The Truth Behind The Half-Life 2 Robbery

Not real policemen, but nearly

If you read one article about gaming this week (er – that isn’t on RPS. Actually, even so…), it should be Simon Parkin’s excellent investigation into Axel Gembe, the chap who notoriously stole Half-Life 2’s source code long before the game was released. Not just a document of the before and after, it also explores the young German hacker’s thinking and intentions – which may not be entirely what you suspect. It’s a strangely sad and sympathetic tale which paints those notorious headlines of 2004 in a whole new light. Especially, the suggestion that being arrested by German police before US law enforcement could get to him actually did him a huge favour – in terms of learning his lesson as well as retaining his freedom despite his crime.

One thing the feature doesn’t entirely hammer home to those not already very familiar with the case, incidentally, is that this wasn’t just the theft of a game – this was a chain of events that led to the very source code of Valve’s immensely anticipated shooter arriving on the internet. That’s not just like someone breaking into your house and taking your telly. That’s like someone stealing the deeds to your house. All of Valve’s engine secrets laid bare – it’s such a huge-scale horror for any game developer. While Valve’s response to the hack might seem a little harsh in the light of this feature, you can scarcely blame them for feeling so angry and violated.

Incidentally, the hacker himself is now holding an open Q&A session on Reddit following Simon’s article. He’s already confirmed that he hasn’t been in touch with Valve since being arrested.


  1. joe says:

    Sad? Yes. Sympathetic? Not so much.

    (Or am I just a cruel and heartless bastard?)

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      I agree, I can’t sympathise with someone sneaking in for personal benefit.

    • Hoaxfish says:

      well, he probably won’t get a special “I stole HL2” hat

  2. Ricc says:

    He turned his life around, which is good to hear. His story reminds me of Frank Abagnale on a smaller scale. :)

  3. Talorc says:

    Top marks to the German police. Sounds like a lad that needed some guidance and someone in his life to teach him the difference between right and wrong – not what would have been done to him at the hands of the FBI and the US prison system.

    Be damn bloody hard to prove Valve suffered any true financial loss from the hack, given how well things are going for them currently. (See previous Forbes article)

    Little bit disappointed Valve tried to lure him to the US, although they may very well have just been doing whatever the FBI recommended they do.

    • Talorc says:

      The reddit Q&A is really good:

      link to

      He reveals he has no problems remembering random 32 character passwords. Plus 64 character ones for the “important” stuff :-)

    • Acorino says:

      Oh man, that reminds me of two friends I have. They’re the same in this regard.

    • mawna says:

      I’m just glad that everything turned out fine for both Valve and Gembe. Unfortunately many kids don’t get this second chance.

  4. Theory says:

    Guilt trip!

  5. ChromeBallz says:

    Given how the guy has turned around, i wonder if Gabe is feeling guilty now, knowing that if he had came to the US he’d probably still be in jail.

  6. Nick Ahlhelm says:

    Sounds like someone that wants a bunch of sympathy (and limited fame) for something criminal he did. And quite possibly is trolling for a job.

    Though I’m glad he turned his life around, I’m really not a fan of the overly sympathetic turn of this article.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      And the leopard cannot change his spots. Honestly, I don’t think we are in a position to judge whether this is a cynical money making move or not. All we have is our instincts in judging what we see which is only from the outside looking in.

      My gut says that in his position I would be genuinely remorseful and want people in general and particularly those I wronged to know this. I am inclined to believe this not a money spinner.

  7. Brumisator says:

    As admin of another valve fansite, I’m pretty angry at the writer for referring to as “the official forums”.

    Other than that, it’s a good read.

  8. Staggy says:

    As damage mitigation goes, Gembe’s honesty and Valves (imo) rather light reaction resulted in minimal impact on both parties. Valve continue to print their own money, and Gembe is free to walk the streets and continue with his life.

    It does beg the question, what would have happened if it were a different company with a different high profile game?

    • DrazharLn says:

      Valve tried to get Gembe arrested by the FBI. If that had happened he’d have disappeared into the US Prison system or still be the subject of diplomatic wrangling between Germany and the US.

      I don’t think he deserved to go to prison, let alone in a foreign country, for his relatively minor crimes. He stole some code and then didn’t even distribute it widely himself. He was just a dumb kid. I don’t think valve should have attempted to trap him like they did, they should have alerted the German Police from the start or gone for an even lighter response.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Yeah, because alerting a foreign police service is how everybody does things…
      A crime was committed. They called the police. They’re not judges.

    • Staggy says:

      They could have been far harsher, they didn’t push for extradition, custodial sentence, or even peruse for loss of sales.

      Did they give a press release on their reaction to his sentence?

    • skinlo says:

      He should be forced to pay back the damages caused.

    • Staggy says:


      From my perspective, the damages seem small. It wasn’t the finished product, and the retail game sold millions. I’m not justifying his actions, I just can’t see the gaping great gap in Valves profit and loss sheet.

    • FFabian says:

      German citizens can’t be extradited from Germany.

    • Bhazor says:

      “He was just a kid”

      A twenty year old kid.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      @ Skinlo Did you read the figure of claimed damages? It would be next to impossible for a 23 year (at the time of his trial) to be able to pay $250 MILLION. Just how would you propose this would have been enforced? Compared to that, even living in a hovel for the rest of his life and paying all wages to poor old Valve would see an insignificant return. The only service here would be to cause misery for someone who appears to have actually already turned their life around, seen the error of their ways and even, in their small way, seems to be doing some moral reparation. I think in the circumstances, your proposed punishment would be misery for misery’s sake.

    • wu wei says:

      The contrast is the Australian-based, British ex-pat pirate who was extradited to the US to stand trial for crimes he committed on Australian soil. The years he spent detained here as part of the pre-wrangling for extradition didn’t count one iota to his jail sentence. But hey, we wouldn’t have gotten our “Free” Trade Agreement with the US if we didn’t sacrifice as least one goat, right? And let’s face it, even if we’d said “no”, they would have just come and taken him anyway.

      I have no problem with people being punished for crimes they’ve committed. I have every problem with countries twisting and ignoring their own and other’s laws in order to bear the full brunt of their economic outrage on individuals.

      Being made an example of does not equal justice.

  9. clownst0pper says:

    Oh please. He still deserves to be in jail. Would you all be so forgiving if Valve folded as a result of no one buying HL2?

    • Ultimanecat says:

      I personally would be, but that is neither here nor there. There is no need to speak in hypotheticals when discussing a person’s life and freedom.

      Valve is fine and the man has learned his lesson. No need to ruin his life just to make a point.

    • Ricc says:

      He didn’t intend to leak the source code on the internet. He just wanted to look at it. Likely somebody betrayed his trust and put it online. And according to Gembe’s comments on reddit, there might even have been multiple people stealing code from Valve.

      I know, what he did was very naive and careless, but I think it’s a good thing he never took that plane to the US.

    • jplayer01 says:

      I like how people are so quick to condemn others to 5+ years in jail, completely ruining their lives and future prospects, as if it were a just response to this kind of thing. Meanwhile, rapists get out in 2 years and go on their merry way. Excellent.

    • skinlo says:

      Who are you to judge what is ‘just’ or not? I personally think he should have had at least 5 years , and have a hefty fine.

      I agree with the rape comment, but that is nothing to do with this. Rapists should get 20 years in my opinion.

    • stahlwerk says:

      He was sentenced. For a minor, 2 years on probation is actually quite hefty, especially after 3 years of weekly check-ins (so he had a de facto 5 year probation period). And putting him into juvenile detention wouldn’t have done him any good, being socially awkward and all it would have only enabled him to meet exactly the wrong kind of socialisation. Prisons are not the solution to crime.

    • Ian says:

      @ jplayer: Did anybody actually say “He should have gone to prison. Also I think it’s excellent when rapists are let out?”

    • noodlecake says:

      I think you should be in jail for being such a massive grumpy pointy person!

    • SanguineAngel says:

      @ Ultimanecat You express my opinion perfectly and I endorse your statement.

  10. Metonymy says:

    The lesson is always the same.

    Never talk to the cops. Never admit anything. Never deny anything. Just keep your mouth shut.

    • jplayer01 says:

      Erm, that’s the lesson here? Really? Talking to the German police seemed to work out quite nicely. It’s more … don’t go to the USA when you’ve broken the law, otherwise you’re fucked.

    • skinlo says:

      Nope, if anything it was the opposite in this case.

    • Metonymy says:

      I suppose if you weren’t able to figure this out on your own, explaining it to you wasn’t going to help either.

      If he had never opened his mouth, he never would have gotten caught in the first place. “Anything you say can and will be used against you” isn’t just a formality, it is a dire warning to simpletons. Anything that you say, any clarification, any detail, any lie, any truth, anything at all, can be used to put you into a box.

      This is true even when you are innocent. If you don’t believe me, observe the conversation we’re having. Even though I am the only person right here, it is my own words that will be used against me, not your reasoning.

    • SanguineAngel says:

      The lesson for me here is that what you say is true where the FBI are concerned, and possibly the entire US justice system? However, talking to the cops and being honest about what he had done with the German authorities was a catalyst for actually getting real help and turning his life around. He was punished in such a way as to effectively learn his lesson and change his life for the better, thereby preventing his from continuing to break the law, knowing he could get away with it and coincidentally preventing further pain and damage from his actions.

      Had he gone to America as intended the implication of the article at least is that he would not have been so lucky.

      To add – I do see your point. I just think that there are greater, more valuable lessons to be learned. Doing the right thing and being honest need not get you into trouble. Indeed, being innocent and still not being honest is inevitably going to breed hostility of one variety or another, such as suspicion. The scenario you describe may be true in a great many areas but it is surely because the judicial system is at fault and perhaps changes should be made?

  11. coldvvvave says:

    I played this pre-alpha when it leaked.

    Only a couple of levels were ‘playable'( laucnchable is a better word).

    I spent like a week having fun with a physics presentation level( cave, pool, watermelons, metrocop’s dead body and some kind of pre-alpha gravity gun).

  12. Sarlix says:

    Unleash the comments!

    I saw this on EG yesterday. Some pretty strong debate in the comment section. Some quite intelligent, well thought out discussions though. Mostly circling around the question of Gabe’s/Valves ethical approach in handling the whole affair.

    • clownst0pper says:

      Valve probably realised the build was barely playable so had nothing to worry bout?

    • Bhazor says:

      Valve realised their entire internal system had been compromised and key trackers installed on many of the computers. Gabe’s personal email was hacked, the company bank details possibly found and all encrypted data copied and cracked.

      Yeah I can see why Gabe and the FBI wanted to extradite the guy.

    • Sarlix says:

      @Bhazor Sure, but they should’ve gone through official procedure, rather than try and bypass the German judicial system. This was the point being made on EG. Anyway I think the important thing is that both parties came out of relatively unharmed, and the kid learnt his lesson.

    • Bhazor says:


      How did Valve try to circumvent* the law? Gabe was a victim of crime and informed the authorities, the authorities failed to find his details, the guy confesses to Gabe, Gabe talks him into revealing personal details, the authorities in Germany are informed and the guy is arrested. If you mean the plans of entrapment, that is entirely fair especially if you don’t know for certain the identity of the suspect which as the original interview was over the phone couldn’t be guranteed. Especially when he says that he had set up a series of proxy servers to cover his original hack and could have easily taken the same precautions with his phonecall.

      *the old reach around

    • Sarlix says:

      @Bhazor I didn’t intend to get into a debate over this, but it would be rude of me not to reply you :-)
      Yes they couldn’t grantee his identity over the phone, but I would have thought after the first 40min talk it would be fairly obvious they are dealing with kid, and he did give them proof do back up his story, as well as confess to everything.

      So they basically gave a promise of an interview which they never intended to keep with the intention of getting him in to the US so they could charged him under US law. The only reason they told the German authorities was to try and secure visa’s for him and his brother and dad. Had he made it into the US he would have had no protection as the non-citizen’s rights are not protected by the US Constitution.

      Of course none of us were there and don’t know what really went on. So on that note I think we should take the story for what it is, an interesting read, be thankful no serious damage was caused to either party. And if you ever plan to hack into a large corporation don’t bloody tell them you did it! ;-)

    • Bhazor says:

      He was 20 years old. By any definition that’s not ‘a kid’ he’s old enough to drink, he’s old enough to join the army and he’s certainly old enough to take responsibilty for his own dumb ass.

    • Sarlix says:

      @Bhazor I could have sworn it said in the article he was 15. Where does it say he was 20? The article title is The ‘Boy’ who stole half-life 2 – that suggests he wasn’t 20…

    • Bhazor says:

      From the article
      “Today Gembe is 28. Nearly a decade on [hacked in late 2003], he is remorseful about the Half-Life 2 episode”
      That would mean he was 21/22 when arrested and 21/20 when he hacked into the Valve servers.

    • Sarlix says:

      Ooo OK – I actually just followed that other link where he is doing a Q&A And he said he was 21 – Also it would seem the article isn’t entirely accurate after all..

    • Bhazor says:

      The article also said

      “At 6am on 7th May 2004, Axel Gembe awoke in the small German town of Schönau im Schwarzwald to find his bed surrounded by police officers. Automatic weapons were pointing at his head”

      When in reality Axel says on Reddit

      “This is actually inaccurate. They had H&K MP5s but they didn’t come in with the guns drawn. In fact they were really nice waking me up :) Only thing they wanted was that I step away from the keyboard immediately. They did reach for the guns when I grabbed the knife though :)”


    • Simon Parkin says:

      RE: the question over the age of Gembe at the time of the crime. He was tried in Germany as a child. If you were under the age of 21 at the time of the crime and still living with your parents, then you can be tried as a child in a German court at the judge’s discretion. That’s how I justified the title of the article.

      RE: the guns not being drawn during the raid. Axel didn’t tell me they were holstered when he woke up in my interviews with him. He just said that the officers had MP5s on them, and that they drew them up when he went for the knife, which is why I presumed they weren’t holstered.

    • CMaster says:

      Re: Guns being pointed.
      Having faced police officers with MP5s personally, I have to say that it’s very hard for them not to point at you, or at least feel like so. If the officers are wearing bullet proof armour etc, then even the “stood down” position of weapon-across chest tends to lead to it sticking out at 20-45 degrees. If the officer is portly, then it sticks out even more. Also, you rather obviously can’t “holster” a sub machine gun.
      Having something like that in front of you is very unnerving (I spent the whole time watching the barrel swing around in front of me,save the occasional glance as to where his finger was (just outside the trigger cage as it happens)) I dare say it isn’t anything like as aggressive as having the weapons actually sighted and aimed at you.

      P.S. This is not spam

    • Bhazor says:

      “which is why I presumed ”


  13. Tei says:

    I think is fair that he is free just now.
    What he did is despicable, but not worse than when the FBI or any other break a computer without a judge permission.
    Is not proved that he leaked anything. Only that he was lurking on the Valve network, stalking the Valve employes, reading his stuff, and eating his virtual sandwichs. He is more a stowaway than a spy.
    Something that game devs really hate, is anything that steal attention from writing games. Even if that thing is personal hygiene, using engineering practices, eating, sleeping, getting laid with wife, being in the same room as childrens, etc..

    • Talorc says:

      Yeah I think people need to remember he fully admitted everything to his local authorities and then received a fair legal trial, with a punishment according to the law of his land.

      He was incarcerated for two weeks, had to report to the police 3 times a week for 3 years and received a two year suspended sentence. Given the amount of physical or personal harm suffered from his wrongdoings (eg NONE) that seems pretty right to me.

      It’s not like Germany is some fly by night jurisdiction either. Like a lot of European countries they like their justice system with a bit more of the social justice and rehabilitation and less of the punitive punishment and entrenched recidivism

    • stahlwerk says:

      What Talorc said. Sometimes german juvi-Judges are criticized for being way too lenient, especially with repeat offenders (always “nice” to read some neo-nazi kid being judged to “an honest apology” to the person he and his friends beat up), but it’s good to read that the judge kept his/her cool in this case. Would have been interesting to know what kind of punishment the prosecution had gone for, but I guess it wasn’t much worse, with him having confessed and all.

    • Sarkhan Lol says:

      Once the FBI gets involved, almost anyone can come out looking like a folk hero in contrast.

  14. KikYu0 says:

    Thanks for that News.

    • Shadow Aspect says:

      This is a blog, not a newsfeed.
      Thanks for that Post.

  15. Talorc says:

    2000 EURO account, not dollars. Big difference :-)

  16. Qjuad says:

    Depersonalised design? I demand an expansion of this remark!

  17. sassy says:

    So many people are saying bad things about valve. They may seem to have handled it badly looking at it after the fact or from another perspective but you have to remember what was stolen from them. Valve didn’t have steam at that time, nor did it have a huge range of successful games. The loss of HL2 could have very well lead them to fold or be bought out by a soulless publisher.

    Sure nothing happened but we only knew afterward. Valve also probably were following the advice of law officials, specifically local (to them) law officials so it would be no surprise that they wanted the hacker to be in a local judicial system.

    The hacker was clearly the one in the wrong, Valve simply wanted to protect their assets and quite possibly the jobs of every one of their employees. If you have ever heard Gabe Newell speak about his employees then you know he cares a lot about them and their families and would do his best to help them.

    • skinlo says:

      I agree with this person entirely.

    • Silver says:

      I don’t see many bad comments about Valve!?
      Hacker of course was wrong, I’m not justifying stealing, but It it all turned out good for both sides; hacker got sentenced, turned his life around, HL2 is one of the best games ever made. Valve has money to develop new games + steam etc.
      Thing is that people point out that if he had managed to fly to States he might be still in prison etc.
      (he maybe would have sentenced way too harsh!?)
      Only thing I have against Valve with this case is they lied that game was coming out, but actually they were lightyears behind release and just lied to loyal customers. And they said this leak was the main reason because of the delay.. : )))))
      Trying to trick him into States is OK in my book, if you put yourself in Valve’s shoes.

      I can’t go with the cynical ones in RPG who say, he got away too easy etc. And why to sympathize or understand him..
      suck up elsewhere “#¤%&/()=

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      Hey, captain vitriol.

      The bits he leaked were not the current state of the game at the time. That was an old internal build for testing.

  18. cliffski says:

    Corporations are just people. I own a corporation. it’s not some faceless enttiy controlled by robots, but a busienss staretd by people, run by people and staffed by people.
    It’s very trendy for people who want to be angry about stuff to define ‘corporations’ as evil. It’s also very lazy and very silly,.

  19. Bhazor says:

    So this is the cnut who created Steam and therefore all other modern DRM then?
    Yeah, guys a dick.
    My mistake, I thought Steam was launched because of the leak but it was already in development at the time. I regret the statement of my younger self and blame my mistake on eagerness in regards to this topic and having an unhappy childhood and social problems. I am deeply sorry and regrets.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Surely, he cant be both?

    • noodlecake says:

      Eh!? No… Did you read the article? And what’s a cnut? You cnut!

    • Unaco says:

      Errr… What? Steam was publicly revealed in 2002, and released initially in 2003. The events surrounding the leak didn’t occur until the end of 2003, into 2004. This had nothing to do with the creation of Steam (which was an effort to distribute updates automatically, and include anti-cheat and anti-piracy measures, all in one package).

    • Sarlix says:

      Heh, I remember installing Steam on the day it launched – I had no choice because if you wanted to play CS:1.6 you had to have steam – Anyway long story short, it bricked my PC :-(

    • Pijama says:

      Guy is prolly an ARRSEr, they say cnut a lot. :p

  20. Nick says:

    The corporations sit there in their… in their corporation buildings, and… and, and see, they’re all corporation-y… and they make money.

  21. Bhazor says:

    A corporation is a different thing to a business.
    link to
    Theres an excellent section in the documentary “The Corporation” that shows the difference pretty well. A group of twenty to thirty anti corporation protestors do a sit in on the lawn of the now former Dutch Shell CEO. The group start talking to the CEO and his wife, who brings out a tray of tea for them all as is the queen’s law, who really relax around each other. The protestors realise that the corporation is run by a lot of pretty nice people who are just doing their job. Just doing their best and hoping for a promotion and a payrise and maybe an afternoon off to see thier kid’s big game. Then you get reminded this corporation is responsible for chemical dumping, share shenanigans, eight figure tax evasion and child labour.
    The point is that corporations are so big the guys at the top have no real idea what is happening in their own business. They just see the bad numbers going down and the good numbers going up and call it a good day. How and why those numbers change is a secondary concern.
    That’s all a bit off topic though and I have no evidence to suggest Valve employ child labour in their salt mines. I’m just suggesting they might.

  22. Lugg says:

    The funny thing about this story, for me, is that that guy is a friend of my ex-girlfriend. It’s a small world!

  23. Buemba says:

    Gamespot did a feature on the development of Half-Life 2 that, among other things, details these events from Valve’s point of view:

    link to (Old layout)
    link to (Converted to Gamespot’s new layout, which borked some of the formatting)

    It’s an interesting read, and makes me wish they still made these “Final Hours of…” articles.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      It’s interesting the differences between Gembe’s story of how he broke in and the Gamespot article (which is basically the same as every account I’d heard up til now).
      He says now that he never logged on to any workstations, just the servers (except for one), and that he never used keylogging software or cracked email passwords. Given that he freely admits to some of the other stuff he got up to unrelated to valve (tl;dr he wrote some botnets), I’m inclined to believe him.

      In which case, who installed the key loggers on the Valve machines?

  24. Qjuad says:

    @Kobzon – Ah, I see. I’ve read similar sentiments elsewhere actually. Personally, I loved the feel of HL2 – the whole thing was so remarkably streamlined; all wheat and no chaff with such an impossibly diverse set of scenarios (some worked much better than others of course). It was a rat maze but I was a happy rat. But Valve’s approach to game design is certainly very different than most other developers and I can see why some may be put off by the ‘design by committee’ approach.

  25. bwion says:

    I’m kind of astounded by the intellectual gulf between “reverse-engineered some malware and used the lessons he learned to infiltrate a prominent computer game company” and “proceeded to ask them for a job”, myself.

    I’m kind of glad that he didn’t get chewed up and spit out by the criminal justice system myself, but he’s the villain (to the extent that there is one) of this mess, not Valve or the FBI or the German police.

  26. noom says:

    I tend to split corporations roughy into two groups as far as genuine morality is concerned. Privately owned (typically smaller) companies, especially those whose owners have a large part in controlling said companies actions, can justifiably be said to able to make meaningful moral choices. More publically owned (typically larger) companies, whose board members may not have majority share ownership, can be considered stewards of other people’s monetary interests, and therefore be said to have a bottom line moral obligation to their shareholders, with any personal ethics taking a back seat to shareholder profit.

    Not exactly black and white, but a reasonable rule of thumb I think.

  27. Tim Smith says:

    Removed my comment because of teh naughty word? How rude.

  28. AlexW says:

    Take anything said by the guilty party with a massive heaping of salt. If he intentionally released the source code and whatnot he wouldn’t exactly say that, now, would he? “That cruel millionaire has it in for me, trying to get me the death penalty when all I wanted was to feed my family,” from a man that stole a priceless set of jewels, wouldn’t garner much sympathy, so any statement that begins “So then I decided to put keyloggers and other assorted malware on every computer in the office of a business and steal five years of their work,” should be treated with suspicion.

  29. DJ Phantoon says:

    What noom said.

    So, I don’t get it. Gabe wasn’t allowed to be angry after his company got hacked and an old version of Half Life 2 put on the internet? Should he have faced no consequences at all? The guy unmasked himself, surely that would’ve made the people at Valve MORE angry as they obviously would’ve believed at that point he was just rubbing their faces in it.

    It’s plenty rational to get angry when there’s an invasion of privacy like this.

  30. Kevin says:

    You’re right. That’s more like, $2500. The dollar as weak as it is now.

  31. bwion says:

    Also, anyone below the age of 30 is a kid.

    In 4 years, anyone below the age of 40 will be a kid.


  32. X23 says:

    What the kid (20 is still a young age, especially for someone with a rough childhood) did was wrong, but the reaction from Valve was worse. They fully knew they were taking him to the U.S. to ruin his life cause they lost some money. They value money over human life. As a business that is their job, however that doesn’t make them right. Couple that with the horrible U.S. justice system that ruins lives daily and you have a very immoral action by Valve. Luckily he got sentenced in a place where the justice system is sane (United States justice is sometimes even more regressive than 2000B.C. eye for an eye, we punish people more severely then their crime).

    I think we see companies like Valve and forget that they are a business just like an insurance company, oil company, less respected game company, or anything you want to think of. They are out their to make money first and foremost. Sure they do it more fairly than others, and it’s not like they are a bunch of robots, but they are out for profit, first and foremost. On the other hand, I can understand their initial reaction, it’s easy to see why they’d be angry, (although I think these companies overblow the impact of leaks) and want to enact revenge on the leaker. I guess they didn’t think of him as just a kid, they thought of him as some faceless hacker. Maybe they need to read up on the U.S. prison system. I think even people who commit violent crimes (he probably would have gotten punished worse than them anyway) don’t deserve the U.S. prison system, let alone hackers. This guy was barely malicious as well.

    • Berzee says:

      At what age is someone with a rough childhood no longer “just a kid”?

    • Tim Smith says:

      100% agree X23

    • Nalano says:

      Theoretically lost money, no less.

      Hell, if it took Valve so long to push out the game, what would a bunch of hackers have done with the code? No games company manager with half a brain would touch it without going through the proper channels.

    • Nogo says:

      I think people read this story and get a wild notion that Valve has some sort of criminal investigation division.

      A crime was committed against them, they called the police. Valve merely provided any information they had, in fact it may have been illegal to withhold new information they received. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the hacker dealt almost exclusively with federal agents after the initial email he sent. Why would the FBI trust a game dev to catch their suspect?

      Bottom line: Valve is too busy to run around trying to catch hackers, that’s the FBI’s job.

  33. Berzee says:

    I am a big fan of people who are wise enough to show mercy. =)
    But not a big fan of people who are foolish enough to demand it.

  34. reticulate says:

    So, I guess you could say everything turned out better than expected?

  35. Kadayi says:

    “Well you gotta have a real emotional storm to even consider that what they tried to pull out with the dude was acceptable? ”
    What you meaning bringing someone to legal account for their actions?
    There’s a lot of talk about how well off Valve are now as a result of Steam, however I think you look at the time all this was happening I don’t think that they were in a great financial position. In fact those of you with long memories probably recall a rather flustered Gabe Newell pimping one particular graphics card over another which was clearly nothing more than a ‘here’s your cheque’ moment. Let’s not also forget the legal issues that Valve had with Sierra also over Steam. If anything I’d say Valve’s tech demo videos of the Source engine was a move by them to try and find themselves a space in the engine licensing arena, more than to pimp Halflife 2 itself.

    The leak of the code undoubtedly undermined confidence not only in the Source Engine but also in Valve. If things had gone badly legally in the case with Sierra, Valve might well of ended up out in the cold minus an IP, and with a game engine very few big name developers/studios were now interested in (more’s the pity as the facial tech was/still is sublime Vs most others).

    Thankfully for us gamers that wasn’t the case, but this notion of no harm no foul on the hackers part is rosy eyed to say the least.

  36. Nalano says:

    “Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.”

    – Ambrose Pierce

    It’s called “it’s not evil if I don’t see it happen, even if I profit from it.” It’s what makes most of the world hate us.

  37. Pretzel says:

    Ah, since he talked to a reporter years later and said he was really sorry, everyone here thinks he’s a wonderful chap and Valve was evil. Doesn’t it occur to anyone that he’s got an agenda? How can anything he says be taken as being honest?

    Apparently, everyone here thinks that companies should just roll over when someone breaks into their servers. Any attempt to provide legal consequences is going to far, because 10 years later he said he was really sorry.

    Why should any hacker worry if this is the world people want to live in? If this guy had stole your credit card # and spent your money, would you be as forgiving? “Oh, he was just a kid.” Fuck no. He stole from someone and they tried to get him into the country to pay for his crimes. You don’t like it? That’s just because it didn’t happen to you.

    • wu wei says:

      I’ve had money defrauded from my credit card on several occasions now. Was it annoying? Sure. Did I get so angry I wanted the culprit to spend 5 years being pounded in the ass? Absolutely not. Am I frothing at the mouth over other people also being defrauded? Sorry, I have a life of my own to think about.

      Don’t try and assume what other people’s opinions are, you’ll never be right.

      Nor is anyone saying that Valve should have just bit the pillow and taken it. If Valve had stopped at reporting it to the correct authorities, then no one would have any objection to their behaviour. That they tried to trick him into entering the country so they could avoid the hassle of obtaining legal extradition is a contemptible act. As best I know, vigilantism is illegal in the US, no?

      Incidentally, the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed until the mid-twenties, which has a major role in inhibiting inappropriate behavioural responses. You can hand wave this away as an “excuse” as much as you like, it doesn’t make it any less of a biological factor.

      One has to wonder a little if perhaps there’s a similar underlying factor at work within game companies. How old is Valve now?

    • MD says:

      You seem to be strawmanning a massive chunk of the commentors. Very few people (I don’t think I’ve seen any) are suggesting he should not have faced any legal consequences. A lot of people do object to Valve lying to him in an attempt to lure him overseas to face what may have been years in prison.

    • drewski says:

      @ MD – Clearly what Valve should have done is mystically project the gamut of possible consequences for not complying with US law enforcement officials, and complying with them, and then acted based on your personal opinions of what is morally justified.


      Valve had no way of knowing what would happen if the German authorities caught him, if the US authorities caught him, or the consequences therein. Are they expected to be experts in the comparative differences between the German and American legal systems with regard to electronic crime, as well as making computer games?

      He committed an act against them. They reported that act to the police. They endeavoured to co-operate with the police in arresting the suspect for questioning and possible prosecution over his acts. They don’t have to be a corporation to think that that’s a pretty fair course of action.

    • MD says:

      They ‘endeavoured to co-operate with the police’ by lying to him in an attempt to lure him overseas to face what may have been years in prison. In my opinion, this was wrong. You obviously disagree, but it’s not fair to rant against a bunch of things I didn’t actually say.

      (Besides, the main thrust of my comment wasn’t to state my own opinion, but to point out that Pretzel grossly misrepresented the position of those with whom he disagreed. Surely you’d concede that I had a fair point there?)

    • Nogo says:

      A far more likely scenario is Valve receiving the email, verifying its authenticity, then sending it to the FBI for them to deal with. We have no way of knowing whether it was valve or the FBI who sent the false job offer unless I’m missing some official statement.

  38. Scandalon says:

    I think the moral of the story is to move to Germany, where it sounds like the police actually have a sense of balance. If the (yes, naive) dude had gotten on that plane, his life probably would have been effectively ruined.

    Note that I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been punished or anything, but I live in a country where you get arrested/prosecuted for taking video of a cop “doing his job” in public…

    • Pretzel says:

      At 6am on 7th May 2004, Axel Gembe awoke in the small German town of Schönau im Schwarzwald to find his bed surrounded by police officers. Automatic weapons were pointing at his head and the words “Get out of bed. Do not touch the keyboard” were ringing in his ears.

      You call that a sense of balance?

    • Matt says:

      Yes, move to Germany where you have to import any and all games with a modicum of violent content. Sounds awesome

    • mawna says:

      @Pretzel “It isn’t true that they came in guns drawn. Some of them had MP5s with them though. I was told they didn’t know what to expect.” Gembe

  39. Grey says:

    Thieves and pirates are all the same. They steal things. I hate them. But maybe if he wasn’t stole the source code at the first place, HL2 was never be that great. Or was it?

  40. Big Murray says:

    You can say what you want about Valve being heavy-handed and the guy not being trustworthy or whatever side of this particular debate you want to fall on, but ultimately the only thing that matters is saying that anyone can see what this guy managed to do was a result of him being enormously talented.
    I’d be surprised if somebody hasn’t given him a job.

    EDIT: Oh, apparently someone did, reading that Q&A he’s been doing.

    I find it hard to be mad at the guy, because let’s be honest … it was exciting. We downloaded the leak and went nuts over with childish, boyhood wonder, even though it was unfinished. It was bad for Valve, and it was a bad thing for him to do, but for everyone else … it was a lovely thing to be able to see. Like being 10 years old and someone accidentally leaving the backstage door to Disneyland open.

  41. Noumenon says:

    Edit: I don’t understand why the other ten posts saying the same thing didn’t display before I decided to register and post this.

    @Cliffski — in the US we distinguish between S-corporations (basically limited liability for single people or partnerships) and C-corporations (the Exxon types). Saying a C-corporation is “just people” is like a bacterium saying a human body is “just cells.” Large corporations, like bodies, have emergent properties based on their organization that exist regardless of the individuals slotted into their different roles.
    Just piped up because your idea that people oppose corporations just to be trendy reminded me of how I used to think gay people decided to act that way just because it was cool.

  42. Berzee says:

    P.S. This was indeed a very fun read :) thanks for the link

  43. Melf_Himself says:

    I wonder if Valve actually were trying to lure him to the US under false pretenses as the article claims. Gabe is an eccentric fellow, he could well have been serious about offering him a job. It would have been hilarious publicity.

  44. lachie echo echo says:

    So if we can’t access our own Steam Games when there’s a stuff up in Steam are we able to go to their homes with automatic weapons?