When news first broke about a hidden sex scene in videogame "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas", I was pretty sure that the move was done by the company to create fresh buzz around the title similar to the way Carl's Jr. has been using an online sexy video to draw traffic to its site and attention to its brand. The gameplan, I figured, was to get enough people complaining about the hidden scene and videogames in general that greater numbers of gamers would be drawn to San Andreas.
It appears, though, that maybe gamer Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (Nasdaq:TTWO - news) unit Rockstar Games may...and I stress the word "may" here...have overplayed. The game had already been a lightning rod for controversy, since it rewards players for committing crimes. But retailers like Gamestop and Circuit City have pulled the game. The Entertainment Software Rating Board advised retailers to pull the videogame off store shelves until Take-Two can place new "adults-only" ratings stickers on the game's packaging or release new discs without the objectionable material.
As the biggest distributors of videogames pull Grand Theft Auto San Andreas to comply with the rating shift and to insure good public relations, the game becomes harder to find. Distribution is important. If it's too hard to find, then people lose interest. Also, as troubling as the Grand Theft Auto franchise is to parents, the company may have given the big retailers the "poster-game" they need to make a statement to regulators eyeballing tougher restrictions on videogame content. Will retailers now decide to nix the whole Grand Theft Auto line as a gesture?
Certainly, if that's the case, selling the game exclusively online is the next option. And that could work out fine in the long run, but we'll have to watch. After all, nothing says "buy me" to a 15-year old quite like a message that this product is too racy to sell at Circuit City and Gamestop. Perhaps TTI should consider shrink-wrapping the game with a 16 oz. can of malt liquor and a pack of Luckys and make the whole thing an online only purchase. In the long run, it might increase sales even if the company is taking it on the chin in the short run.