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ESRB Says Hot Coffee For Adults Only

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Major retailers Wal-Mart and Target announced they are pulling copies of the controversial and best-selling video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas after the industry’s own watch dog panel officially changed the rating to “Adults Only (AO).”

Neither store chains carry AO rated games, which have an age requirement of 18 or older, and haven’t decided whether to carry an updated version consistent with the former Mature (M , 17+) rating once it is released.

For those retail outlets who will continue to carry the game, new rating stickers will be distributed over the coming weeks for use until a newer version can be released.

Take Two Interactive, the company that produces GTA: San Andreas, has changed its earning forecast for the fiscal year, lowering projections by $50 million.

The ratings change followed after an investigation by the video game industry’s self-regulating Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB). Hullabaloo surrounding the game surfaced when a teenage Dutch hacker released a code, dubbed “Hot Coffee,” that unlocked a highly explicit sexual mini-game hidden inside the game.

Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take Two Interactive that designed GTA: San Andreas, initially denied that the modification was part of the original game placed by its own software developers.

“Hackers created the ‘Hot Coffee’ modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game’s source code,” read the statement by Rockstar officials.

Rockstar and Take Two have since recanted that statement after it was determined that the modification was present in the original after all.

A Wal-Mart spokesperson said the game will be pulled from the shelves nationwide and expects to have all PC versions, Sony PlayStation, and Xbox versions pulled by the end of the day on Thursday. The modification was initially only thought to affect the PC version of the game but news surfaced recently that the PlayStation version could also be altered to reveal the pornographic animated content.

Target and Wal-Mart probably won’t be the only retailers to yank the video game. Others, represented by the trade group, Interactive Electronic Merchants Association (IEMA), may also take proactive measures.

“Our members intend to immediately cease all sales of the game until existing inventory can either be re-stickered with an AO (Adults Only) rating, or exchanged for new versions of the game that has the hidden content removed and the original M (Mature 17+) rating intact. Though not a policy, IEMA members generally do not carry AO-rated games any differently than we do not carry X-rated videos or DVDs, thus it is likely that our members will be removing all copies of the current version and re-stocking with the updated version,” said IEMA in a statement on Wednesday.

Analysts say Take Two’s projected loss of $50 million was a worst-case scenario prediction to warn investors, but losses probably won’t be that extreme.

The ESRB’s aggressive movement since the news of the “Hot Coffee” modification surfaced may be an attempt to head off a federal investigation.

Parents groups and politicians, notably, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, have called for a federal investigation and a recall of the game.

“The disturbing material in ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children, and it’s making the difficult job of being a parent even harder,” opined the former first lady.

Take Two also announced plans to offer a downloadable patch for the PC version that will block the modification, but gave no indication about how they plan to compensate owners of PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, one of the best selling video games in history, has earned Take Two over $280 billion since its 2004 release. Nearly six million copies have been sold.

ESRB Says Hot Coffee For Adults Only
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