Chief, We’ve Sprung a Leak

 
 

With the latest Halo game being leaked before its release, Niall Gosker examines the root of these leaks, and Microsoft’s response to them

Controlling access is a task that is becoming increasingly difficult. In the digital age, we have more ways to communicate and distribute than ever before. When it comes to video games, this couldn’t be more relevant. Halo 4, arguably the most widely anticipated release of the year, is out in the wild well before the official release. The shock waves of such early leaks can be felt by all involved: the developer, the publisher, the distributor, and most importantly, the player.

Leaks like this happen all the time; they only make headlines when the highest profile games are involved. When you consider the logistics of modern game creation, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Apart from the hundreds of core staff working directly on the game, there are countless others involved. If there was any doubt, sit through the credits sequence of any blockbuster title released within the last two generations of console cycles and be amazed at the sheer volume of people involved in the process from start to finish. If anything is a surprise, it’s that leaks don’t happen more often.

In the run up to release, millions of copies need to be produced and shipped to stores prior to launch. Most commonly, the leak can be traced back to some point along this distribution chain. All it takes is one tempted, morally ambiguous production line worker or delivery van driver and within hours, the disc’s contents are laid bare on your torrent site of choice.

In the case of Halo 4, Microsoft has stuck to the same procedures as have been policy for the last few years for big releases, in that it’s been rather inconstant. Many users have experienced no problems in playing legitimately bought copies of the game prior to release day, while others have been reportedly banned. It would seem that should your gamer tag not be whitelisted and is detected playing the game early, there’s a chance it will be cut off. In such cases, Xbox Support has apparently been unbanning consoles once players provide proof of purchase. This is not an ideal situation and doesn’t quite add up, considering that in order to play pirated games the console has to be physically modified. Is Microsoft really unable to verify whether or not a valid console is running on their completely closed and self-maintained network? How, at the tail end of the generation, has Microsoft still not figured out a better anti-piracy measure, one that doesn’t totally impede normal players’ ability to experience their paid-for copy of a game?

The fallout out of leaks continues even deeper. Obviously developers are being unfairly deprived of justified income and their livelihood. Even outside of the relatively small group of industry workers and wrongly denied early adapters, there’s a much wider, ultimate issue. The best developers make games because of their passion for the medium and because they want to offer players a very specific type of experience. When every plot detail and every hidden unlockable is public knowledge weeks before it should be, this experience is often compromised. Rest assured that the internet’s army of assholes have spoiled the climax of Halo 4 for more than a few unfortunate folks already.

This isn’t just a problem in gaming. When was the last time you can honestly say that you saw a major film release without knowing a little more than you cared to? The baffling prevalence of the tell-all trailer is truly a bane of modern filmmaking. The same can be said for other industries’ equivalents. It isn’t even exclusive to leaks in gaming; exhaustive press coverage and the now standard multi-million dollar marketing blitz bring with it an influx of information that many could do without. Depressingly, none of this is likely to change any time soon.

From Microsoft’s less than satisfactory handling of the entire debacle, to a seeming decreased focus in end user experience and subscription value over the past few years, they find themselves in a less than desirable situation. There is some hope though. With a new era of consoles rapidly approaching, they now have the opportunity to implement a superior anti-piracy system and make real changes; an effort to win back some much-needed favour with their fans, no doubt.

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