForums fansite. Totalling 90 videos—some lasting seconds, some going on for minutes—the leak seemed irrefutably legit to anyone who got a look at it, and any lingering doubts were put to rest when Rockstar came out and confirmed it had suffered a “network intrusion“.

Teapotuberhacker also claimed to be the culprit behind the September 15 hack of Uber, in which an attacker gained administrative access to Uber’s entire network. Uber said it suspected it had been attacked by someone affiliated with the hacking group Lapsus$, an international hacking group that had previously targeted the likes of Nvidia and Microsoft. Lapsus$ had already been in the news once before in 2022, when a 16 year-old in the UK was accused of being one of its leaders.

So far, so Zero Cool. But rather than a cinematic, Holmes-and-Moriarty-style war of intellects between cops and crooks, the tale arrived at an anticlimax a few days later. The FBI got involved and, in an investigation performed alongside the City of London police, a 17 year-old in Oxfordshire in the UK was arrested mere days after the leak took place. He denied one charge of computer misuse but pleaded guilty to violating a prior set of bail conditions. It’s all been quite quiet since then.

And that’s… pretty much where we are at the end of the year: A teenager in a youth detention centre, myriad videos of a game that won’t see the light of day for years floating around the internet, and the gnawing possibility that someone, somewhere out there, might have access to GTA 5 and 6 source code, which has probably generated no end of sleepless nights for Rockstar technicians.

What did we learn? That GTA 6 will look a lot like GTA 5 (which looked a lot like GTA 4, which… you get the idea). It’ll probably be set in Vice City. There will be crimes, cops will be dispatched to stop the crimes, the action will take place from a third-person perspective, and in the background of it all, NPCs will say zany and outrageous things much as they’ve been doing in GTA games for the last 20 or so years.

Probably the only new thing we did learn is that GTA 6 will likely feature at least two protagonists, one of whom—a Latina woman called Lucia—would be the singleplayer games’ first playable female protagonist since GTA 2 on the Game Boy Colour. 

That’s pretty neat, but I’m not sure it’s go-to-prison neat.

Nobody wins (hi, I’m nobody)

If you’re trying to work out who comes out ahead in all this, which I am for some reason, it’s tempting to point to the fans. After all, the people most excited about GTA 6 got a brief, tantalising look at the game well in advance. What’s not to like?

Well, the fact that it’s an early and ramshackle mess, mostly. Whatever GTA 6 ends up being, it will only vaguely resemble the strange videos—awash in placeholder text and recycled assets—that we saw in September. I’m all for tearing up the absurd obfuscation that surrounds game development: by all means, let fans see what it’s like to make a game from day one, but not like this. Dumping a wealth of contextless early build footage out on the internet is confusing and dispiriting, not educational, and it will only make Rockstar guard its secrets more jealously.

Nor did the hacker(s) win. If the true culprit isn’t the teen picked up by UK police, then it’s probably only a matter of time before they’re caught, and painting a target on your back for international law enforcement in order to reveal to the world that GTA is gonna have a woman in it does not, to me, feel like a particularly glorious act of martyrdom.

But there’s the feeling I can’t shake. you know who got a lot out of this? Me. And videogame news writers everywhere, to be exact. We got gaming history in motion: a rapidly developing and complex story to really sink our teeth into. It became, for a week or two, very easy indeed to choose what story to focus on when I came into work: The one with its own Wikipedia page.

That’s the terrible truth, I’m afraid. Fans didn’t benefit, hackers didn’t benefit, and Rockstar certainly didn’t benefit. But me? I could fling a dart and hit something worth writing about. I sent emails, pored over PDFs, and filled enough Google Docs to constitute a novella. Throughout all of this nonsense, I’m pretty sure that’s the closest anyone came to getting anything positive out of it. So thanks, hackers, I condemn you in the strongest possible terms.

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