US Congress takes on 'Grand Theft Auto'

Hot Coffee mod could cost game maker $60 million

US regulators opened a probe into the publisher of video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on Tuesday, prompted by a resolution from the US House of Representatives.

The Federal Trade Commission investigation comes amid an uproar over sex scenes on the game that players can access by using a software modification dubbed "Hot Coffee", found easily on the internet. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas publisher Rockstar Games, a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive Software, has said the explicit content was only reachable through the software modification, and was not intended for public consumption.

On Monday, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution by 355 votes to 21 requesting the FTC investigation into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to determine if the publisher deceived the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to avoid an adults-only rating.

"The game contains sexually explicit content that is accessible by consumers but that appears to have been hidden from the ratings board," the resolution says.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was previously rated mature in the US, meant for anyone 17 and older, and avoided the stigma of an adults-only rating. But last week, the ESRB re-rated it adults only, prompting some retailers, like Wal-Mart, to remove it from their shelves. Take-Two Interactive halted production of the title after the change, and revised down its sales forecast for the year by US$40 million (NZ$59 million).

In New Zealand, Grant Theft Auto: San Andreas was given an R18 rating on release.

The second part of the resolution asks for stiff penalties if the FTC finds the game maker deceived reviewers.

"Should the FTC determine that Rockstar Games deliberately misled the ratings board and consumers nationwide, they will pay the price," said congressman Fred Upton, lead sponsor of the resolution, in a statement on his website.

The FTC will target advertising claims surrounding Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

"The company intends to fully cooperate with the FTC inquiry, and believes that it acted in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations," Take-Two Interactive said in a statement. "Rockstar Games and Take Two Interactive regret that consumers may have been exposed to content that was not intended to be accessible in the playable version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

The company has already started working on a version of the game that will not contain the elements used to enable the Hot Coffee modification. It also plans to refine its game editing process and enhance the security of its game coding "to prevent such future modifications", the company said.

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