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What’s it like when your game leaks? Developers from Dishonored 2, COD, Titanfall 2 and more answer

There was an interesting trend at this year’s E3: almost all the developers I spoke to had games which had leaked in some way before being officially announced. Concept art, WIP video, retail details - it’s almost impossible to get an announce out without something slipping out somewhere. 

So what’s that feel like? Years of work, everything building up to a big curtain raise… and then it all pops up on NeoGAF. I spoke to people from Watch Dogs 2, Titanfall 2, Destiny, Call Of Duty and Dishonored 2 - all with high profile leaks - and discovered a calm and occasionally optimistic reaction for the most part. “Those people are participating with the games industry in the way they want to,” says Dishonored 2’s Harvey Smith. For him it’s not so much of an issue because of the numbers involved. “It’s okay because you know this is inside baseball, and how many people saw the leak really? Millions see the gameplay trailer in the end”.

The numbers involved in a leak, compared to the eventual exposure of a proper mainstream reveal softens the blow for Harvey. Although he concedes, “sometimes it sucks because you want people to see it in its best form”. Infinity Ward’s narrative director Taylor Kurosaki is a little less impressed however, calling leaks “a disservice to fans”. From his perspective there’s a carefully thought out plan from announcement to release designed to maximise impact - something that unsanctioned reveals mess up. “We are very specific about what we show and when we show it,” he explains, “because getting people hyped for a game all the way up to the moment where they can play it [is] all part of the experience”.

Taylor also points out that sometimes leaks can be ruinous for elements that are only meant to be seen in the context of playing the game: “there are absolutely things that we will not show, or talk about, until it’s actually in people’s hands because we don’t want to spoil part of that surprise”. 

Surprise is the very real currency of spoilers, and for Titanfall 2’s Vince Zampella losing it played into a leak that actually happened at E3, when an EA pre-show rehearsal was accidentally livestreamed. “If it had been the multiplayer it’s not as bad because people knew we have that. Even though [the single player] was rumoured and talked about it, that was the big ‘hey, and here we have it!’ and that was spoiled”. Zampella’s not too bothered though, there was no angry desk sweeping (“this time,” he jokes), instead “you embrace it in a different way”. 

Thing is, leaks are going to happen. “The size of the team and the number of people involved, and we use agencies for some tests…” mentions Watch Dogs 2’s senior producer Dominic Guay listing the various channels and organisations a still secret game could pass through. “For the team it’s annoying because we don’t talk about the game even with our friends too much”. 

Dominic does chose to see the positive when leaks break: “It happens in all medias, it happens for movies, in a sense it’s a symptom that games are big,” he says. Destiny’s Rise of Iron director Christopher Barrett is also upbeat. “It’s always a little bit shocking when stuff leaks but also, at the same time, it’s really great to see how excited fans are to see this stuff. Worse would be if no one cares”. Ultimately, he points out. “there’s not a lot you can really do about it in the end. Fans are excited to see this stuff and that’s great to see as a developer”. 

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