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Video Game Makers Settle FTC Charges

The companies that developed and marketed the popular "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" video game agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they failed to disclose the game's hidden sexual content. The settlement, announced June 8, is subject to final FTC approval following a public comment period that ends July 10.

Although players of the game could not access the sexual content during normal game play, a program posted on the Internet by a third party, dubbed "Hot Coffee," revealed the content, which included nude female images and a sex mini-game.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) originally rated the game "M" for Mature, meaning the content was appropriate for those aged 17 and older. Later the ESRB re-rated the game AO (Adults Only), meaning content that should only be played by persons 18 or older. The companies subsequently released a patch that disables the "Hot Coffee" program and recalled the inventory for re-labeling. They also published a second, M-rated edition of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas without the hidden nude images and mini-game.

Under the agreement with the FTC, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. and its subsidiary, Rockstar Games, agreed to prominently disclose on packaging and advertising any content relevant to a game's rating and to implement a system ensuring that all content is considered in preparing submissions to a rating authority. The companies would be subject to penalties of up to $11,000 per violation if they violate the order.

"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."

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Mary Swanton

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