Judge Decides That Grand Theft Auto's Hot Coffee Mod Didn't Deceive Shareholders

from the easter-eggs-remain-legal dept

Hidden “easter eggs” are quite common. These are little things hidden within software, often for the amusement of the programmers. In video games, it’s often fun to try to find these hidden parts. It’s really kind of a tradition for some. However, folks who didn’t quite understand this freaked out a few years back, when the “Hot Coffee” mod/hidden content was revealed within the game Grand Theft Auto. This was a special modification to the game that would unlock a hidden part of the game allowing players to (gasp!) participate in consensual intercourse. It was such a big deal that various Senators proposed laws to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. And, there was even a class action for all those people “damaged” by this mod. And, because no moral outrage directed at companies is complete without a shareholder class action lawsuit, there was one of those as well — accusing the company of somehow “misleading shareholders” with Hot Coffee. Luckily a judge has realized how ridiculous this is and has dismissed that particular claim in the shareholder lawsuit. Phew. Now software developers will be able to keep adding easter eggs and hidden content without a special explanation for all shareholders.

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Companies: take-two

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Comments on “Judge Decides That Grand Theft Auto's Hot Coffee Mod Didn't Deceive Shareholders”

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Jaqenn says:

A brief glimpse of sanity...

Easter eggs are awesome. That said, Hot Coffee explored a particularly unique new territory for easter eggs:

Hot Coffee was content hidden in the game which would have changed the ESRB rating on the game (most likely from ‘Sexual Themes’ to ‘Strong Sexual Content’).

I don’t know if that deserves a shareholder lawsuit or not, but every time someone attacks the videogame industry its supporters point to the ESRB rating system and say that it’s working.

When the developers of a game make it not work, then I say the outrage is well deserved.

WarOtter (profile) says:

Re: A brief glimpse of sanity...

You are wrong in accusing the developers and trying to do an end run around the ESRB.

It was originally supposed to be part of the game, but was removed in order to get a ‘M’ rating. Calling it an Easter Egg implies that there was a method in the game to access the content. There was not. In order to access it, one needed to use special hacks to access it, which were in no way funded or supported by R*. The hacking tools were not overly sophisticated, but enough so that it took a good bit of knowledge to use them, and it had to be done willingly (couldn’t be done on accident). The only irresponsible move by the developers was not removing the code and assets for the sex mini game, but they never encouraged people to hack the game to get the blocked content.

So in reality, the outrage was NOT well deserved.

Jim says:

Why is Hot Coffee Rockstar's fault?

The publisher is responsible for the content that they release. Hot Coffee was discovered as a result of ALTERING the software that they released to the public. I understand that the code existed in the game, but it was hidden. And it was hidden in a way that you could not access it without altering the game. Taken to the extreme a hacker/programmer can alter the game to make it do pretty much whatever the he wants. Is the publisher then responsible for ANY and ALL actions that are the results of other people can hacking their software?!

Anonymous Coward says:

I understand that the code existed in the game, but it was hidden…Taken to the extreme a hacker/programmer can alter the game to make it do pretty much whatever the he wants.

I agree that this is a very difficult area, one that I am unsure of my own opinions towards. Consider these two scenarios:

1) Suppose that I buy a DVD. A trickster at the factory places adult content into the empty areas of the disk. There is no possible way to navigate to this content through normal use of my DVD player, so it should be fine, right? Well, what if I kick my entertainment center, and the track skips, and I suddenly get porn? Am I right to be outraged?

My opinion is yes. So, should the policy be that the manufacturer is responsible for all content shipped on the disk, hidden or otherwise? Maybe not. Consider:

2) Most 3d graphics are created by applying a texture to a wire-frame mesh. By way of analogy, this is like applying a painted, skin-tight layer to a featureless department store manniquin.

The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion built characters by applying a ‘person in underwear’ texture to a person shaped mesh, and then layering clothes on top of that. Since even your minamally clothed characters are not naked, you’re safe claiming your game has no nudity right?

Well, suppose a clever user instructs the game to put a male texture on a female shaped frame. Using only content from your disk, you now have a topless woman in boxer shorts…earning The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion lots of media controversy.

So what do you do? Honestly I don’t know. I’m not saying that this is an easy subject, but don’t pretend that it’s unreasonable to, as a buyer, expect the content of the game to stay within the bounds promised on the back of the box.

Jaqenn says:

Re: Re:

Didn’t mean to submit the previous post as anonymous coward. It’s me!

WarOtter, my apologies for acting like Rockstar snuck the Hot Coffee content past the ESRB. They did no such thing, and I ought not to imply that they did.

Were they out of line allowing the content on the disk? I think so…see the previous post.

Rick says:

Re: Re:

I see your point on #1. You would have a right to be upset.
But, with GTA, how could someone be so offended by Hot Coffee with everything else that goes on in game?

I think those who complained the loudest probably never even owned the game, let alone went out of their way to mod it.

It’s silly really. The game was already rated mature. The ESRB rating has no legal standing. I feel Rockstar should have taken a stand with GTA IV by refusing to allow the game to be rated by the ESRB. Sell the game exclusively via their website if stores refused to carry it.

Jaqenn says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree that parents letting their children play GTA are stupid. But we legally respect their right to make those decisions, so we’re stuck with the problem of helping them make informed decisions.

The ESRB free approach would work on the PC, but I believe that console developers are (usually) contractually obligated when they buy a console development kit to have their games rated by the ESRB and keep the rating at M or below. Which is why an AO rating was such a big deal for Manhunt 2…not only would Walmart not carry it, but they were legally bound not to sell it themselves either.

ToySouljah says:

Re: Re: Re:

I really wish developers would sell directly to the public and not go through the ratings system either…or at least have like a “Director’s Cut” or “Unrated”…this would have been awesome for Manhunt 2 as well since I was kind of disappointed with the blurred scenes…I’m 28 and I’ve seen much worse things on the news, movies, and real life situations than what they are willing to show in a video game. They card you (at least suppose to) for M rated games…BTW…what is the difference between being 17 and 18 that they need to make a whole new rating (AO) for? They should do away with the AO rating (since no one seems to want to touch it) and leave it at M. If they came out with 2 versions (as a test) of a game M and AO and see how they sell…I can almost guarantee the AO would sell more…I know I would have preferred to have spent my money on it rather than being treated like a child for my own protection..pffft. Or the developers need to grow a pair and just put out the games they want and say screw you if you don’t want to sell it…we’ll still make it available through other means. The ones that would lose out would be the retailers who don’t want to carry it since the demand will still be there…or the retailers will be hassled by customers until they give in and decide to sell it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

1) Suppose that I buy a DVD. A trickster at the factory places adult content into the empty areas of the disk. There is no possible way to navigate to this content through normal use of my DVD player, so it should be fine, right? Well, what if I kick my entertainment center, and the track skips, and I suddenly get porn? Am I right to be outraged?

You are describing a situation where it is possible to accidentally access content included as a trick on the consumer and to do so without altering the product. Those are three very big differences from the GTA situation. If you can’t see all those differences then I don’t know what else to tell you.

Powerkor says:

Who exactly is complaining about this. Even if I had children, i wouldnt care… if its hidden away so that it can only be viewed if you hack it, then i think theres not reason to blow your load over it.

If my kid learns how to hack the game, more power to him (or her), maybe he’ll be a programmer one day.

Mind you, the people that are making a fuss are probably pushing the prositutes off of them to answer their emails and call their lawyers.

Everyone knows that GTA is an adult game. If you want your kid to shoot people and rob them, then don’t bitch when they find something like this in the game either.

TheTraveler says:

Re: Re:

The fact that anyone bitches about the game is beyond me… you know the rating if it says “M” then damn it if you don’t think your 14 year old should have it, then don’t buy it for him/her. The whole thing comes down to parents not wanting to parent there child and when shit hits the fan they want to blame someone! The blame should be on the parents not the company. Now the company does have a certain responsibilities but only on the initial programming and rating. Those who are “Damaged” by something like this are stupider then a drunken camel with walking through the forest!

Brandon says:

I remember when this was first all over the news. There was a congressman who was quoted talking about how he bought this game for his son or grandson who was somewhere between 7 and 11 years old. (sorry for the vagueness, going off distant memories here!) Anyway, this congressman was outraged when he saw his son or grandson playing the game and saw what it was about and either started a bill who was a huge supporter of a bill to make it illegal to sell M rated games to kids. Funny thing is, the game wasn’t sold to the kid, the congressman bought it for him. And he also apparently payed no attention to the same rating he was so ready to make into a law.

Rekrul says:

The content was not accessable from within the game. There is no way that the content could be accessed “accidentally”. Users had to intentionally run third-party tools to access it.

While it might have been smarter for the company to completely remove the content, the fact that there was no way to access it with intentionally using tools made for the purpose of unlocking it should absolve them of any wrong-doing in this case.

Is Eidos resposible for selling an adult game just because some user figured out how to replace Lara Croft’s normal “skin” with one showing her nude?

Anonymous Coward says:

America’s censorship system in general is odd, in my opinion. The whole hot coffee thing basically got a “so what?” from the UK rating system folk (I’m not entirely sure, but I think any game/movie in the UK has to be rated, there’s no “unrated” system here), since the game had already been rated 18 (which is the highest one we have… i.e. you have to be 18 to buy/play it). The fact that it was full of random, extreme (and hilarious) violence already knocked it up that high. Added sex (all sexual activity (except some forms which are banned from sale in the UK, some forms of BDSM etc…) is already covered under the 18 rating) doesn’t bother them at all, and I’m sure I remember an official statement from the BBFC saying pretty much exactly that.

Being in a country that uses this rating system, it’s just weird to see that some consensual sex in a game full of murder can actually make it be rated higher. The fact that it was already rated “Mature” (which is 17 years old) and the push was to make it Adults Only (which I’m fairly sure is 18, but I guess at the most it’s 21). 1-3 years makes the difference? That’s ridiculous. So I can steal, assault and murder my way through a game safely at age 17, but having my character actively invited to have sex with his girlfriend, and I’m not mature enough to do it until I’m 18? Insane.

And yeah, the whole “have to actively interfere to get to the sequence” thing should, to anyone with common sense, that fact alone should remove blame from anyone but the person who downloaded and installed the mod. The “accidentally kicked the DVD player” analogy doesn’t work here. It’d work if it was “intentionally looking for a way to play pornography on the DVD player, finding an exact sequence of kicks, then performing them).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The whole hot coffee thing basically got a “so what?” from the UK rating system folk”

There’s a very good reason for that. For some reason, Americans seem to have a section of society that abhors sex and nudity but worships violence. I remember when the whole Hot Coffee thing first hit, there was a grandmother who was outraged at “sexual content” being available in the game she bought for her 14 year old grandson. That’s right, she was fine with a game featuring swearing, drug dealing, prostitution, robbery, murder and gang violence but was *outraged* at the existence of a short, non-interactive sequence involving 2 consenting adults having sexual intercourse that would be tame for an R-rated movie. This kind of puritanical obsession with the human body (like the Janet Jackson nipple incident) is sadly hilarious to the rest of the world.

Now, the UK isn’t an enlightened utopia by any means when it comes to censorship, but at least we have our priorities straight. The only 2 games ever to have had serious problems at the BBFC are Carmageddon and Manhunt 2 – both games controversial because of their graphic violence, not activities practiced by millions of adults every day.

Oh, by the way you’re right about the way the rating system works. Every movie, and any videogame likely to contain adult content, has to be rated by the BBFC in order to be legally released – there’s no “unrated” here. The highest normal rating is 18 (the next lowest being 15). There is a higher rating, R18, but this is normally used for porn videos as the rating means that the product can only be sold is specially licenced sex shops – the BBFC has a very good website (www.bbfc.co.uk) if you want to look further. Also, 18 is the normal maximum age for most activities in the UK – we don’t really use 21 for anything here (16 is the age of consent, 17 to drive, 18 to vote, drink, etc.)

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