With just over 24 hours left before Rockstar Games was set to debut its first Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer, a grainy video started circulating online: The GTA 6 trailer, but marked with a massive bitcoin watermark. About 30 minutes later Rockstar did the corporate equivalent of saying “Fuck it,” uploading the trailer and pointing to it in a terse post on X: “Our trailer has leaked so please watch the real thing on YouTube.”
It’s unusual for a company like Rockstar to disregard its original, announced schedule and just post the thing, but it’s not the first time it’s happened. When The Last of Us Part 2’s PlayStation 5 remaster was leaked early on the PlayStation Store by data miners looking for new information, hours later, an official trailer popped up on YouTube, with several prominent Naughty Dog developers declaring that “leaks really suck.” (In Naughty Dog’s case, however, timing for The Last of Us Part 2’s remaster wasn’t announced, and it’s possible the YouTube release was its planned time.)
Our trailer has leaked so please watch the real thing on YouTube: https://t.co/T0QOBDHwBe— Rockstar Games (@RockstarGames) December 4, 2023
Typically, in the event of a leak, a company starts issuing takedown requests as quickly as possible — which Rockstar did, of course — and waits it out until the planned debut. (We’ve seen this plenty of times when Pokémon games leak early; Nintendo and The Pokémon Company try to take things down, but don’t acknowledge leaks head-on.) In the case of GTA 6, the early launch of the trailer hasn’t diluted the hype, with the GTA 6 trailer reaching more than 85 million views by Tuesday morning. It’s quickly gaining on Rockstar’s debut Grand Theft Auto 5 trailer, which was published on Nov. 2, 2011, and has more than 99 million views.
Several Rockstar employees have expressed their upset feelings about the leak: “This fucking sucks,” one developer posted to X. (The post, and the developer’s X account, have since been deleted.) The GTA 6 trailer wasn’t the first video game trailer to be leaked, and it definitely won’t be the last in an internet landscape where everyone from fans to brands is always fighting for eyeballs.
For better or worse, leaks have already become a part of GTA 6’s journey to its release — something that’s relatively on theme, as Rockstar’s upcoming game seemingly takes on the struggle for internet fame.
Grand Theft Auto is one of the video game industry’s most successful properties, which makes it a hot target for hackers and potential leaks. GTA 5 was released 10 years ago, and people have been salivating ever since at the prospect of the sixth entry in the series. Rockstar has been quiet about GTA 6 for most of the past 10 years; the studio didn’t acknowledge the game was in development until February 2022. Later that year, GTA 6 made history as Rockstar’s developers were subject to one of the largest leaks in modern video game history.
On Sept. 18, 2022, a hacker published more than 90 videos — roughly an hour’s worth of footage — from the in-development game. The leak was, and still is, unprecedented because of its sheer scope, the level of anticipation for the game in question, and because of how rare it is for fans to see huge parts of a AAA video game in a visibly unfinished state. The leaked footage depicted a GTA 6 that was clearly in development, with debug tools, blocked-out environments, and all.
The hacker claimed to have accessed Rockstar’s internal Slack, which is an application workplaces use to communicate and share files. A United Kingdom court found that a U.K.-based 18-year-old, Arion Kurtaj, was largely responsible for the hack. Kurtaj had been previously arrested for other hacking incidents performed in association with notorious group Lapsus$, and he was out on bail when he went after Rockstar, Uber, and Revolut. Kurtaj’s hack of Rockstar was the last one he managed before he was caught again in a Travelodge hotel that he had been put up in following concerns for his safety (he was previously doxxed by “rival hackers,” according to the BBC). Kurtaj and a second 17-year-old hacker were found guilty in August. The BBC reported that the prosecution’s lead barrister on the case, Kevin Barry, said the hackers were motivated by “notoriety,” “financial gain,” and “amusement.”
The damage had been done; many fans couldn’t resist the peek behind the curtain before the real show began. The hourlong clips in the leak gave eager GTA 6 fans a lot of material to work through, and by September of this year, the community had put together a 60-page document outlining every single detail from the leak.
Rockstar announced in November that it would post a trailer in December, news that was first reported by Bloomberg and quickly confirmed by Rockstar. Last week, Rockstar finally announced a date for the trailer: Dec. 5. In the lead-up to the trailer drop date, several quick videos were uploaded to TikTok purporting to show parts of the GTA 6 Vice City map; the video clips, which quickly spread, appeared to be recordings of a computer screen. The source and credibility of these uploads remains unconfirmed, but they do seem to match the cityscapes we’ve now seen in the legitimate trailer. Somewhere along the way, rumors started circulating that the leak came from a Rockstar employee’s son, but Polygon is unable to verify those claims. It’s impossible to tell, of course, whether the TikTok leaks came from the same source as Dec. 4’s trailer leak.
GTA 6’s legacy of leaks not only has an impact on how the community sees the game, but it’s something that affects developers, too. Rockstar is famously secretive — or perhaps notoriously so — and leaks are sometimes considered a rare look behind the curtain for fans, or even a triumph for transparency. Unfortunately, though, leaks can often have the opposite effect. Speaking to Wired in 2022, a AAA developer said leaking can tighten things up even more, making the industry more opaque — even within studios themselves. Sometimes, a “trust vacuum” forms between departments as studios investigate leaks internally, Wired reported. The player experience will rarely, if ever, be significantly altered by a leaked trailer or gameplay video, but the same can’t be said for the people making a leaked game.