Rockstar Games and parent company Take-Two Interactive must be firm believers of the old adage 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' by now, but the events of the last few weeks will surely test their proven ability to ride out controversy.
The hidden sex-mod in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has resulted in the game being banned in Australia, while in the US the game has been slapped with an Adults Only rating (meaning most large chains such as Wal-Mart and Target will not sell the game).
Of course, controversy is no stranger to the Grand Theft Auto series, with each subsequent game attracting more negative attention from governments, classification boards and vocal community groups. Fans of the series will remember that Grand Theft Auto III was banned for a short time in Australia, before some content deemed unsuitable was taken out. Some would argue that all the negative press in the past has been mana from heaven for Take-Two -- after all, there's nothing an adolescent gamer wants to play more than a title the 'man' thinks is too controversial.
But the trouble surrounding San Andreas seems to be on another level altogether. Apart from the financial hit to Take-Two of the game not being on shelves (the company has lowered its sales projections for the year), the controversy has also led to a US Government-led Federal Trade Commission Inquiry into the game, plus some law suits from consumers who claim to have been traumatised after learning about the hidden sex content in San Andreas. Scandal is even gathering around titles the company hasn't released yet. The knives are already out for its next game, the yet to be released Bully, with some groups (such as the British-based support group Bullying Online) calling for the game to be banned.
Rockstar and Take-Two have certainly handled past controversies with aplomb, coming out with new Grand Theft Auto games that have wowed the critics and been massive financial successes, all the while keeping the 'edge' the series is known for. But while converting controversy into consumers' cash can be a healthy sideline, courting too much government attention may eventually restrict Rockstar and Take-Two from what they do best -- making great games. Imagine a Grand Theft Auto game so thoroughly sanitised because some regulatory body shadowed it too closely. A dull GTA -- now that would be bad publicity.
Do you think all the bad publicity surrounding GTA: San Andreas will only result in bigger sales for future GTA games? Has Rockstar and Take-Two gone too far with the hidden sex content? Tell us your views on email@example.com.