June 2006 Volume 28 Number 1
Interactive and Rockstar Games settle FTC charges they failed to disclose that Grand
Theft Auto: San Andreas contained nude female characters and sex mini-game
Interactive Software, Inc., and Rockstar Games, Inc. – the companies that make
and published the popular video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas –
have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they failed to tell
consumers that the game contained nude female characters and a playable sex
mini-game. The companies also failed to tell the Entertainment Software Rating
Board (“ESRB”) about these features while it was rating the game.
San Andreas players could not access or view this sexual content during
normal game play, sophisticated players posted a program on the Internet, dubbed
“Hot Coffee,” that revealed this content on the PC version of the game.
PlayStation 2 and Xbox players eventually were able to access the Hot Coffee
content by modifying or adding an accessory to their game consoles, installing
special software, and inputting “cheat codes” developed by third parties.
the ESRB finally learned about these features, it gave the game a more
restrictive rating. The ESRB originally rated the game “M” for Mature. Video
games rated “M” contain content that may be appropriate for those aged 17
and older. The rating information, including the rating symbol and content
descriptors, appeared in print, television, and retailer ads for the game, and
on game packaging. The ESRB re-rated San Andreas AO (“Adults
Only”). Games rated AO have content that should only be played by persons 18
and older. As a result of the re-rating, many national retailers pulled the game
from their shelves.
to Take-Two Interactive, the company incurred $24.5 million in costs associated
with returns of San Andreas stemming from the re-rating. The companies
subsequently published a second, M-rated edition of San Andreas without the nude
images and mini-game content.
FTC’s complaint charged that the companies violated the FTC Act by
representing that San Andreas had been rated “Mature” and assigned certain
content descriptors by the ESRB, but failing to disclose to consumers that the
game discs contained unused, but potentially viewable, nude female images and
disabled, but potentially playable, software code for a sexually explicit
mini-game that the ESRB had not rated.
FTC consent agreement requires Take-Two and Rockstar Games to clearly and
prominently disclose on product packaging and in any promotion or advertisement
for electronic games, content relevant to the rating, unless that content had
been disclosed sufficiently in prior submissions to the rating authority. In
addition, the companies cannot misrepresent the rating or content descriptors
for an electronic game. Finally, the companies must establish, implement, and
maintain a comprehensive system reasonably designed to ensure that all content
in an electronic game is considered and reviewed in preparing submissions to a
rating authority. Once the order becomes final, the companies will be subject to
civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation if they violate the order. The
companies will be subject to compliance reporting requirements to ensure that
they meet the terms of the order.
the Matter of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., and Rockstar Games, Inc.,
FTC File No. 052 3158 (2006); the FTC Complaint, Consent Order, and Analysis is
available at http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0523158/0523158.htm