Magazine article Risk Management

Rockstar Burned by "Hot Coffee"

Magazine article Risk Management

Rockstar Burned by "Hot Coffee"

Article excerpt

Developers of the immensely popular Grand Theft Auto video game series have been no strangers to the controversy created by their games, which allow users to control characters who must commit violent and bloody crimes in order to make a name for themselves in the criminal underworld. But the discovery of hidden sexual content in the latest title, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, has prompted a new level of intense scrutiny that could cost the game's producer, Rockstar Games, and its parent company, Take Two Interactive, millions of dollars.

Since its release in October 2004, San Andreas has been one of the best selling video games on the market. According to analyst NPD Group, even though it was only available on the Sony PlayStation 2 console, in 2004 the game sold 5.1 million copies, making it the top game in the United States. And when Xbox and PC versions were released in June of 2005, the game seemed poised to continue its market dominance.

Frequently with popular games such as San Andreas, hackers look to prolong their gaming experience by breaking into the programming code of a game and developing modifications using the parameters of the original programmers. These "mods" can be entirely new levels created from scratch or they can simply unlock existing content previously inaccessible to the average game player. In the case of San Andreas, a mod known as "Hot Coffee" unlocked content that was sexually explicit.

News of the Hot Coffee mod spread quickly throughout the Internet. Critics including Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) immediately questioned how a game with such adult content could get through the video game rating process with only a "M" or mature rating, rather than the more severe, and in their eyes more appropriate, "AO" for "adults only." They demanded that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the group in charge of video game ratings, investigate the matter. …

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