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The ‘GTA VI’ leak scandal

Released in 2013, Grand Theft Auto V, “GTA V,” was one of the most successful video games ever with more than 170 million copies sold worldwide as of 2022 and an average score of 97 on Metacritic, Rockstar Games’ landmark title has been a major influence on nearly every other open world sandbox game released in its wake. Naturally, fans eagerly awaited a sequel, but it seems that some were eager enough to commit one of the biggest cybercrimes in gaming history.

After nearly a decade of waiting, Rockstar Games announced that the development of the next GTA title was “well underway” back on Feb. 4. However, to the dissatisfaction of many online, Rockstar Games did not share anything else, not even promotional images or a trailer.

Six months later, we finally got more information regarding the game, albeit from a less-than-legal source.

On Sept. 18, the popular message board “GTAForums” and later the image-sharing site “4Chan” were flooded with over 90 clips, assets and even the source code from the still-in-development title, which quickly spread to other social media sites like YouTube and Twitter. The leaker, going by the name “teapotuberhacker” claims to be the same person that hacked the ride-hailing app Uber on Sept. 15.

The leaked footage revealed a lot of interesting information about the game, such as a diner robbery mission, the Miami-inspired setting of “Vice City” and the two playable characters: a man named Jason and a woman named Lucia, the first ever female protagonist in the series. It also showed that “GTA VI” will have an in-game social media mechanic inspired by Facebook and WhatsApp.

Of course, it’s difficult to say if any of these features will make it to the final game as most of it seems to come from an early development version of the game.

In the same day, Take Two Interactive (Rockstar Games’ parent company) began issuing copyright takedown notices on YouTube and Twitter in an effort to contain the leaks from spreading and seemingly proving that the leaks were legitimate. At this point, many online were still skeptical of the videos and believed them to be an elaborate hoax.

On the Sept. 19, the “GTAForums” and the GTA subreddit were both temporarily deactivated, and threads containing links or comments about the leaks were deleted. Also on Sept. 19, Rockstar Games’ Twitter account issued a message confirming the hack and proving the veracity of the leaks.

The situation further escalated Sept. 20 when Uber announced that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice had begun an investigation of an international hacker group known “Lapsus$,” who were allegedly behind theirs and by extension, Rockstar Games’ cyberattack. The same group was apparently behind other attacks against Microsoft, Nvidia and even the Brazilian Ministry of Health earlier this year, all of which resulted in the theft of confidential information for extortion.

On Sept. 22, City of London police confirmed the arrest of a 17-year-old teenager in Oxfordshire in connection with the crimes, and later, Brazilian police issued a warrant for the arrest of another suspected “Lapsus$” member, although authorities believe that there are up to five others involved with the group.

Although the primary reason for the attacks seems to be simply money, many people online theorize that Rockstar Games was specifically targeted after early reports controversially indicated that “GTA VI” would have a “culturally sensitive story” and a female protagonist to the disdain of some image-sharing sites like “4Chan” where the footage was initially leaked.

In the aftermath, fans speculated on how the leaks might affect the development of “GTA VI.” A lot of the footage has received criticism regarding the game’s graphics and gameplay looking underwhelming, which might cause Rockstar Games to change their development and even delay the release.

Contact Matheus at @mherndl@nd.edu.

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