In 2004, Fable hit the shelves as the more mature version of The Legend of Zelda. You could be evil this time and you didn't have to collect all of person B's chickens. I remember playing it and failing miserably at archery practice before my brother took the controller from me. To this day, I'm a terrible archer in video games. However it seems that wasn't the only lesson somebody learned from Fable. At a recent event, ex-Lionhead community chief Sam Van Tilburgh fondly related a tale of when Lionhead fought back against an unruly Fable fan. During the development of the game, a forum group called Kibitz “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.”
First, now I really want to see that picture. Second, this isn't an entirely new tale. Folks have been after sealed content since video games gained the hype they did. It's how Lionhead handled the situation that is both hilarious and terrifying. They not only gleaned where this poor kid lived from his IP address, but that he was 16. They then obtained a copy of a poem the kid wrote for high school. Lionhead “wrote a public message [...] 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 [Van Tilburgh] said, 'You have got to stop this now otherwise I pass all this information on to your mum.' He kept quiet and he was a very kind polite boy after that.”
Oh, the legalities of this are a nightmare! I mean, I know it was 2003 and developers playing pranks like this was the name of the game. But still, finding out where he lived? I guess that's what coming to you when you mess with video game developers. Even today with increasingly specialized education, most developers are jacks of all trades when it comes to design and computer science. But just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. As much as I'm glad this young fellow learned his lesson, I will argue that breaching his privacy that much is going a little overboard. Effective, but not morally upstanding.
That said, legal methods are not nearly as effective. For example, the sheer amount of rumors and leaks from Nintendo about the NX were met with pure silence from the company. Though I'm sure a few people were risking their jobs to give the information. Or No Man's Sky leaks - these were often met with silence or a righteous refusal to confirm or deny. No one is really going out there and taking steps to actually punish those who steal unreleased information on an upcoming video game. If there are legal repercussions, they are behind closed doors and we very rarely hear about them. Instead, developers work towards a more secure lock on their safe of information regarding in-progress games. Ignoring the problem isn't right either. There needs to be a system for this, better protection of IP in the video game industry, and a way to take significant legal action against those who try to steal it.
Though I do love to think of that boy's face when he saw Lionhead's message, this breach of privacy is not the way to counteract a leak nowadays. I am glad this isn't the normal method anymore, but I would like to see studios enjoy the capabilities of handling such situations in a professional, legal manner.