RealTime IT News

'Grand Theft Auto,' FTC Settle Over Secrets

The companies behind the popular "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" settled charges with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that they failed to disclose important information about the game's content.

According to the FTC, the content included potentially viewable nude female characters and a potentially playable sex mini-game, to consumers.

Take-Two Interactive Software, the game's publisher, and Rockstar Games developed and marketed the popular video game.

Although game players could not access the sexual content during normal play, a program called "Hot Coffee," which was posted to the Internet, revealed the content on the PC version of the game.

PlayStation 2 and Xbox players eventually accessed "Hot Coffee" by modifying their game consoles, installing special software and inputting "cheat codes" developed by third parties.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) originally rated the video game as "M" for content appropriate for those 17 years and older. The rating appeared in print, television and retailer advertising and on the game packaging itself.

After the disclosures of the sexual content embedded in the game, the ESRB re-rated the game as "AO" for adults only. Take-Two said the company incurred $24.5 million in costs associated with returns of the game stemming from the re-rating.

"Parents have the right to rely on the accuracy of the entertainment rating system," Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

"We allege that Take-Two and Rockstar's actions undermined the industry's own rating system and deceived consumers. This is a matter of serious concern to the commission, and if they violate this order, they can be heavily fined."

According to the proposed consent agreement, Take-Two and Rockstar are required to clearly or prominently disclose content relevant to the ESRB rating on all product packaging or advertising for its electronic games.

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.