Warzone Leak Leads To Activision DMCA Takedowns

A leaked version of Warzone’s Verdansk map appeared on the internet last night. It’s a 1980’s overhaul of the map, bringing it more in line with Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Footage of the map appeared in a leaked ad on social media, showing Verdansk as it was decades ago, with many of its structures still under construction.

I can’t show any of it to you for reasons we’ll get into shortly, but you can easily find it for yourself.

As far as leaks go, this is a fairly mild one. Call Of Duty games are often leaked ahead of time. Most popular games are leaked in some form or another. Every single week, Fortnite data-miners leak all sorts of things about that game’s updates. Leaks, in other words, are neither new nor rare and certainly not worthy of a big crackdown on the people posting about them online.

But that’s exactly what Activision has chosen to do. CharlieIntel includes no images or footage of the leak in its post on the matter, writing:

“We are unable to show you any images or videos from the leak in this article because of DMCA notice from Activision. The account that originally posted the video has also deleted it because of a DMCA request.”

Other reporters and websites have had their Twitter accounts locked by Twitter after Activision issued DMCAs:

This is heavy-handed to say the least. Reporters should not be censored by corporations for covering leaks (and yes, using the law to censor public discourse is censorship even if it’s a corporation). If a corporation runs a leaky ship, that’s their own fault and they need to deal with it internally, not by using blunt force against journalists and YouTubers. Once something is leaked to the public, clamping down on coverage of this information is not only wrong, it’s foolish.

For one thing, good luck with that. I’ve watched the footage on Warzone’s reddit page and you can too unless reddit decides to shut it down. It took all of 30 seconds from hearing about the leak to finding footage of it despite Activision’s efforts.

(Which makes me wonder: should I link to the reddit post or will we be issued with a DMCA? Indeed, will simply covering this topic result in Forbes or my personal Twitter account—when I share this post—receiving a DMCA notice? We should not have to worry about such things when covering public information—and I’m sorry, once it’s leaked it’s public information).

Two points:

  • First, these heavy-handed tactics only have one outcome: They make whoever is using them look bad. This is a very bad look for Activision. It’s an extreme reaction to what could have been just a bit of video game news and some chatter about Warzone. Now, the story is about Activision abusing its legal powers.
  • Second, it won’t work. Anyone who wants to see the footage will be able to find it because you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Activision, how can you possibly not know this by now? Everybody knows this. Again, people will still know about the 1980s’ themed map but now also Activision looks like a bully (because they’re acting like one).

Two more points:

  • I am a huge Call of Duty fan—I review it every year and I play it most days—and like many other fans of the game I’m always excited about a fun new leak. It gets us talking about the game, making speculations, posting about it on social media and forums. Shutting down conversation about this relatively minor leak only serves to kill that hype and replace it with resentment.
  • On the other hand, this particular leak is probably not going to be very well-received. If the “new” Warzone map is just a reskin . . . that sucks. Everyone in the Warzone community has been pining for a new map, not a reskin of boring, same-old Verdansk. If this is actually all they’re giving the player base expect lots of fan backlash. But again, trying to suppress this information won’t change any of that. Double-whammy for ATVI.

I’ve requested comment from Activision about the DMCA takedowns and will update this post when and if they respond.

I will also note that I’ve always had a good working relationship with the company over the many years I’ve been covering Call of Duty and its other franchises, but that doesn’t mean that I expect a frank response. Furthermore, having a good working relationship with a video game company doesn’t mean I won’t call stuff like this out—a good working relationship between a critic and a video game publisher should still be adversarial in nature. Amicable but adversarial.

The video game industry is, unfortunately, extremely opaque and secretive in nature. Tactics like the one Activision is employing today are ridiculous and, while not surprising, very disappointing. And, well, pointless.

Ironically, years ago I attended a Call of Duty preview event and when one of the game’s leads was talking about the game and the embargo he said “If something leaks, obviously you can cover that” or something to that effect. In other words, stick to your embargo but we won’t crack down on you for leaks. Maybe this was just a different time, or a different approach—leaks can be great marketing!—but whatever the case it’s clearly (and unfortunately) no longer policy.

Better to just announce the new map once the leak is out there. Change plans, adapt. That’s just business and them’s the breaks.

Now let’s go look up the definition of the Streisand Effect.

P.S. This reminds me of the events last summer when Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us Part II leaked online. That was a much bigger leak with actual story details, so I can understand why Sony and Naughty Dog didn’t want spoilers published online, but the companies issued DMCA notices even to YouTubers who were only talking about the nature of the leaks, not including any footage or spoilers. Also not a good look.

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