Reality Check

So . . . anybody want some coffee?

Here's the thing - all my industry friends are jumping to Rockstar's defense over this whole GTA thing. And I'm here to say - this is the line, and that's them crossing it. Rockstar screwed the pooch, and the ESRB slapped them for it, and rightfully so. Let's deconstruct a bit.

For many years now, I've met Muggles and said I work in video games. The response is almost always the same - asking about whatever latest controversy was afoot. Almost all the time it was Rockstar, and most of the time it was one GTA or another. I always fought the good fight. I'd say that y'know - they rated it 'M' - same as a 'R' rated movie. The retailers shouldn't sell that to kids. I even had a little rap about how Rockstar had always shown restraint with the ads - no ads during primetime, etc. They really had not ever marketed GTA to kids.

Well. Here we are. Rockstar snuck content past the ESRB, past Sony, past Microsoft. Teehee. Except while they were did it the took the high ground I was standing on and let it fall into the ocean. Let's go over a few of the defenses I've seen on the net in the last day or so.

1) "Oh so violence is OK, but sex isn't? What's wrong with this country?" - Don't go here. The people upset about Hot Coffee want to ban the whole damn game. They don't like the violence either - the sex is just the cherry on the damn cake. This won't work as a defense.

2) "It could have been one rogue guy." No. This isn't a a texturemap with a coworker or some guy's girlfriend. This is custom code, special animations, building interior art, etc. Here's an exercise - imagine you have GTA: San Andrea as shipped and you're a department lead in a meeting. Somebody pitches Hot Coffee to you and asks how long it would take to implement. How many coder hours, how many art resources, how long design would take to tune the "gameplay". Face it - this feature was built on purpose before somebody chickened out. And they slapped the exterior shot wallpaper over it. C'mon now - anybody who's ever been a lead can look at the game and see that they built the sex mini-games and added the coverup later.

3) "It requires a 3rd party mod to activate". Really? You know this? You've studied the codebase and can tell me there's no cheat to unlock this? None at all? No special save file? No special code that can be entered? Rockstar never thought about releasing this to the public? Nobody really knows do they?

4) "Rockstar couldn't remove the content cleanly and make their ship dates." So? Because Rockstar has so many cashflow problems. And we all know that a GTA wouldn't sell if it didn't make the Christmas prime season. Bullshit. They knew it was there, and they should have pulled it from the game. Can you honestly tell me that you think if the game had been a month late it would impact sales at all? After all, aren't we all claiming the game should be sold to adults, not as Christmas presents? Don't we all claim that the top titles will sell reqardless of when they ship? For crying out loud - if there's a poster child for "This franchise will sell millions regardless of when it ships" it should be GTA. I can think of other top tier games but no other 'M' one. If the market is no longer driven by kids then let's prove it.

Face it. Rockstar lied to the ESRB, they lied to Sony, they lied to Microsoft. Hell, they lied to everyone when they claimed the content was hacked in.

What else could the ESRB do? For years they have been our bulwark - when attacked we could point at the ESRB and say "We're self-regulating!" Even freakin' Liebermann had backed off and all of a sudden we have Frankenstein's Bride (nee Senator Clinton) breathing down the industry's neck. And why? Because Rockstar tried to pull a fast one and lied to everyone.

The ESRB rightfully said "This content was not shown to us, and doesn't deserve an 'M' rating." Now you can go on all you want about how the 'M' rating and the 'AO' rating are poorly defined but that's just smoke and mirrors. Ask yourselves one question - did Rockstar conceal what they were shipping? If you can answer "Yes", then you can't defend them anymore. I won't - and not just because I'm out of games, professionally speaking. I thought we were fellow soldiers in a cause we all believed in - it turns out Rockstar was just using us all as chumps. Don't let them use you this time - call 'em on it. If they want to sell a 'AO' game then fine. I'd support their right to do so. I'd buy it, even if I had to buy it on PC because the console manufacturers lack the balls. Even if I had to mailorder it because the local retailers lack the balls. That's free speech. Lying to a regulatory body to hoodwink your partners (the licensors - the first parties) isn't free speech, it's craven shitty behavior. Don't tell me that they lied and that doesn't matter. Because it does. They tried to trick everyone and they have their hand caught in the cookie jar. They should pay for it.