'Breach' game code theft at PAX East ends in arrest [update]

[Photo: Kevin Kelly]

An attempted theft of Atomic Games' Breach code on the PAX East show floor on the last day of the event was thwarted by vigilant members of the studio. According to a representative for the company, the suspected thief managed to download some of the code and then run into the crowd after he was spotted. He was eventually apprehended in the large crowd and the game's code was found on his computer.

"The suspect did admit to us several times, including as he was doing it, that he was stealing the code. He said to myself and several other team members, after being caught, that it was not a big deal, he just really liked the game and wanted to play it with his friends," David Tractenberg, a spokesperson for Atomic, explained.

"This guy had only succeeded in copying about 14MB to his laptop before our staff caught him," Atomic Games President Peter Tamte told Joystiq. "Because of the work we do for military and intelligence organizations, we take security issues like this very seriously ... It is fortunate for him that we caught him before any of this ended up on the internet. Many of the hackers who stole Valve's Half-Life 2 code were tracked down by the FBI's Cybercrime Task Force."

Joystiq was able to track down the alleged thief, Justin D. May, 20, of Wilmington, Delaware, through Xbox Live, and he claimed that he wasn't stealing the code, but merely trying to get online in the Hynes Convention Center.

"I got online using the ethernet cable hanging outside their booth, because wifi wasn't working," he told us through Xbox Live communications. "They stopped me, checked my computer, and saw the Xbox Neighborhood application. Because that was on there, they accused me of stealing Breach, even though it's not on my computer."

May told us he spent four hours in jail, and his laptops, modded Xbox 360, modded PSP, modded DS and XMP3 were confiscated by police.


Although Joystiq has yet to hear any reports from other studios of leaked code or attempted game thefts, May did apparently try to give up cohorts when apprehended by members of Atomic staff at the show.

"He said several times he 'knew people' and 'could give us bigger and more important people' and he could 'name names.' However, I have no idea if these people were on the show floor or just hackers at home," Tractenberg explained. "I would hate to think he got someone's full code and their title is going to be compromised due to this guy. I just need to make it clear he didn't say anything specific."

Stephen Toulouse, director of policy and enforcement for Xbox Live, actually had an incident with May earlier in the day during his panel "Enforcement on Xbox Live: Tales from the Din Part 2" (audible beginning at the 40:15 mark). During the Q&A section of the panel, the alleged thief asked if he could have his Gamertag unbanned. Toulouse asked him what he'd done, and he said that he'd played Forza 3 before release, which Toulouse told him he shouldn't have done. Toulouse was clear to point out during the panel that buying games early, from a retailer that breaks street date, and playing them online doesn't get Xbox Live players banned, but illegal pre-release play does. The suspect later admitted to Joystiq he illegally downloaded Forza 3 early.

When we informed Toulouse that the suspected Breach thief was the same banned Xbox Live user who was at his panel earlier in the day, he had this to say, "PAX, to me, represents the greatest thing we can aspire to as gamers. Joining together and having fun. And here comes some person that wants to interfere with that. As far as I'm concerned we should decry that. That's not cool and we should support the punishment that comes with that."

Joystiq will continue to follow this story, though May's attorney has advised him to stop speaking with us. PAX East organizers had no comment on the incident. Atomic Games told us in a statement, "While it's a very unfortunate incident, it was a form of a compliment that he liked our game so much he risked a felony to play it early. Since we work with the military and intelligence communities, though, we had no choice but to have him arrested and protect our IP."

[Additional reporting by Kevin Kelly]

Update: The suspect, Justin May, has skipped bail. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.