Late last night, 27 days before its officially scheduled retail release, a complete version of Microsoft's upcoming first-person shooter Halo 2 was leaked to the Internet. The pirated release, a PAL version of the game with French-language dialogue, is currently making its way around various Usenet newsgroups and peer-to-peer networks.
In a statement that Microsoft is sending only to media outlets that request comment, it admits the game "has been posted to various newsgroups and web sites."
While Microsoft says it is "currently investigating the source of this leak with the appropriate authorities," there has been no word on precisely where or how the game originally surfaced at this time, although Microsoft says it is actively tracing the leak. "Microsoft takes the integrity of its intellectual property extremely seriously, and we are aggressively pursuing the source of this illegal act."
It should be noted that players who download the game illegally could face a maximum penalty of $100,000 per instance for copyright violations. "We consider downloading this code or making it available for others to download as theft," the statement continues.
Reaction to the leak from developer Bungie, whose employees have spent most of the past three years developing Halo 2, was understandably more visceral. "We think this really sucks," read a staffer's post on the company's official Web site. "Aside from years of hard work being stolen from us, we've gone to great lengths to ensure that the details of the Halo 2 campaign remain a mystery."
"Microsoft," the post says, "is currently engaged in a full-scale investigation" to come down hard on "those foolish enough to partake in this piracy."
Another message, this one directed at the members of the bungie.net forums, warned of dire, sweeping consequences that would befall any member who posted screens stolen from the leaked game, or hinted that he or she had the game, or knew where to get it. "A link on the forums will get you banned permanently [from the forums]." Worse, users whose GamerTag user name is listed in their user profile "risk having your Xbox Live account's ability to play Halo 2 crippled We are NOT kidding around here."
"There's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft has people tracking down whoever was responsible for this," wrote the Bungie-appointed moderator on the forum. "I hope whoever it was thought that leaking the game was worth his job."
Halo 2, which continues the adventures of Master Chief with an all-new single-player adventure, as well as Xbox Live support for Internet-based multiplayer, is scheduled to hit retail shelves on November 9--a date that Microsoft says "remains unaffected."