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Mortal Kombat - A Book Excerpt from Replay: The History of Video Games
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Mortal Kombat - A Book Excerpt from Replay: The History of Video Games


June 10, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5
 

The controversy surrounding Night Trap and the reaction of his family and friends inspired Fulop's next game: "I decided that the next game I made was going to be so cute and so adorable that no-one could ever, ever say it was bad for kids. It was sar­castic. It was like what's the cutest thing I could make? What's the most sissy game I could turn out?"

A shopping mall Santa Claus gave him the answer. "I would go at the end of the year to see Santa Claus at the stores and he would tell me exactly what kids wanted," said Fulop. "He knows better than anyone because his job all day is to ask them what they want. You want to know what's going to sell, go talk to Santa. I did that every year. I went that year and he said the same thing that was popular every year was a puppy and has been for the last 50 years."

Fulop's plan to make an adorable game and children's Christmas wishes for puppies came together to form 1995's Dogz: Your Computer Pet, one of the first virtual pet games. [3]

Dogz installed an enthusiastic cartoon puppy on the player's computer that was housed within a playpen window but could be stroked or taught to do tricks.

Fulop's goal was to make players grow attached to their virtual puppy: "The dogs follow your mouse and they can't wait to be petted, you do a mouse click and they come running over, it was their biggest excitement.

"People get attached to pets because they need you. You're needed. You come home and this thing is in your face... if you're not there you know it's going to be very unhappy or it could die. I don't think a virtual pet is any different."

Fulop's company PF Magic played on this attachment to encourage sales of the game. "It was sold the same way real puppies are sold," said Fulop. "We'll give it to you for 10 days and then ask for it back. You give a puppy to a kid and ask for it back five days later -- see what he says. In sales this is called the 'puppy dog close'.

"We gave you five days' worth of food and after five days you ran out of food and if you want more food you've got to call us and give us $20 and we'll give you a lifetime's supply of food, otherwise your puppy dies or you have to delete it. And who can delete it? It's cruel, it's a little puppy and you won't feed it."

Fulop's ploy worked like a dream and Dogz became a huge success, eventually becoming the starting point of the long-running Petz series of virtual pets.

* * *

With evidence about the relationship between video game violence and real-life behavior inconclusive, the senators closed the hearing by telling the video game industry to return to Washington on 4th March 1994 to report on its progress with creating an age rating system. [4]

In the three months between the hearings and the industry's return to the Senate, the U.S. video game industry reorganized itself. The country's leading game companies quit the Software Publishers Association and formed the Interactive Digital Software Association headed by veteran Washington lobbyist Douglas Lowenstein.

After several weeks of rows, the industry also created the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The ESRB's job was to manage the industry's new age-ratings system. Sega also stopped distributing the Sega CD version of Night Trap in January, although America's leading toy stores Toys R Us and Kay-Bee Toys had already stopped stocking it because of the Senate hearings. [5] The changes were enough to satisfy the Senate. The controversy was laid to rest and Lieberman and Kohl's threats of creating a state-run regulator with it.

The game industry came out of the controversy with more than just a lesson in how to handle politicians. It had also learned that violence and controversy sells. Sales of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap soared during the hearings.

Night Trap in particular had gone from a poorly selling Sega CD title to a game that was selling 50,000 copies a week at the height of the row. When Zito's Digital Pictures released Night Trap on the PC to coincide Halloween 1994, its advertising campaign embraced the scandal: "Some members of Congress tried to ban Night Trap for being sexist and offensive to women (Hey. They ought to know)."

Arcade game maker Strata, which also got a ticking off in the hearings, stuck its middle finger up to Washington within months of the hearings by launching BloodStorm, a Mortal Kombat clone featuring even more extreme violence and a hidden character that had Lieberman's head so players could beat up the Democrat Senator.

Lieberman's attempt to challenge video game violence failed. If anything the changes that resulted from his intervention made video game violence more acceptable, as the age ratings system would identify violent or controversial games as for adults, not children, helping game publishers defend themselves against future accusations of peddling violence to children.

And with an age ratings system in place Nintendo no longer felt compelled to filter out the violence from games released on its consoles. When Acclaim launched Mortal Kombat II on the Super NES, the fatalities and blood remained in place. "The inquiry didn't impact anything," said Tobias. "We were content with the M for mature on our packaging. Developers and publishers fell in line, accepted the ratings system and developed games according to the need of the product."

The Senate hearings had actually made it safer for video game developers to create violent games, not harder.

---

[3] Bandai's portable virtual pet the Tamagotchi came out shortly after Dogz in 1996. Created by Aki Maita, the electronic toy became a global sensation similar in scale to the Rubik's Cube. Tens of millions were sold worldwide. 

[4] The evidence is still inconclusive. As Bryon's 2008 report for the UK government noted: "It would not be accurate to say that there is no evidence of harm but, equally, it is not appropriate to conclude that there is evidence of no harm." She added: "The research evidence for the beneficial effects of games is no more convincing than the work on harmful effects."

[5] The bigger selling Mortal Kombat, however, remained on sale.


Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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