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Ratings Shakeup Over <I>GTA: San Andreas</I>

20 Jul, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

Best Buy will pull all copies of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from all of its North American stores on the heels of a rating change by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), and Rockstar Games will begin working on a better-protected version.

Although the game has been rated ‘M' (mature) until today, the ESRB bumped the rating up to AO because of a controversial so-called “hot coffee mod,” an unauthorized third-party modification that alters the retail version of the game to show characters fully nude and engaged in raunchy activity.

Game developer Rockstar Games will provide AO labels for retailers who wish to continue to sell the current version of the title, but Best Buy won't be one of them. Rockstar also stopped manufacturing the current version of the title and will begin working on a version of the game with enhanced security to prevent the modifications.

The new version will retain the original ESRB ‘M' rating and is expected to be available during supplier Take-Two Interactive's fourth fiscal quarter.

In the meantime, Take-Two lowered its guidance for the third fiscal quarter ending July 31 to $160 million to $170 million in net sales and a net loss per share of 40 cents to 45 cents to provide reserves for the value of the title's current North American retail inventory. It also lowered guidance for the fiscal year ending Oct. 31 to $1.26 billion to $1.31 billion in net.

The two game companies noted that the explicit scenes in the “hot coffee” modification are not playable in the retail version of the game unless the user downloads and/or installs unauthorized software that alters the content of the original retail version of the title, representing a violation of Take-Two and Rockstar's end user license agreement (EULA) and intellectual property rights.

“We are deeply concerned that the publicity surrounding these unauthorized modifications has caused the game to be misrepresented to the public and has detracted from the creative merits of this award-winning product,” said Paul Eibeler, Take-Two's president and CEO.

Take-Two is exploring its legal options regarding companies that profited from creating and distributing tools for altering the content of the game.

Rockstar Games will offer a downloadable software patch to render the PC version impervious to the “hot coffee” modification and will seek help from parent groups and political leaders to get the word and the patch out to game owners.

Best Buy policy is not to carry adult-only (AO)-rated games. The chain pulled the game from its store shelves and its virtual shelves on bestbuy.com, bestbuy.ca and futureshop.ca Web sites.

The decision applies to both the console and PC formats.

“Our decision reflects the commitment we have to our customers to help them make informed decisions,” a spokesperson said. “Best Buy is a strong proponent of the ESRB ratings system. We will continue to work with them to ensure that the ratings system is a meaningful way to help customers make educated video game purchases.”

The spokesperson said the chain “hopes to send a strong message to game developers encouraging full cooperation with the ESRB.”

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