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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Terrorist Attack Reverberates in Video Game Industry

19 Sep, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

While the true heroes continue to dig through the terrorist destruction in New York City and Washington, D.C., video game industry execs were modifying games and release schedules containing fictional ones.

Suppliers have pushed back several major game release dates and game publishers are omitting depictions of the World Trade Center from theirgames.

"It certainly would be my hope and expectation that every company in this industry will look at all of their products, packaging andadvertising in light of the horrible events last week," says Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association."Our industry cannot be exempt from the responsibility to look inwardand ask whether any of our products could be inappropriate or insensitive at a time of national mourning and crisis."

Activision has delayed the release of Spider-Man 2 Enter: Electro forPlayStation from Sept. 18 to later this year, because the game's last level includes Twin Towers in the background that could have beenmistaken for The World Trade Center. (Sony Pictures also pulled a trailer for the companion film because it showed the webspinner trappinga helicopter full of villains in a web strung between the towers.)

"Out of respect for the victims, their families and our fellow citizens, we will be postponing the launch and making minor changes to the game," says Ron Doornink, president and c.o.o. of Activision.

"While the buildings in Spider-Man 2 Enter: Electro act only as abackground environment and do not explode or collapse, Activision is being extremely cautious about any images in our game that might bemistaken for the Twin Towers. We expect to ship the game well in time for this holiday season. Additionally, the delay of the game will haveno material impact on our business."

Microsoft will remove the World Trade Center from the latest installment of its PC Flight Simulator franchise, which will ship as scheduled Oct. 18. (Investigators believe the suicide terrorists trained for the attack, in part, on a flight simulator game.) Flight Simulator 2002 is a detailed flight simulation that teaches players how to fly virtualplanes, including commercial jets like a Boeing 747.

"We did decide, after some careful consideration, that we want to do the appropriate thing, the right thing, so we decided to remove the towers,"company spokesman Matt Pilla says. "Obviously everyone's hearts are in this here, too. We don't want to have any imagery in there that wouldupset anyone."

Episodic video game publisher Arush Entertainment has taken down its Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project logo and screen shots from its Web site, because they included the World Trade Center. The episodic game, which launches next March, does not include the Twin Towers in actualgameplay. Arush president and c.e.o. Jim Perkins says the company is evaluating the situation, but believes that the game's science fiction theme and alien enemies shouldn't cause a problemwith players next year.

Sony Computer Entertainment America delayed the Sept. 25 launch of Syphon Filter 3 for PlayStation, the latest installment in its best-selling video game franchise. The games revolvesaround a deadly Syphon Filter virus that has been unleashed in different parts of the world. Players assume the roles of covert agents Gabe Logan and Lian Xing and seek out the people behind this terrorism. The box art for the Mature-rated game features an exploding building and an American flag in the backdrop, as well as the two central protagonists armed with weapons.

"After careful review, we felt that the premise behind the Syphon Filter 3 packaging, and the direction of its corresponding advertising and promotional push, might be too sensitive to introduce during this time of tragedy," said Ami Blaire, director, product marketing, Sony Computer Entertainment America. "Out of genuine concern for the welfare of thevictims and the families of those involved in the attack, as well as empathy for our fellow Americans, the company has decided to take time tomodify the marketing and advertising campaign for Syphon Filter 3."

Although the game will still ship in November as planned, Konami's much-anticipated PlayStation 2 game, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons ofLiberty, which features enemy terrorists in New York City, may be tweaked to omit the World Trade Center from cityscape backdrops. Thebuilding is not featured in gameplay. This Mature-rated game is slated to receive a huge marketing push from both Sony and Konami and isexpected to be one of the best-selling games of the year.

Konami of America released a statement: "Metal Gear Solid 2 is about thedesire to end violence on a global scale, as the previous games in the series have been. Like everyone in America, Konami is evaluating the impact of these events. In the meantime, all of our thoughts are with New York City and Washington, D.C., and all of the people whose lives have been touched by this tragedy. There are no words to adequately express our sorrow, but we firmly believe that the people of America will come through this trial stronger than ever."

Canadian video game publisher Digital Leisure has cancelled the home video game release of Crime Patrol, which was originally a laserdiscarcade game released in the early 1990s by American Laser Games. Set in a modern day city, the shooting game put players in the role of policeofficers stopping criminals, including drug dealers, bank robbers and car thieves. The final level pits cops against terrorists.

"In light of last week's events, we feel that the release of Crime Patrol may serve as a sad reminder of the attacks on New York and Washington," says Elizabeth Foster, president of Digital Leisure. "We have immediately switched our focus to producing Who Shot Johnny Rock?, a detective game set in the Roaring '20s of Chicago that we hope torelease this fall."

Ubi Soft Entertainment has delayed the Oct. 9 PC release of Tom Clancy's Rogue Spear: Black Thorn indefinitely, "out of respect for the tragic events that took place last week." The latest game in the best-selling franchise, which offers a realistic portrayal of the fight againstterrorism, was delayed so the company could "modify the content to avoid stirring emotions unnecessarily and unwillingly offending the public."

In addition to shutting down its online game Majestic for a week as a result of the terrorist attack, Electronic Arts is offering retailers a revised package for its Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 PC strategy game, which shipped last October. The box art contains scenes of well-knownAmerican monuments amid a future war with the Soviet Union. Retailers who send back the current boxed games will receive the new packaging, which will be available in two weeks.

"Yuri's Revenge, a companion to Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, wasscheduled for release next week. However, similar issues with the packaging graphics have led us to hold this product until we can createnew boxes," says an Electronic Arts official. "Yuri's Revenge will be slightly delayed, but it should be on store shelves within the next two weeks."

Other changes could be announced in coming weeks as game companies evaluate some of the more violent Mature-rated releases for this year.

"Although I believe there will be some flak on Mature-rated games, the blockbuster Mature-rated games like Metal Gear Solid 2 will get through the net and will be popular with consumers," sayd Anton Bruehl,president of the International Development Group. "Don't forget lessthan 10% of the real hit titles are ‘M' rated, and these are mostly Japanese titles. Video game violence is representative violenceand a long way from Middle Eastern terrorists like Bin Laden."

"I don't see a big gamer backlash on games that have terrorist elements or New York landscapes," says P.J. McNealy, senior analyst, Gartner G2.

"I don't see people protesting and burning copies of flight simulator games, although future games may restrict flights to smaller planes, eliminating jumbo jets. Hollywood will likely be more affected than thegaming industry."

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