Leaks have become commonplace in the video game industry. Especially ahead of big events like the annual E3 conference or new console reveals, leaks can run rampant across social media and gaming message boards hours or days before the official announcement, stealing the thunder from game companies.
But not all leaks are created equal. While some leaks come from official sources and are rooted in factual information, others are instead manufactured out of nothing by devoted pranksters before being dispersed online. So much effort is put into some of these fake leaks that it is sometimes hard to tell them apart from the real thing, which begs the question: Why put so much work into creating fake video game news?
For Omni Jacala, creator of Smashified, his fake leak was a shot at redemption, and a starting point for him to create an audience. The leak he created showed a video of Ubisoft's Rayman as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS.
The Rayman leak wasn't Jacala's first attempt at creating fakes—or Smash Bros. fan art—either. He was previously responsible both for a Kirby Hat art series, and one that put characters in the same art style as the Wii's Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He also created a fake leak for Klonoa appearing in Smash Bros., which Jacala said was almost immediately proven fake.
"I wanted to try doing it again, just to redeem myself, as far as making something convincing," Jacala said.
Jacala also wants be a game developer, and while he has had involvement with indie games (the majority of which never got released), he decided to make YouTube videos to show his skills. Looking back, Jacala believes that frustration over never having created anything major over those nine years may have played a role as well.
There was another Smash leak—one that was easily identifiable as being fake—that served as inspiration, feeding his artistic need to prove that he could do better.
"I thought trying to make something as a fake leak would be the best way to demonstrate that I have the capabilities to create authentic looking Smash 4 art," Jacala said. "And I didn't really think it through, at the time, like what the repercussions would be, so it definitely caught me a little bit off guard."
Jacala's YouTube channel gained 22 thousand subscribers in one day following the leak, way over his 1000 subscriber goal, and his YouTube video explaining how he made the leak is now at over one million views.
Rayman was already in the game as a trophy, which provided Jacala with an in-game 3D model to refer to. The leak was released as a video, not just a still screenshot, meaning everything had to look seamless, including such details as the flames on the character selection screen. To create the leak, Jacala used a capture card to get footage of the menu screen, which he then worked with in PhotoShop, After Effects (an effects and motion graphics tool), and Premiere Pro. He spent around three weeks putting the whole project together.
Jacala seeded the leak on 4Chan, February 14, 2015. Soon after, the video game news show ScrewAttack reported that Ubisoft would make a statement regarding the leak. But, plagued by stress over the situation, and with Ubisoft now taking notice, Jacala revealed the leak was fake a day later.
"I guess I just didn't think that hard about it, which in hindsight was pretty silly of me," Jacala said.
Instead, Jacala was "laser focused" on making Rayman look as much like a part of the game as possible, and wasn't expecting how upset Rayman fans would be when it turned out that his creation wasn't real.
"It was like a mixture of excitement and pride and a feeling a little bit evil," Jacala said. "And not in like the rub my hands together kind of evil, but looking back and trying to think if what I did was actually something that I should have done."
Now though, he's still happy with how everything unfolded.
"The negativity doesn't really last," Jacala said. "The amount of positive things that came from it made it worth it. That's not to say the ends justify the means necessarily, but when it comes to what we're dealing with, which is video games, it's not something that should really be taken too seriously."
Earlier this year, Nintendo Switch—at the time still under the code name NX—had not one, but two fake leaked images that came out in close succession, showing off the system's yet-to-be-announced controller.
"It was just a joke," Louis-Marie told Motherboard via translator, also of Noname Games. But he also wondered if the fake-leak might spur real information about the system to surface via actual leaks.
Louis-Marie based the design off existing Nintendo patents and other NX rumors that had been circulating. Using 3D Studio Max, he made a 3D render of the controller, which took him eight hours, including making the lighting with the image rendering software V-Ray. Then, using PhotoShop, he combined the 3D render with an actual image, before adding some final details in Paint. He didn't expect the fake to be taken as seriously as it was.
Various gaming websites reported on the image. Louis-Marie thinks that since there had been no other fake visual leaks, the timing of the photo aligned with fans awaiting news of the console.
The image wasn't all he had planned, either. He wanted to take the leak even further with a 3D printer, before ultimately revealing it would be fake ahead of E3. But another faker beat him to the punch: a second image of the controller soon made its way online.
Now that the other image was making the rounds, Louis-Marie got right to making a video to reveal the original image as being fake. According to him, while people were initially mad that the leak had been fake, that emotion eventually changed to relief that the image didn't represent the actual controller.
That second fake NX leak—building off of Louis-Marie 's original image—was created by Frank Sandqvist, co-founder of CNC Design in Finland. (Sandqvist also was behind the recent actual Switch replica video, as well).
"Well, I wouldn't say I regret it," Sandqvist said. "It definitely got a lot more exposure than I thought it would, a lot of big gaming sites covered it."
As 3D printing continues to become more and more commonplace, Sandqvist thinks it's only going to get harder to discern fake leaks from real ones.
"I think it was an interesting experiment," Sandqvist said. "Just how easy it is to blow something up on [the] internet like that."