Last weekend, Rockstar fell victim to an unprecedented leak: 90 videos of Grand Theft Auto 6 gameplay in development were published online after a hacker “illegally opened and downloaded confidential information from [Rockstar’s] systems,” the company said.
The leak is already one of the most drastic in gaming history for several reasons, including the value of its intended project: Grand Theft Auto 6 is the sequel to the highest-grossing entertainment release of all time. For many, the leak is a fun, unexpected look at one of the most anticipated video games of all time. However, for Rockstar, Take-Two and their investors, the hack and subsequent leak are unexpected, potentially expensive roadblocks that threaten development plans for a multi-billion dollar product.
Every IGN Grand Theft Auto Review
The leak had immediate repercussions for publisher Take-Two, whose stock fell by more than 6% after the leak, though the lasting effects will only become apparent over time. Rockstar says development is “moving forward as planned”, but only time will tell how the impact on team morale and/or development practices will ultimately affect GTA 6.
After the Rockstar hack, we compiled a list of five other major leaks that resulted from a third-party break-in (hack, theft, etc.). Less nefarious leaks — like Walmart Canada’s E3 2018 blowout or GeoForce Now’s datamine — aren’t included. (You can find a list of such leaks in our Most Notorious Leaks in Video Game History story.)
Source code Half-Life 2
In September 2003, the source code of Half-Life 2, then one of the most anticipated upcoming games, was stolen from Valve’s internal network. The hacker, a German man named Axel Gembe, allegedly shared the code with another person, who then uploaded it online, according to Gembe’s story of the events with Ars Technica.
Unlike other hackers you will read about in this list, Gembe claims that his motivation was not financial. He was previously a Half-Life fan curious about the progress of the sequel’s development. Despite his intentions, the actions were criminal and Gembe was arrested after falling for a clever uproar orchestrated by the FBI and Valve. After confessing his crimes to Valve’s Gabe Newell, Gembe sent a follow-up email requesting a job. Valve and the FBI took that opportunity to set a trap and convince Gembe to explain his crime in detail during an “interview.”
Gembe eventually admitted his crime in court and was sentenced to two years’ probation. Half-Life 2 was due to be released in late 2004 to critical and commercial success. It may have worked out for Valve, but according to Gembe’s recollection of events, German police told him he was responsible for “more than $250 million in damage”.
Every IGN Valve Game Review
The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 source code
In February 2021, CD Projekt fell victim to a ransomware attack. The hackers had access to the company’s internal servers and reportedly extracted source codes for The Witcher 3, Cyberpunk 2077, Gwent, and “an unreleased version of Witcher 3,” in addition to accounting and administrative documents.
CD Projekt split the ransom note Twitter, who said the company had 48 hours to respond to protect its data. The company refused to negotiate with the hacker(s), and the source codes were reportedly sold days later. According to GamesIndustry, the hackers auctioned off the material with a starting bid of $1 million USD and an immediate purchase price of $7 million, though it eventually accepted an outside bid for an undisclosed amount.
In June 2021, CD Projekt acknowledged that the stolen data was distributed online, adding that it may contain “current/former employees and contract details in addition to data related 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.
Upcoming games from Capcom
In November 2020, Capcom faced a ransomware attack that resulted in the destruction and encryption of data on Capcom’s servers and then the publication of the tentative release schedule until 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 that the hackers had left a ransom note, although “there was no mention of a ransom amount”. The company said it “has taken no steps” to contact the hacker(s). (A report from Bleeping Computer (via VGC) claims that the hacking group stole 1TB of data and demanded a ransom of $11 million in Bitcoin.)
Capcom said it is working with law enforcement in Japan and the US. While those investigations have not yet been completed, according to VGC, Capcom completed its own internal investigation in April 2021. That investigation found that more than 15,000 accounts were definitely hacked, although the hack could have affected up to 390,000 people.
In addition to security costs and incalculable damage to its future projects, Capcom became the subject of an unexpected lawsuit after the hack. According to the BBC, photographer Judy Juracek took legal action against Capcom for alleged copyright infringement after “at least one” of her artwork appeared in the leaked Capcom files. Juracek claimed $12 million in damages, although the case was “amicably resolved” out of court, according to Polygon.
In 2020, Nintendo was the victim of a massive hack, in which more than 2TB of data was reportedly stolen. Popularly known as the “Nintendo Gigaleak”, the leak contained information about canceled games, prototypes, source codes, development tools, internal communications, and more. It’s a leak like no other, with fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpses into Nintendo’s secret development processes.
The leaked material stretches from the SNES through the 3DS eras. Among the most notable discoveries was 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.
Since this leak involved Nintendo’s legacy catalog and consoles, rather than current or upcoming releases, it’s more difficult to measure the impact on Nintendo. However, during a conversation with investors in 2022, Nintendo appeared to confirm that the leak led to increased security measures, which almost certainly came at a cost.
Frostbite Engine and FIFA 21 source code
In June 2021, hackers broke into 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 of the hackers told Vice they had sent a message to IT support from there 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 very unique piece of property that EA has good reason to keep a secret; it’s invaluable as a blueprint for competitor game engine makers and a resource for cheat makers, especially those who create cheats for Frostbite’s online Battlefield shooters.
What do you think is the biggest theft or hack over the years? Let’s discuss in the comments.