Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has been re-rated in the USA as the result of an investigation by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) into a sexual explicit mini-game that could be unlocked through modification.
The game has been rebranded "AO" or "Adults Only" which means that it's considered suitable only for gamers aged 18 and over. It had previously been rated suitable for over-17s and carried the ESRB's "M" for "Mature" badge.
Existing copies of the game will be pulled from stores and either stickered with the updated rating or replaced with new copies. Rockstar says it's remastering the game without the offending content.
The "Hot Coffee" mod saw players taking their girlfriend home and then having sex with her in a bonus mini-game that, while present on the game DVD, only came to light after a PC modification unlocked the code. The data was subsequently found to be resident on the PS2 and Xbox discs and could be unlocked on PS2 using Datel's Action Replay cheat-finder product.
The ESRB and another industry body, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), have come under increasing pressure to act since Hot Coffee came to light, with widespread coverage in the American media and proponents of a ban receiving support from the likes of Hillary Clinton and loud-mouthed anti-videogame activist Jack Thompson, who recently compared ESA president Doug Lowenstein to Adolf Hitler over his role in the affair.
GTA: San Andreas is unlikely to be re-rated in the UK where it has been given an 18 certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), meaning that it is illegal for retailers to sell it to anybody under that age. This situation is different to that in the USA where the ESRB's ratings, whilst generally upheld, are not legally binding.
Indeed, just last week the BBFC said that while it didn't know about Hot Coffee at the time of rating the game, it wasn't going to update it. "Even if we had been aware of it, we would not have had a problem," a spokesperson told this website. "From our point of view the hidden material does not contravene the 18 rating and so the rating stands."
In Australia however the game could well be banned altogether, with Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) - a notoriously strict organisation - having previously refused to classify titles including Manhunt and NARC, effectively banning them from sale. There the OFLC had said: "The Classification Board is compelled to revoke a game's classification if it is found to contain undisclosed contentious material, whether activated through use of a code or otherwise."
Rockstar continues to insist that Hot Coffee was an "unauthorised third party [..] modification," with president and CEO Paul Eibeler stating last night: "We are deeply concerned that the publicity surrounding these unauthorized modifications has caused the game to be misrepresented to the public and has detracted from the creative merits of this award winning product."