Facing pressure from multiple political groups, including California Speaker Leland Yee
as well as New York Senator Hillary Clinton
, the Electronic Software Ratings Board has concluded its investigation of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
', and has raised the title's rating from Mature to Adults Only in the wake of the "Hot Coffee" scandal, immediately advising North American retailers to cease all sales of the game until corrective actions, as mandated by the ESRB, can be taken. In turn, Rockstar parent company Take-Two has significantly reduced its financial outlook as a direct result of the furore.
The "Hot Coffee" module, stricken from the final retail release but still present on the disc and accessible via third-party codes or software modifications, depicts a graphic sex minigame between protagonist C.J. and one of several girls the player can date in the game.
"After a thorough investigation, we have concluded that sexually explicit material exists in a fully rendered, unmodified form on the final discs of all three platform versions of the game (i.e., PC CD-ROM, Xbox and PS2)," commented Patricia Vance, president of the ESRB, in an official statement announcing the ratings change.
Vance continued: "However, the material was programmed by Rockstar to be inaccessible to the player and they have stated that it was never intended to be made accessible. The material can only be accessed by downloading a software patch, created by an independent third party without Rockstar’s permission, which is now freely available on the internet and through console accessories. Considering the existence of the undisclosed and highly pertinent content on the final discs, compounded by the broad distribution of the third party modification, the credibility and utility of the initial ESRB rating has been seriously undermined."
The Adults Only rating has typically only been used for purely pornographic titles, such as those released by Peach Princess and MacDaddy Entertainment; actual games bearing the rating, such as Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude Uncut and Uncensored
tend to have heavy sexual rather than violent content. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
marks the first time the rating has ever been used on a console game rather than a PC title, with the exception of the little-remembered Joy of Sex
for the Philips CDI.
Take-Two's own response to the ratings increase has been to lower its third-quarter and fiscal year outlook; the quarterly projection has been lowered from around $205 million to around $160 million. Expectations for the fiscal year have dropped from $1.3 billion to $1.26 billion in sales. The extra costs will come from the withdrawal of current copies of the game from the market, as well as production of "fixed" copies which eliminate the "Hot Coffee" minigame. Take-Two shares also fell by 6 percent in after-hours trading as a result of the news, from $27.07 per share to $25.50.