Game maker halts production of 'Grand Theft Auto'

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The maker of the popular video game “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” halted production of the PC version of the game and predicted millions of dollars in lost sales due to a re-rating of the title to adults only.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) revised the game’s rating Wednesday amid a controversy over sexually explicit material in the game, unlocked by a software modification dubbed Hot Coffee allegedly created by hackers and readily available on the Internet.

The rating revision hurts game maker Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. because stores in the U.S. won’t be allowed to sell the game to anyone under 18 years old. The revised rating may also cause video game makers to spend more on increasing security in their products to avoid similar tampering with their software code.

Trouble with “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” started shortly after the PC version was released in June. Someone posted Hot Coffee on the Internet, a software modification that allowed users to play sexually explicit mini-games on the title.

The modification caused an uproar, culminating in a call by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for increased legislation and stiffer penalties to keep violent or pornographic video games away from kids. The New York senator also prodded the ESRB to revise its mature rating on “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” to adults only, which the group did.

The ESRB’s decision to re-rate a game based on an unauthorized third-party modification presents a new challenge for parents, the entertainment industry and anyone who distributes or consumes digital content, said Paul Eibeler, Take-Two’s president and CEO (chief executive officer), in a statement.

Take-Two said the scenes enabled by the Hot Coffee modification are not playable in the retail version of the game unless a user downloads and installs the unauthorized software, thereby altering the original content of the game and violating the company’s end-user license agreement and intellectual property rights.

The company said it cooperated fully with the ESRB’s investigation into Hot Coffee and will provide a software patch for current users of the game and parents to ensure versions already out in the public cannot be modified. Take-Two will soon begin working on a version of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” with enhanced security to prevent the modifications that led to the revised rating, the company said.

The company also expects financial pain due to the revised rating. “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” was last year’s best selling game globally, according to market researcher NPD Group. Take-Two lowered its financial guidance for the fiscal third quarter, which ends July 31, to a forecast net loss per share of between US$0.40 to $0.45, far worse than the net loss per share $0.05 to $0.10 it had predicted earlier.

The company also revised down its sales projection for the full fiscal year, which ends Oct. 31, to between $1.26 billion to $1.31 billion, from a previous forecast of $1.30 billion to US$1.35 billion.

This story, "Game maker halts production of 'Grand Theft Auto'" was originally published by PCWorld.

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