Over the weekend, about an hour of footage from Grand Theft Auto 6 was leaked on the internet. The game’s developer/publisher, Rockstar Games, hasn’t released any formal marketing material for the title since it’s still early in development, so plenty of fans eagerly accepted the leak as the first full-fledged look at the long-awaited sequel. Those fans were met with a cold hard truth: reality is not advertising and unpolished development footage is not a trailer.
The “hype cycle” for a game like GTA 6 usually follows three steps. First, the developer announces the game. Then, an extremely polished and extremely small portion of the game is marketed. Finally, one of two things happens: either the developers are given the time and resources to finish the game and make the whole thing as excellent as the marketing, or they’re forced to release a game that doesn’t resemble the footage released beforehand.
Something that’s easily forgotten when discussing the hype cycle is the incredible amount of work that has to happen between steps one and two. Games are made, which is a long and arduous experience (especially considering Rockstar is a company with a legacy of labor abuse that has only recently been examined internally). The trailer you see at E3 is almost never indicative of the game being made behind the scenes.
The negative fan response to the GTA 6 leak has been one of the more fascinating gaming phenomena in recent memory. Most would not normally look at a developing plot of land and critique the building that might be there in a month or two, and few would look at line work and critique it as a finished painting. Because development materials for video games are so rarely publicized, though, most casual fans have no framework to compare the GTA 6 leak to. So, they resort to comparing it to what they’re used to seeing before release: a trailer.
Obviously, Rockstar did not have the opportunity to decide how GTA 6 would be revealed. The game is not in a presentable state for marketing, and the decision to leak it now will likely harm many of its developers, although Rockstar has confirmed that delays to the game are unlikely. One major issue here, though, is that AAA game studios have fostered an environment that doesn’t believe in showing players how the sausage gets made.
Development footage isn’t marketable. Seeing what a game looks like before it’s good doesn’t benefit anyone in an immediate, profit-driven sense. It presents players with a framework for understanding the work that actually goes into game production. Leaks are not the right way for this framework to be communicated, but studios refuse to do so themselves.
The great irony here is that GTA 6 actually looks phenomenal for a game as early in development as it is. Player-character interactions are functional, environments are fully modeled and the physics engine seems largely flawless. It’s not finished, obviously, but it’s much cleaner than a game of its caliber would normally be at this point. That development material this polished is viewed with such disdain is evidence that video games have a problem, and the only solution is for gamers to familiarize themselves with the realities of production.
Sorrel Kerr-Jung is a sophomore studying virtual reality game development at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Sorrel by tweeting her at @sorrelkj.