Take 2 Guts Violent Game’s Distribution Plans

After a ban in Ireland and the UK, as well as an Adults Only (AO) rating from the U.S. Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), Take 2, parent company of Rockstar Games, said Thursday it has temporarily suspended the release of “Manhunt 2” for the Wii, PlayStation 2 (PS2) and PlayStation Portable (PSP) video game systems. The company had originally planned for the game to hit store shelves on July 10 in the U.S. and July 13 in Europe.

“Take 2 Interactive Software has temporarily suspended plans to distribute ‘Manhunt 2’ for the Wii or PlayStation platforms while it reviews its options with regard to the recent decision made by the [British Board of Film Classification] and ESRB,” Take 2 said.

“We continue to stand behind this extraordinary game. We believe in freedom of creative expression, as well as responsible marketing, both of which are essential to our business of making great entertainment,” the company continued.

The game maker has not issued a new release date.

The move took Gartner analyst Van Baker by surprise.

“This surprises me somewhat, and I think they will ultimately release the game anyway as they have to recoup their costs,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Contains Graphic Violence

The brouhaha over the second edition of the Manhunt series of games began earlier this month when the ESRB gave the game an AO rating for the Wii, PS2 and PSP versions due to the level of violence in the game.

“The ratings assigned by ESRB are based on the consensus of our raters, who consider several factors including not only the content itself and the context in which it is presented, but also elements such as the reward system and degree of player control,” Patricia Vance, ESRB president, said in statement to TechNewsWorld. “It should be noted that this is not the first time that an AO rating has been assigned for violent content, nor will it likely be the last.”

Bans from the Irish Film Censors Office (IFCO) came on Monday, followed by the BBFC’s announcement Tuesday. Adding to Rockstar’s issues in Britain, the game was erroneously linked to the highly publicized murder of a 14-year-old boy, gaming guide author David Hodgson said. “Now the BBFC is worried about the content of [this] game,” he told TechNewsWorld.

No Takers

Receiving an AO rating is akin to a ban in the U.S., Hodgson said. “No one wants an AO rating, as it’s always a kiss of death to a game.”

The problem for game developers is that huge retailers like Wal-Mart refuse to sell AO-rated games, and all three console makers have policies against allowing AO games to be published for their systems.

The industry will likely take a step back and reexamine the push towards increasingly realistic violence, noted both Baker and Hodgson.

“I think this may be the beginning of a trend that will force the gaming industry to tone down the violence in the major releases,” Baker said.

“Console manufacturers, hand-in-hand with the ESRB, want to take every step to nullify the bad press that sometimes appears at the expense of a game that pushes the violence envelope, which is why they’re planning on banning this game,” Hodgson opined.

In the next five to 10 years, there will be further crackdowns on violent video games, he predicted, or the industry will begin to re-evaluate what video games are in terms of “art” and giving an outlet to companies that want to push the boat out in terms of adult content.

“There’ll be a ripple effect, certainly,” he said.

With millions of dollars invested in “Manhunt 2,” Take 2 loses money each day the game is delayed.

Too Much Realism

Rockstar, maker of the “Grand Theft Auto” (GTA) series of video games, is no stranger to creating controversy. “They have always liked to push the envelope with their content,” Hodgson noted. The response to “Manhunt 2,” however, is unprecedented, as the original “Manhunt” and all versions of “GTA” received an M rating (17 and older).

“‘Manhunt’ is gruesome,” said Hodgson. “It takes place in a more realistic environment, and that is sort of the last taboo of video games. The difference between ‘Manhunt ‘and ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is that there is an element of satire in ‘GTA.’ That is missing in ‘Manhunt 2’ and all you have is depressing violence.”

“Manhunt 2’s” issue is the level of realism, he asserted. “‘Manhunt 2’ displays a brutality that isn’t normally shown in M-rated video games, so a lot of adults might find the game objectionable, too.”

The reaction has been strong because the game pushes the envelope in terms of realistic violence. Of particular concern is the video game’s playability on the Nintendo Wii system. The Wii uses motion-senstive controllers, requiring users to mimic the actions of the slaying while playing, Hodgson explained.

There’s a difference between utlra-violent movies such as “Saw” and “Hostel,” which received R ratings, and video games, noted Hodgson. Those movies present the violence from the perspective of an onlooker or the victim, he pointed out. “With ‘Manhunt 2,’ you’re doing the slaying.”

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