When Lionhead was developing the first Fable game back in the early 2000s, it attracted the attention of a determined group of trolls who managed to snag internal images and a list of planned future games that were never intended for release.
2003 was a different era – before social media and Reddit, developers used forums to interact with their communities.
In a BAFTA Games panel discussing the impact of fan communities on the development process (reported by the BBC), ex-Lionhead community chief Sam Van Tilburgh recounted the time the now-shuttered developer fought back.
The person involved managed to steal a number of images, one of which was of the Fable hero stabbing a boy in the head. The image was never intended for release.
The person threatened to leak Lionhead’s secrets in a post online. Van Tilburgh spotted the person’s internet protocol (IP) address and used it to find out where he lived. It turned out he was 16 years old.
With the help of “a mate”, Lionhead’s community team obtained the person’s schoolwork, including an end of year poem he had recited.
Van Tilburgh posted the first few lines of the poem online, and threatened to tell his mum what he had done.
“There was this little group, and they were called Kibitz,” Van Tilburgh said. “They managed to get their hands on some screenshots, one of which was the hero of Fable stabbing a little kid through the head. It was never meant to be released for obvious reasons. But they managed to get their hands on more material unannounced to this day… and they threatened us, the community team, with releasing them.
“We knew where the guy was living and managed to get a hold of the guy’s high school record through a mate, including the poem that he had recited at his end of year [class].
“We wrote a public message as Lionhead Studios to the group Kibitz and we started the message with the opening lines of the poem he had recited in high school, and we included the landmark he could see from his house where he lived.
“And I said, ‘You have got to stop this now otherwise I pass all this information on to your mum.'”
You’d think Lionhead’s anti-troll tactic would run the risk of causing a scandal (the community team only alerted the developer’s lawyers to the incident after the fact), but it paid off.
“He kept quiet and he was a very kind polite boy after that,” Van Tilburgh said.
“I met him many times after at community events.”
Microsoft shut down Lionhead earlier in 2016 and cancelled Fable Legends. Eurogamer published Lionhead’s inside story in May.