It wasn’t too long ago that we talked about just how damaging leaks can be for the video game industry. In fact, we’ve covered the subject multiple times. Some of the attention that this very site gained was due to a leak that our founder had years ago. We’ve long understood that, while the attention gained may boost our numbers briefly (and really did help to put the site on the map), that we inevitably set something in motion that we couldn’t quite stop. We potentially forced an early reveal that may or may not have been ready. Anthony’s remorse for that decision is strong, despite how it strengthened PlayStation LifeStyle’s position overall with readers.
I’m not going to go too deep down that particular rabbit hole. We’ve talked about it plenty before now, and reading up on Anthony’s own account of the events is better than I could ever hope to relay them. But here we sit in 2019 where leaks and rumors continue to be a persistent problem facing not just the video game industry, but entertainment in general.
As we’ve become a far more connected world, it’s easy for a single detail, screenshot, photograph, or spoiler to blow up so much to the point that we identify everything about a particular subject around that fragment of knowledge. It creates misperceptions that, while potentially based in truth, rarely represent the full picture.
In film you see this with rabid fanbases seeking any information about movie franchises, most notably Star Wars and the Marvel movies. Forget seeing it opening day and enjoying the surprises, fans want to know the whole plot and the big twist weeks before the movie’s even released. Theory-crafting is one thing, but to it’s led to a culture of leaking information. How many articles have we seen about what the plot of Avengers: Endgame will be, despite the studio obviously trying to protect it? But we’re not really talking about spoilers here. I’ll save that subject for another day.
Information is Leaking, and We’ll Drink it Up
What we’ve seen within the video game industry is information about what a studio is working on leaking early, before they are ready to reveal it. “What’s the harm?” you may ask. I mean, it’s just information, right? While true, information is valuable, as is the perception of that information. It can ruin marketing plans that were hoping to make a big splash by diluting official announcements. It can create false narratives based on a lack of information.
The idea of marketing something isn’t random. Teams work very hard to maximize the reach and control the conversation. It’s part of why we’re seeing the likes of Sony and EA step away from E3. They want to control the conversation around their platforms and titles, and E3 is the polar opposite of having control of the conversation. It’s why we won’t see next-gen consoles revealed any events like E3, PAX, or even PSX. That conversation is important enough to deserve its own spotlight. Leaks undermine months—and sometimes years—of planning. While it doesn’t always go completely awry, when the conversation is out of their control, there’s a lot of potential for lost revenue and misconceptions.
Which is the other major problem with leaks and rumors. Suddenly those become the official stories and the big headlines, despite the company in question never having said anything. When it was rumored that Sony was looking to buy Take-Two, that maintained as the headline, not the correction or the likelihood that it would be false. I’ve still seen people spreading the rumor today. As fast as news travels, the corrections and clarifications don’t tend to have the same impact as the original leaked or rumored headlines.
Respawn’s experienced this with the Battle Pass for Apex Legends, as dataminers have been digging into updates and the games code to find any hints of future events, characters, and where the studio might be taking Apex Legends next. The datamined leaks have set people’s expectations and perceptions of what they’ll be “getting,” and even though Respawn reached out to clarify and say that some of that stuff is leftover code and tests that won’t ever hit production, that clarification message is seen by far fewer people than the original leak.
It puts us in a really hard spot as journalists writing about video games. Do we rush out the “breaking news” from these leaks and rumors, furthering the incomplete and sometimes false narratives that they create? Do we wait and reach out for comment, where the comment is most often that they don’t comment on leaks or rumors? Just look at the conversation that surrounded Black Ops 4, which was centered almost entirely on the game removing the single-player campaign and adding a battle royale mode due to early leaks. The later reveal showing tons of zombies content, a deep mutliplayer, and one of the best battle royale modes to release at the time were footnotes to the conversation people were already having.
Unfortunately, one article isn’t going to stop it, as we already discovered when we wrote about this subject back in 2015 (coincidentally including Black Ops III in that conversation). This second article isn’t going to stop it either. Someone will always be looking for their five seconds of internet fame, as people will always be clamoring for anything, even the slightest nugget of information. When development time for games is often years, however, sometimes the desire to know more can just make that long wait all the more difficult, or it can make the product that finally releases feel a lot more disappointing than what we’ve built it up to be in our minds. Our own hunger for more information feeds a vicious cycle of misconception that’s disingenuous to the hard work of developers. Sometimes it’s okay to just sit back and let the magic of video games happen without thinking we know every single little thing ahead of time.
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