The last thing you want as a developer is your code to go out into the wild before its ready. When that happens people start to build expectations on a product that’s not yet complete and will form assumptions that, for better or worse, don’t align with the vision you had so carefully constructed. Most often this happens as a result of management pressure and there’s been many a time in my career where I’ve seen systems moved up into production long before they’re ready for prime time. However the damage done there pales in comparison to that can be done to a game that’s released before its ready and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve delved into this dark world of game leaks before.
The key word there is, of course, almost.
I remember my first steps into this world quite well. It was late 2002 and news began to make the rounds that someone had leaked an early alpha build of Doom 3, the next installment in the series in almost a decade. I was incredibly intrigued and began my search for the ill-gotten booty scouring the vast recesses of e-Donkey and Direct Connect, looking for someone who had the magical files. Not long after I was downloading the 380MB file over my dial up connection and I sat back whilst I waited for it to come down.
After it finished downloading I unzipped the package and waited whilst the crazy compression program they had used did its work, feverishly reassembling the code so that I could play it. This took almost an hour and the eventual result was close to double the size of the file I downloaded, something I was quite thankful for. After a few tension filled seconds of staring at the screen I double clicked the executable and I was greeted with the not yet released version of Doom 3. The game ran extremely poorly on my little box but even then I was awe struck, soaking up every second until it crashed on me. Satisfied I sank back into my chair and hopped onto Trillian to talk to my friends about what I had just seen.
It wasn’t long until I jumped back into this world again. Just under a year later rumors started to make the rounds that none other than Valve had been subjected to a sophisticated attack and the current version of Half Life 2 copied. The gaming community’s reaction was mixed as we had been promised that the game was ready to be released this year but as far as everyone could tell the current build was no where near ready. Instead of jumping straight in this time however I sat back and considered my position. Whilst I was extremely eager to see Valve’s latest offering I had seen the damage that had been done with Doom 3′s premature release and my respect for Valve gave me much trepidation when considering taking the plunge once again. Seeing the files on someone’s computer at a LAN I couldn’t let the opportunity go by and I snagged myself a copy.
The game I played back then, whilst by no means a full game, still left a long lasting impression on me. The graphics and environments were beautiful and the only level I got to work properly (I believe it was the beach level) was made all the more fun by the inclusion of the makeshift jeep. I couldn’t bring myself to play it for long though as whilst I knew that the code leak wasn’t the sole reason Valve delayed Half Life 2 I knew it wasn’t going to bring the game to me any faster. This time around I deleted my copy of the leaked game and waited patiently for its final release.
Most recently it came to my attention that the Crysis 2 source, which apparently includes the full game and a whole host of other goodies, made its way on most popular BitTorrent sites. This time around however I haven’t even bothered to go and download the game, even just for curiosity’s sake. There’s less than a month to go until the official release and really I’d rather wait that long to play it legitimately than diving back into that dark world I had left behind so long ago. The temptation was definitely there though, especially considering how much fun I had in the original Crysis, but a month isn’t a long time to wait especially with the other games I’ve got on my current backlog.
If there’s one common theme I’ve seen when these leaks come out it’s the passion that the community has for these game development companies and their flagship titles. Sure its misplaced but the fever pitch that was reached in each of these leaks shows just how much people care about these games. Whilst it might damage the project initially many of them go on to be quite successful, as both Half Life 2 and Doom 3 did. Crysis 2 should be no different but I can still understand the heartache that those developers must be going through, I don’t know what I’d do if someone nicked off with the source code to Lobaco.
Will I ever download a leaked copy of a game before it’s release? I can’t be sure in all honesty. Although I tend to avoid the hype these days I still do get really excited when I hear about some titles (Deus Ex: Human Revolution for example) and that could easily overwhelm my sensibility circuits forcing me to download the game. I do make good on purchasing the games when they’re released however and since I’m a bit of a collector’s edition nut I believe I’ve paid my penance for delving into the darker side of the gaming world. I can completely understand if game developers don’t see eye to eye with me on this issue but I hope they recognize passion, however misplaced, when they see it.