2019 has been an eventful year for video game leaks. Most recently, dataminers and vendors revealed the most important changes in Pokémon Sword and Shield during the week leading up to launch. This fueled the flames of fan discontent as all of their greatest fears about the games were made true. That led to hashtags like #GameFreakLied trending on the eve of launch. Now The Pokémon Company is taking legal action to find and punish these leakers for harming fan excitement and "disrupting" the marketing push. According to one lawyer, the company is also looking to use these leakers to send a message.
Stephen McArthur is called the "Video Game Lawyer" due to his specific expertise in trademark and copyright issues pertaining to video games. His insight on these issues has been quoted on TheGamer before, as well as Kotaku, Vice, and The Washington Post. He recently gave a statement on the Pokémon Sword and Shield leaks and what they mean for the future of the industry.
"Between lawsuits over the Fornite leaks and now Nintendo sending the full force of its legal team and subpoenas to avenge the Pokemon leaks, video game companies are sending a clear message: spoil a video game before its release date, and your transgression will not be overlooked like it may have been in the past. They will send subpoenas to Twitter, Discord, etc. and bring the full force of their investigative teams out to find you, sue you, and hold you responsible for millions of dollars worth of damage. Take those NDAs, EULAs, and employment agreements very seriously."
The Fortnite incident McArthur is referring to is the surprise reveal of Fortnite Chapter 2. The event involved the game actually ending thanks to a giant black hole. Fans were left in suspense as the servers actually went down, until the sudden reveal of Chapter 2 and its new map. Or that was the plan, anyway, until a tester working for Epic Games tweeted about Chapter 2 and several of its new features ahead of time. Epic Games is currently suing this tester for "spoiling the suspense" of the big reveal.
Taking McArthur's statement into account, it seems the strong anti-leaker action is being focused on employees. Testers, vendors, and other contracted individuals sign specific agreements to not reveal a game's contents. Using them as the main targets for lawsuits makes sense from a legal standpoint. Suing someone for breaking their contract is a lot stronger of a case than suing someone for "spoiling" a game's hype.
Still, that doesn't mean that secondary channels who share leaked information are safe. A well-known incident from August saw Youtuber SupMatto's channel shut down for sharing Borderlands 3 leaks. Borderlands 3 publisher Take-Two sent private investigators to SupMatto's home as part of its investigation. Take-Two cited a similar reasoning for its actions, saying SupMatto was "negatively impacting the experiences of other content creators and our fans in anticipation for the game."
As 2020 and all of its big games approach, it seems leakers face a new landscape. Companies are looking to shut them down, and will track down their Discord accounts or send people to their homes to do it. We might just have to play Cyberpunk 2077 completely unspoiled.
Source: Newsroom PR