On September 18, 2022, at 4:26 a.m., a user on GTAForums referring to themselves as teapotuberhacker posted nearly 100 videos totaling 50 minutes of footage from Rockstar Games’ highly anticipated Grand Theft Auto 6. The unauthorized release of the material has been described as “one of the biggest leaks in video game history” by Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier. The day after posting the footage, which appears to show the game in an early development state, the user posted again claiming to have access to not only the source code of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto 6 but also Grand Theft Auto 5, the single-player and online-multiplayer game released in 2013 that has raked in over $6 billion in revenue. The hacker wrote that they wanted to “negotiate a deal” in return for the unreleased data.
Nearly 12 hours on from the hacker’s original post, Rockstar Games issued a statement on Twitter confirming a “network intrusion” by an “unauthorized third party.” It also confirmed that the footage showed the “next Grand Theft Auto.” Since then, Rockstar Games’ parent company, Take Two Interactive, has issued requests for YouTube and other websites including Reddit to remove the videos, citing a copyright claim; however, the videos were widely shared prior to these DMCA takedown requests. To date, many of the videos are still easy to find online. Now the internet is waiting to see what teapotuberhacker and Rockstar do next, whether more footage and data is leaked, the extent to which Rockstar will further publicly respond, and whether a lawsuit is in the works. Whatever happens, the leak is remarkable, both for its sheer scale and the unfettered window it offers into the early production of a Rockstar video game.
Here’s everything you need to know about the hack of one of the video-game industry’s biggest and most secretive companies.
What does the leaked Grand Theft Auto 6 footage actually show?
A lot of obviously work-in-progress material of elements that you would expect from a Grand Theft Auto title. There is a car chase and various animation tests ranging from melee combat and car interiors (adjustable rearview mirror and sun visors) to changing weapons, almost all of which is overlaid with debug commands and technical information owing to its unfinished state. One of the longest videos shows a diner heist that evokes the opening of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Despite many of the characters lacking textures (facial details are missing), the game deftly captures a sense of fear in NPCs as the female protagonist points her gun at them.
So you play as a woman?
It appears so, yes. This has long been rumored, but the footage appears to confirm this is the case (although, it should be stressed, Rockstar hasn’t commented on this aspect of the leak). If this turns out to be true, it would be a series first, and perhaps represent a continuation of Rockstar Games’ increasingly mature approach to its output (the stoic Red Dead Redemption 2 is arguably the company’s creative high mark). That said, some of the material also shows strip-club scenes with a decidedly purple hue which may remind players of the company’s 2002 hit Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. In that game, Vice City was a stand-in for Miami, so it seems likely we’re headed back to Florida for the upcoming title. This appears to be all but confirmed by one leaked clip which shows a rail car with “Vice City Metro” painted on the side.
Okay, but who the hell is teapotuberhacker, and how did they break into Rockstar Games?
There’s very little verified information about the hacker. In addition to the Rockstar leak, they’ve claimed responsibility for a recent Uber data breach, although this has yet to be confirmed. However, if true, it would appear the hacker used the same entry point for both, namely the messaging app Slack where it’s possible Rockstar employees shared sensitive information that could have been used to gain access to further material. What we do know is that they posted the cache of Grand Theft Auto footage in the early hours of Sunday morning before apparently going to bed. Upon logging back on the following day, they wrote, “Ok so this has gone unexpectedly viral. Woke up to 3000 Telegram DM’s.” One has to wonder what the hacker expected prior to leaking the footage from one of the most hyped games ever. Internet meltdown would certainly have been on our bingo card of possible outcomes.
More as yet unverified details are floating about various gaming sites. An admin for the popular hacking forum Breached, who goes by the username pompompurin, alleges that the culprit is a 16-year-old male based in the U.K. They allege that he has ties with the hacker group Lapsus$ which claimed responsibility for both the recent Uber hack and another on graphics-card manufacturer Nvidia. Eurogamer reports that the individual is now under investigation by the FBI.
It’s not just footage of Grand Theft Auto 6, though — what could the hacker do with its source code and that of Grand Theft Auto 5?
Should the hacker actually be in possession of the source code, this is surely Rockstar’s biggest headache right now. Source code is essentially the master code that enables a game (or any other computer program) to function. If the hacker decided to publish the source code, it would likely mean a further deluge of information and footage from the game. When it comes to Grand Theft Auto 5, hackers with access to its source code would be able to understand how the game is put together and thus how to exploit it with increasing precision. This is particularly bad news for the online multiplayer component of the game, Grand Theft Auto Online, which would find itself acutely vulnerable to cheaters.
In a broader sense, the published source code of any Rockstar title represents a veritable treasure trove of trade secrets. Ever since 2001’s Grand Theft Auto 3, the first 3D open-world game in the series, Rockstar has continued to hone and expand its approach to open-world design. The depth and breadth of its virtual environments are the envy of an industry that, in many ways, is always playing catch-up with the company. It’s possible that executives at rival game studios are monitoring the source-code situation very closely.
This sounds like a total nightmare for Rockstar. Just how pissed is the company?
There’s been no response from individuals at Rockstar but you’d have to imagine its executives are very pissed indeed. Beyond the financial cost of investigating the breach and implementing security measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again, the hack has given the gaming public an unauthorized peek behind the (iron) curtain of a company that otherwise maintains strict control over the information that’s shared beyond company walls. Indeed, Rockstar co-founder Dan Houser is on record saying, “Games are still magical. It’s like they’re made by elves. I think you gain something by not knowing how they’re made.” The number-filled footage that’s surfaced from the hack contradicts this carefully constructed image. It shows how messy and complicated video games are to make, the way they’re assembled from the endless interplay of polygons, scripts, animations, and the hard work of the people at the company itself.
That said, as Bloomberg has reported, the leak will likely have a tangible impact on employees at the company. Workers were left “stunned” by the leak according to its report. “Many were grappling with the implications of the event and how management would respond to it.” While there may well be a negative impact on employees as, one assumes, security is tightened and the likelihood of entirely in-office working grows, one also has to ask whether some will be pleased with the leak. After all, this is the first time the world will have seen their work on a game they’ve been beavering away on since 2014, if Bloomberg is correct about when the game’s development began. That’s a hell of a long time.
So what happens next?
First and foremost, Rockstar investigates the breach. It continues to scrub the internet of the footage and then, perhaps, begins litigation. What certainly won’t happen is Grand Theft Auto 6 arriving any earlier as a result of the hack (sorry, folks). Rockstar is extremely careful about how it reveals games. While the company has stated that it doesn’t anticipate any “long-term effect” on development, it’s possible that the title will face a small, internal delay as a result of the disruption. For expectant players, the waiting game for Grand Theft Auto 6 continues.