Wicked leaks: what legal weaponry is available to fight game launch hacks?

Stevens & Bolton's Grace McNulty-Brown advises devs on how to protect their project's secrets ahead of release - and what to do if leaks do occur.

The run-up to a game's release is packed full of excitement and anticipation. Often fans will have waited a long time for the latest instalment to hit the shelves - and in the case of Final Fantasy XV, it has been seven years.

To maintain interest and add to the pre-release hype, details about a game are often drip-fed in the run up to an official release. But what happens when confidential information about the game gets into the wrong hands?

In the case of Final Fantasy XV, director Hajime Tabata was forced to release a statement notifying the public of an unauthorised distribution of the boxed edition of the game. The statement encouraged anyone who had obtained an early copy to be respectful to fans, imploring them not to "spoil the surprises for everyone". However, the plethora of social media sites and spoiler websites currently available made this near-impossible to achieve, and it wasn't long before spoilers were dispersed across the internet.

How to spoil a launch
Prior to an official launch, the public has very limited access to a game's content, meaning developers can feel assured that confidential code will remain concealed. Individuals may be employed to promote the game, releasing minor gameplay information or hints at plot points, usually contained within official game trailers. Releasing such "controlled spoilers" does not pose a threat to developers and if carefully managed will raise publicity and build interest in a game. However, there is an inevitable element of risk in sharing information with those instructed to assist in creating hype.

Some impatient fans may take it upon themselves to get hold of confidential information about a desired game before the official release date. If successful, this gives rise to an increasingly problematic issue with leaked information being posted on sites such as Reddit.

The obvious by-product of such leaks, or "uncontrolled spoilers", is that fans, along with the wider public, gain access to critical gameplay points, certain chapters of the story or gameplay mechanics ahead of schedule. This not only ruins the fun for those playing by the rules but may also give rise to legal concerns.

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