In one of the highest-profile cases of cybercrime to hit the gaming industry, the source code for Half-Life 2 -- one of the year's most-anticipated games -- was stolen and released over the Internet, developer Valve said Thursday.
Valve went into radio silence Friday and did not offer any insights into the motive behind the theft.
Amid the void, gaming-industry insiders offered varying views on the significance of the theft and the ensuing release of the code on Valve's business. Though troubling, many saw the theft as less than catastrophic, given that source code represents a game's underlying engine -- determining such essentials as how the action within a game is portrayed -- but is unplayable without art and sounds, which apparently were not stolen.
Gifford Calenda, who has run development teams at game giant Electronic Arts, said he wouldn't want to be in the shoes of Valve Managing Director Gabe Newell. Still, Calenda said the issue of proprietary code is overwrought. He stressed that it takes a lot more than code to make a hot game. A great story line, art and sound are all essential.
"Many executives believe that source code is valuable and has to be protected," Calenda said. But in the gaming industry, it's difficult for any company to stay ahead based on programming talent alone.
"In reality, people move from job to job and exchange ideas, and any great coder can do what's needed to produce a particular effect," he said.
One gaming industry executive, who asked not to be named, went even further in minimizing the theft's importance. He noted that rival developers likely would stay away from downloading the stolen code, calling it "(expletive deleted) antimatter."
News of the source-code theft and release began ricocheting around the Net Thursday morning. Early that afternoon, Valve's Newell confirmed the theft in a message-board posting at Half-Life2.net that pleaded for help from the vast online community built around the game and Valve's other products.
"Well, this sucks," Newell wrote in one of the note's most memorable lines.
The note left some industry denizens and message-board posters with slack jaws over how a hacker was able to penetrate Valve's security. They noted that piracy-paranoid game companies tightly protect their networks and servers, often storing code and assets on machines without an Internet connection.
In his note, Newell said the company suspects that around Sept. 11, someone hacked his e-mail account. His PC then began "acting weird," crashing when he would right-click on executables.
Newell, who started Valve after leaving Microsoft, believes keystroke recorders for collecting passwords were installed remotely. He believes this happened through a hole in Microsoft's Outlook personal-information management application.
In the posting, Newell added that over the past year the company has been subjected to denial-of-service attacks against its corporate site, as well as the site for Steam, a new digital-rights-management platform that the company released last month. He pleaded for anyone with information about the thefts or the attacks to send an e-mail to [email protected]
A call to the FBI's Seattle office about whether the agency is investigating the episode was referred to an agent who did not return phone calls Friday afternoon.
Valve until recently has been a darling of hard-core gamers. The original Half-Life, released in 1998, is a first-person shooter involving aliens invading a top-secret government complex, a story line that continues in Half-Life 2. Valve also released a software-development kit that was used to create modified versions of Half-Life, including Counter-Strike, one of the most heavily played team-combat games in cyberspace.
But lately Valve has found itself at odds with gamers over its plans for Steam, a digital-rights-management platform.
The platform will allow Valve to sell Half-Life 2 directly to consumers as a download on the day it is released as a packaged product. Players will pay either a one-time fee or a monthly subscription fee to get subsequent multiplayer versions. Steam also includes anti-cheating and anti-piracy features that will be required to play products such as Half-Life 2 online.
Some players are up in arms over suspicions that Valve will introduce a subscription fee for all of its games, including online play of Counter-Strike and its updated versions, which currently are free.
"I can't speak for Valve about how this (theft) is going to affect its strategy and its business, but it's one of the highest-profile cases of cybercrime in our industry, and it's affected how we all do business," said Alex Garden, CEO of Relic Entertainment, which has worked with Valve on Steam.
"It's interesting from an academic perspective, because it's going to have implications for how we interface with our communities and what level of communication we have about our products," he added.
In his note, Newell gave no indication of whether the theft will affect the release date of Half-Life 2, which recently slipped from this week to later this year. View Article Here