Rockstar Gets Rough Again With ‘Bully’ Video Game

Rockstar Games, the maker of the popular but controversial video game series “Grand Theft Auto,” is roughing up the industry yet again with its coming new title, “Bully.”

The new game — a portrayal of life for a 15-year-old boarding school student navigating the cliques and confrontations of adolescence — has already been met with harsh resistance and criticism, even though it will not be released until October, according to Rockstar.

Spotty Past

The controversy may have much to do with the game company’s past, which has included lawsuits and an eventual settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over “Hot Coffee,” a hidden, pornographic set of scenes included in Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” game. The blunder cost the company an estimated US$25 million in costs related to re-rating and re-releasing the game.

Rockstar is playing to its core audience of traditional gamers — males in their teens to early 20s — with “Bully,” but industry observers say the overall games business is following a different path.

“I think this is definitely the wrong direction for the gaming industry,” Parks Associates Michael Cai told TechNewsWorld, who said he sees more excitement around family gaming and less around dark content.

Laugh and Cringe

Nevertheless, Rockstar said it will put “Bully” on the market in a couple of months.

Few outside of Rockstar have seen or played the new game, but that did not stop a number of advocacy groups and school officials from proposing bans on it, or recommending retailer boycotts.

Rockstar announced its development of “Bully” back in May, 2005, when the company offered this description of the game: “As a troublesome schoolboy, you’ll laugh and cringe as you stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids, win or lose the girl, and ultimately learn to navigate the obstacles of the fictitious reform school, Bullworth Academy.”

Rockstar had indicated the game would be offered on both Xbox and Playstation console systems, but now the firm says the game will be offered only for Sony’s Playstation 2.

Hard Core Audience

Rockstar is simply addressing its primary audience — teenage male gamers — with its new offering, Gartner Research Director Michael King told TechNewsWorld.

The release of “Bully” flies in the face of an industry-wide trend toward more diverse offerings from game companies, King said.

Compared to where it once was, he added, “the market is wider and [more] diverse and mature.”

Cai pointed to the attention surrounding Nintendo and its new Wii console. That firm has emphasized unity among a variety of different gamers, and more family-friendly fare, in contrast to what Cai called the same old controversial content represented by games like “Bully.”

“That’s definitely why everybody’s so excited about Wii,” he said. “It shows Nintendo’s moving toward the right direction.”

Gartner’s King agreed, noting that the gaming demographic can no longer be considered young males only.

“I think that’s being challenged,” he said.

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