Fable video game team hunted down troll

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Lionhead Studios

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The teenager uploaded several stolen screenshots of Fable in August 2003

A video game industry insider has revealed how he helped track down a “troll” who had threatened to leak his company’s secrets.

Sam van Tilburgh said his team had managed to identify the teenager and obtain some of his schoolwork, which it then published online as a warning.

The firm followed this up with its own threat to alert the youth’s family to his activities.

More than a decade later, the stolen materials remain private.

Mr Van Tilburgh disclosed the affair at an event held by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Bafta) on Tuesday evening.

Others on the panel gasped when they heard of the unusual tactics taken by Lionhead Studios, which occurred before the developer was sold to Microsoft.

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Sam van Tilburgh worked at Lionhead for many years, and now works for the eSports specialist Gfinity

The events took place in 2003, at which point Lionhead was working on what was to become its biggest game: Fable.

“There was this little group, and they were called Kibitz,” Mr Van Tilburgh recalled.

“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.”

In tackling the crisis, the Guildford-based community managers had one crucial element in their favour.

The images had been posted to Lionhead’s own forums, which gave the staff access to the internet protocol (IP) address of the person who had uploaded them.

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Fable was a hit when it was released in 2004 and spawned several sequels

IP addresses can easily be traced back to a physical location through a variety of online tools, assuming the user has not taken steps to conceal the details.

In this case, the 16-year-old culprit had not taken the precautionary measure.

“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],” Mr Van Tilburgh said.

“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.'”

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Lionhead Studios

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The teenager had unwittingly revealed his identity by posting the images from his own computer

The move could have backfired and created a scandal for Lionhead ahead of Fable’s release. Mr Van Tilburgh acknowledged that the studio’s legal team was only told of the matter at a later point.

But he added that the risk paid off.

“He kept quiet and he was a very kind polite boy after that,” he said.

“I met him many times after at community events.”