In recent times, the most disturbing and problematic trend in video games (to me) isn’t any sort of ad revenue problem. It’s not the absolute silence of criticism, it’s not manipulation of websites like Metacritic and it’s not any sort of design philosophy. Rather, my frustration with the games and the game industry can be summed up in a word:
To understand the impact, we have to fall back years and go to one of the things video games do stronger than any other media: hidden/surprise content. While spoilers are a thing in every form of media that range from spoiling an ending to a book to the shock reveal or twist midway into a series, games have special things and aspects no other media can boast.
Specifically, when games have a hidden treat, it’s not something you can always find just by playing the game to completion. Sometimes, to find that hidden treat, you have to devote a ton of time to the game. You have to collect all one hundred-plus collectables. You have to find that secret area you only get by putting in the right console command. Hell, sometimes you have to finish the game and then call a phone number that plays a secret message for your ears only.
I can’t truly blame game developers for this. As we’ve gotten deeper into the existence of video games, these things were bound to happen. The amount of people who understand code and can datamine both games and patches have skyrocketed. In addition to this, social media has made it so that it’s incredibly easy for the average person to build a fanbase or a reputation as a “leaker” or someone with insider knowledge working under a pseudonym.
What hurts me most is that the surprise is gone. However, this isn’t always a bad thing. For this argument, I’ll use two core examples in recent times.
The Bad: League of Leaks
One of the most negative situations and a “worst case scenario” when this happens has got to be the painful leak Riot Games had with League of Legends. A few months ago, a giant leak list appeared. A ton of the information was listed among it but chief in it was both the reveal of the direction of two champion updates and the release of Xayah and Rakan.
This is when leaks are at their absolute worst. Incredible reveals that would have shocked us with the fact that Urgot had shotgun knees or that League was doing a dual champion release for the first time in years was instead dashed by a leak list. This also crushed the fact that hard work that should have shocked and wowed the audience was instead known in advance.
These are my most egregious leak aggrivations. Leaks that steal the surprise from me. Leaks that don’t shock me. Leaks that are done to give someone fame for a brief moment and be regarded as some sort of “prophet”. With that in mind, the question becomes “when is a leak good?”
The Good: Not-so-Marvelous Roster
The counter argument to this is a situation where a leak can actually stamp out problems and even save someone money. In this situation, I speak of the “roster leak” that happened for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Thanks to data-mining from the demo, a huge amount of chracters were leaked and revealed for the game. Some of these supposedly confirmed for DLC and some of them mere additions to the roster.
Perhaps what is most important about this is that this confirmed a worry many players had about the games roster. It showed them that Capcom was reusing assets and that the new additions would be pitiful comparative to the third installment of the game. Even more importantly, it put a spotlight on the problematic roster when there was still time to correct it. That is, if Capcom goes that root.
This type of situation is one of the few where a leak can be good. A situation where the leak can gather major feedback before it’s too late. In addition, it also saves some heartbreak and even money. After all, will people still preorder knowing this pitiful roster exists?
A Pipe You Can’t Shut
Unfortunately, leaks will always be a thing. There is always going to be someone who shirks the NDA because the internet is a huge place and they can’t be found. That said, the best we can do is use our datamining for good. Instead of trying to datamine simply to get the latest work-in-progress, we could work toward finding out if a solution is reached for a problem. We could investigate the data for things like if a story mode exists or possible transaction prices.
Hell, we might even be able to use these talents to prevent situations in the future where we find documents detailing how a company was using the funds we gave from an Indiegogo to buy some fast cars to crash. No matter what, leaks are a powerful tool with great capacity for good and bad. The best we can hope for is that we have these abilities that can help people in the long term, rather than using them for a quick cash-in of social media fame.