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‘M'-Rated Game Releases Popular in 2004

30 Jun, 2004 By: David Ward

Despite years of talk about the broadening audience for video games, this year console publishers are bringing out a slew of ‘Mature'-rated games all aimed at the hard-core gamer.

The theme is already being set with such top-selling releases as THQ's Full Spectrum Warrior, Vivendi's The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and Rockstar's Red Dead Revolver and should continue through the holidays with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and controversial releases such as Eidos Interactive's 25 to Life.

“It seems that everything has gone ‘Mature,’ said one retailer.

The prime reason for the huge influx of ‘M'-rated games is the changing face of the hard-core gamer.

“Our audience is not 12 to 18 anymore — it's 18 to 34, and they want the games that cater to them,” said Danny Ruiz, senior brand manager at Ubisoft. “I don't think it's a secret that the more violent games are the ones that are selling the best.”

Ubisoft is a prime example of the ‘M'-rated trend. Last holiday, the company brought out the ‘Teen'-rated Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time to dazzling reviews. But while Ruiz insists the game did very well, other sources within the company suggested Prince of Persia didn't do as well as hoped with the 18-and-older audience.

This year, Ubisoft is bringing out the sequel Prince of Persia 2 featuring darker themes and more violence. “The prince is fighting for his life, so his tactics have become more aggressive,” Ruiz said.

Though Ruiz said it's still not certain Prince of Persia 2 will receive an ‘M' rating, the retail source noted, “That game had beheadings, so it's definitely going to be an ‘M.’

While publishers hope that their ‘M'-rated games will somehow become the next Grand Theft Auto or True Crime, O3 Entertainment president Bill Gardner said there are other more practical reasons for publishers to think ‘Mature' in 2004.

“That older demographic presumably has more discretionary income,” Gardner said. “That means you can keep a higher $49 price point.”

But Gardner also argued that going for the ‘M'-rated audience is no guarantee of success. “Some feel that ‘M'-rated games sell better because of the changing demographics, but I would argue, how many people are going to buy more than one or two of them?” he said. Of concern to retailers will be whether a dramatic increase in ‘M'-rated games will trigger more calls for legislation to control game content.

“It is impossible to predict,” said Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Entertainment Software Association. “However, we hope that regardless of where content trends, the fact that courts are consistently ruling that games are protected speech will discourage efforts to regulate the industry, just as efforts to regulate other forms of protected speech, like films that contain violence, are now fairly infrequent.”

Sean Bersell, VP of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association, noted that obviously retailers aren't going out of their way to court controversy, but added that at the end of the day, most stores will carry the games that are great rentals and sellers, regardless of their rating.

However, Bersell said it's foolish to think that the efforts to put retailers squarely in the middle of the debate over video game content have in any way ebbed.

“There are 40 video game-related bills pending across the United States: 39 in states and one in Congress,” he said. “And 38 of them are aimed at retail.”

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