Last night a ton of videos leaked online that are likely from Grand Theft Auto VI, a video game currently in development and probably years away from release. The footage is rough, in many instances using little more than placeholder assets, and it is both the most remarkable and most normal thing you’ll see this week.
It’s remarkable, of course, because of the scale of the leaks. This is one of the biggest video games series on the planet. Rockstar are notoriously secretive. To get any kind of credible leak out of a Rockstar game development studio is rare; to get footage like this is unprecedented.
Yet it’s also normal because this is what a video game in development looks like. It’s supposed to be rough, because it’s not finished. Comparing the “game” in this footage to the finished product is like judging a pizza while you’re still sprinkling the cheese on top, or a house when the only thing standing is the frame and some windows.
Every game you have ever played has looked like this (or its time period’s version) at some point. The Last Of Us has looked like shit, Skyrim has looked like ass, The Witcher 3 would have, at some point, been nothing more than some blocks and placeholder text. The only difference between them and Grand Theft Auto VI is that we’ve got to see the latter while the game was still in development.
While some people have been critical of the footage (in rare instances to predictable extremes), I think the overwhelming consensus among fans has simply been one of great interest. Interest in seeing a new Grand Theft Auto game specifically, sure, but also just in seeing any kind of major video game in this kind of raw and unfinished state.
People love getting to see behind the scenes, it’s something the TV and film industries have known for decades, yet for multiple reasons video games have rarely been comfortable trusting the average fan with the knowledge that a game looks like butt through much of its development (indeed, one of the main reasons I run my Fine Art feature is to combat this in one small way!).
So alongside the reactions of the average punter this weekend I’ve also seen loads of developers lamenting the leaks, saying this isn’t how we should be getting our first look at the game, that the footage does a disservice to devs who deserved to have their game shown off as it will be seen (or hoped to be seen) in the final product.
Why would anyone not working at Rockstar really worry about this, though, unless the only thing you were actually concerned about was maintaining the industry’s obsession with pre-orders and tightly-controlled pre-release marketing? Set photos from Hollywood movies and major TV shows leak all the time, showing everything from stars with prosthetics hanging off their face to green screens behind them, and we take it in stride because we all figure, well, that’s just how movies are made. A Marvel blockbuster on the big screen will not look the same as a blurry photo showing Chris Hemsworth dressed in half a costume.
Video games are no different! They start on the back of napkins and, years later, end up as something cool we play and enjoy. That process is not magic, it takes work, and just because the average gamer doesn’t ever get to see it doesn’t mean it’s not taking place. These videos, as weird and as janky as they might look, are the work. I wish we got to see more footage like this, both before and after a game is released.
I will always advocate for increased transparency from developers and publishers, but I don’t want to sit here and argue that developers should always be this transparent. This is a colossal leak, obtained through likely criminal means. And so much of the footage uploaded is lacking the context required to make it genuinely useful as a behind-the-scenes look at Grand Theft Auto VI. If I was working on a game and stuff got spilled out into the open like this, with no way to frame it, I’d be pissed too!
What I do want to say is that I hope this leak can at least be instructional, instead of being simply sensational. That while the circumstances have been pretty shitty for the team involved in this particular instance, as part of a wider conversation on secrecy and transparency (one we’ve been having for a decade) I hope this can be an important marker to show that, you know what, most of us are sensible enough to realise that this is how the sausage is made.
And that will be a lot of people, because as tumultuous as this seems now, in September 2022, this is a Grand Theft Auto game. Millions of gamers will end up buying and playing the finished product (the sausage) whenever it’s ultimately released, and then be able to look back on this footage (how it was made) and draw a line between the two.
Maybe that’ll just be a superficial exercise for many, loads of people saying “huh look at that”, or simplistic YouTube videos pointing out differences in mission scripting. But I hope it’ll also be a way that, in the long run, millions of people were able to gain a greater appreciation of how their video games are made, even if the means they got that lesson weren’t exactly ideal.