Tears of the Kingdom Leaks and Spoiler Culture

This past Sunday, someone on Reddit posted a link to a page-by-page series of photos of the (original Japanese) artbook that comes included with the special edition of Tears of the Kingdom. Since then, a lot of big-name fandom artists have been sharing public pledges that they won’t post any art that contains spoilers. I appreciate their stance, but I’d like to offer my own take – not on the spoilers themselves, but on the culture of corporate secrecy surrounding “spoilers.”

Before anything, I should admit that I looked at the leaked pages. They’re neat! There are a few new interesting character designs, but no story spoilers. The text is little more than design notes. “This clasp connects the two sides of her hairband,” that sort of thing.

I actually wasn’t all that impressed by the Tears of the Kingdom trailers, which make the game seem like a hot mess of heterogeneous elements that don’t fit together. That being said, some of the new character designs are really exciting! I’m not a fan of video game trailers to begin with, as they tend to target action-oriented fourteen-year-old boys. Meanwhile, the Tears of the Kingdom concept artwork is much more specific and interesting, and I think it invites a much broader and more diverse range of people who play games.

To put it bluntly: I didn’t like the trailers, but the leaked concept art sold me on this game.

I think it’s important to keep in mind that the refusal of media companies to put out nothing more than one or two teaser trailers in advance of a big release is a relatively recent practice. Before Disney bought Marvel in 2009, it was common to share all sorts of concept art, cast interviews, behind-the-scenes set photos, and so on. One of the most enjoyable aspects of being a video game fan in the 1990s and 2000s was checking out all the cool pre-release content in magazines and on official websites. In my experience, these little teaser “spoilers” aren’t going to diminish anyone’s enjoyment. Quite the opposite, in fact!

In addition, I think it’s important to put this leak into the context of Nintendo posting a major Direct video saying that they would open preorders for a special edition, only for the extremely limited stock to be almost instantaneously bought out by scalper bots, as Nintendo’s marketing people must have known it would be. Putting the $130 special edition aside, just a regular download of Tears of the Kingdom costs $70, which is quite hefty. I’m not inclined to take Nintendo’s side in any of this, nor am I amused by their weird Disneyesque attempts to create a kind of sacred space around a video game release to inspire “fear of missing out” anxieties.

Of course, I can understand the mindset of someone who wants to go into a game completely “unspoiled,” but you have to wonder. How good can a game (or movie) be if the entire experience of enjoying it would be ruined by knowing more about it?

My final reaction to the conversation surrounding this leak is rooted in my frustration with the prevailing culture of image-based social media. It makes sense for big-name professional artists with large followings to say that they’re not going to post “spoilers.” I understand that having an active online audience of tens of thousands of people necessitates certain precautions against discourse and harassment! Still, that experience is limited to a relatively tiny percentage of creatives.

The tail of social media interest in any given media release is a week at most. If you’re an artist with a low-to-mid-range following, and you can post your work within the first three to five days of a release, this translates to a difference between your post getting 3,000 notes and it getting maybe 300 if you’re lucky. If you’re an absolute amateur like me, this is a difference between getting 3,000 notes and maybe getting 30.

I can’t even begin to explain how intense the pressure to drop everything and produce work quickly is. Intense, and unpleasant. It’s disheartening to see work that was posted maybe two days earlier get an exponentially higher amount of positive feedback simply because of the timing of the post. Essentially: if you’re unable to produce quality work within a magic window, it can feel as though your work doesn’t matter.

( By the way, if your response is “you should create art for yourself,” please go sit in the corner and think about why an aspiring or early-career artist might need or appreciate support. )

Meanwhile, if an artist has more concept art and other development material to work with, they can take their time and create good work on their own schedule so that it’s ready to go when the magic window opens. Personally speaking, I think being able to enjoy the process of making art instead of operating on an unhinged crunch schedule is much healthier, much more sustainable, and a lot more fun.

So, all things considered, maybe being able to access a wider range of information about a game before it releases is kind of nice, actually.