Hot Coffee (mod)
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Hot Coffee is a normally inaccessible minigame in the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, developed by Rockstar North. The minigame allows players, as protagonist Carl "CJ" Johnson, to have animated sexual intercourse with an in-game girlfriend of their choosing.
The minigame was completely disabled for the final version of San Andreas, and was not publicly known until the 2005 release of Hot Coffee, a fan-made mod for the Windows port of San Andreas that enabled access. Assets for the minigame were discovered in the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, and users found ways of enabling the minigame via console modding tools.
Following criticism from lawmakers and the public, San Andreas was reassessed with an "Adults Only (AO)" rating by the U.S. Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and withdrawn from sale in Australia. An updated version of San Andreas was released with the minigame removed completely, allowing the game to regain its original rating. Rockstar released a patch for the original version to disable access to the minigame.
Minigame overview and Hot Coffee mod
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Throughout the game, Carl "CJ" Johnson, the game's protagonist, may date up to six girlfriends, carrying out various "date missions" in order to improve his relationship with a particular woman. Once CJ has become particularly close to a girlfriend, or if he has collected all oysters in the game, his girlfriend may end a successful date by inviting him into her house for "coffee", from which CJ may choose to accept or decline. Improving relationships with girlfriends through successful dates and other related activities will eventually reward CJ with new items, such as vehicles and special wardrobes, along with pre-existing gameplay benefits (e.g. dating a nurse grants CJ with free visits to the hospital without losing his weapons after dying).
In the unmodified version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, players see an exterior view of the girlfriend's house while hearing the muffled voices of CJ and his girlfriend engaging in sexual intercourse. However, the Hot Coffee mod replaces this with a minigame which allows the player to actually enter the girlfriend's bedroom and control Carl's actions during sex, with the same controls as dancing.
Rockstar Games, the publisher of the Grand Theft Auto series, initially denied allegations that the minigame was "hidden" in the video game, stating that the Hot Coffee modification (which they claim violated the game's End User License Agreement) is the result of "hackers" making "significant technical modifications to and reverse engineering" the game's code. However, this claim was undermined when a user known as "gothi" from the website PS2 Save Tools released the "GTA:SA Censor Remover" tool for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions in June 2005, which allowed the minigame to be accessed on consoles. These new methods of accessing the mod demonstrated that the controversial content was, indeed, built into the console versions as well.
The PC mod itself is only an edited copy of the main game script file ("main.scm") with a single bit changed. The mod was also made possible on the console versions by changing the bit inside a user's saved game file or by using a third-party modding device. Take-Two has stated that the mod constitutes a violation of the End User License Agreement, even though modification of the main.scm file is common within the mod community.
However, the oral sex animations are clearly visible in the background during one scene of the mission "Cleaning the Hood", even in the re-released game. This explains why the minigame was not simply removed when the decision was made to cut it from the game; its assets were already in use elsewhere.
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The revelation of the minigame sparked a fair amount of new controversy around the already controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, with some politicians firing harsh words at both the game's developer and the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the organization which establishes content ratings for video games in North America. It also rekindled the debate over the influence of video games in general, with new protests against several other games such as Killer7, The Sims 2, and Bully.
U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton suggested that new regulations be put on video game sales. The ESRB conducted an investigation that ultimately changed the game's rating from "Mature" (M) to "Adults Only 18+" (AO). Also, Congress passed a resolution to have the Federal Trade Commission investigate whether Rockstar intentionally undermined the ESRB by including the content in the game.
In New York, a class-action lawsuit was filed by Florence Cohen, an 85-year-old grandmother who purchased the game for her 14-year-old grandson (according to the old rating of "M", the game is typically considered inappropriate for this age). Cohen's lawsuit claimed that Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive, the publisher of the game, were guilty of deception, false advertising, fraud, and abuse. The accusation of deception was based on the change in rating from M to AO, meaning according to the lawsuit that the original rating was a deceptive practice.
A protest group known as the Peaceholics organized a protest on August 4, 2005, at Rockstar's headquarters. The group demonstrated against San Andreas as well as the game Bully, the latter due to fears that the content could inspire children to become bullies themselves.
On July 8, 2005, the ESRB announced that it was aware of and opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Hot Coffee. The investigation examined "whether the mod unlocks preexisting code...or is actually a purely third-party creation."
On July 20, 2005, the ESRB announced that it was changing the rating of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from "Mature" (M) to "Adults Only" (AO), making it the first and only Grand Theft Auto game and the only mass-released game in North America to receive an AO rating. Rockstar stated that it would discontinue manufacturing the current version of the game and produce a new version that would not include the content that is unlocked by the Hot Coffee mod. In the fourth quarter of 2005, Rockstar released this "clean" version with the Hot Coffee scenes removed (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 1.01), allowing the rating of the game to be reverted to its original "Mature" rating.
On July 29, 2005, as a result of the newly discovered scenes, the Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) revoked the game's "MA15+" classification (the highest rating then available for computer games in Australia) and changed the game's rating to "Refused Classification" (RC), which officially banned the original version from being sold in the country. The patched version was given an "MA15+" classification on September 12, 2005.
On August 10, 2005, Rockstar Games officially released a patch for San Andreas which fixed many performance issues and bugs. The patch also disabled the controversial Hot Coffee scenes, even if the Hot Coffee mod was re-installed.
There was little reaction to the controversial mod in Europe. The game was already rated "18+" by PEGI prior to the release of the mod. Furthermore, PEGI ratings are enforced by law in many European nations, making it a criminal offense to sell 18+ games to minors. In the United Kingdom, the BBFC similarly gave the game an "18" rating (as of 2012, the BBFC no longer classifies video games, and the PEGI system had been adopted instead).
Product withdrawal and recall
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The day after the rating change, several North American chain stores, as well as IEMA retailers, which accounted for every major retailer in the United States and approximately 85% of the game's market in the country, removed the PC and console versions of the game from their store shelves, re-stickered the box with the new rating, or returned it to Take-Two Interactive. These included major chains such as GameStop, Sears, Hudson's Bay Company, Zellers, Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and Electronics Boutique. Rockstar gave some retailers ESRB "Adults Only" rating stickers to put on their copies of GTA:SA, should they decide to keep selling the original product.
eBay removed copies of GTA:SA that had been reported by the eBay community. eBay claimed the game violated the terms of the eBay seller policy and could not be sold unless it was located in the Everything Else > Mature Audiences section. This section requires a credit card to validate the age of the eBay user.
On August 24, 2005, Rockstar announced a mandatory recall for all games still owned by the general public. Consumers who had already purchased the game were allowed to keep it in certain areas, but with the patch installed, although players cannot be forced to return (or destroy) existing copies.
Version 2.0 of GTA:SA, which omitted the sexual minigame content, was designed by Rockstar to crash if the game data files were modified. This made it necessary for players to use a previous version if they wished to install multiplayer game modifications such as San Andreas Multiplayer or Multi Theft Auto and other game modifications that include new scripts or vehicles. Certain pirated or illegally distributed versions of the original game may also be made available on the Internet or from illegal retail outlets. Downgraders are also available to unpatch and revert the game version and support the Hot Coffee minigame again.
This limitation later was overcome by two members of the unofficial Grand Theft Auto modding community, who discovered a method of creating modifications which would work with version 2.0. Users of version 2.0 might still need to use previous versions or use a downgrade in order to install a mod not created with the new method.
Federal and legal action
In December 2005, Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, and Evan Bayh introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which called for a federal mandate enforcement of the ESRB ratings system in order to protect children from inappropriate content.
On June 8, 2006, Rockstar, Take-Two, and the FTC settled. They are required to "clearly and prominently disclose on product packaging and in any promotion or advertisement for electronic games, content relevant to the rating, unless that content had been disclosed sufficiently in prior submissions to the rating authority." Should the companies violate the settlement, they are liable for $11,000 in civil penalties.
Civil class actions
In 2006, attorneys brought several class actions alleging Take-Two committed consumer fraud. In December 2007, a settlement of the litigation was reached. In 2008, Ted Frank filed an objection to the settlement on the grounds that the settlement sought $1 million for attorneys' fees, but the total payout to class members was less than $27,000. A court hearing was already scheduled on June 25, 2008. Frank previously told GamePolitics that the lawsuits were meritless and extortionate.
As of June 25, 2008, fewer than 2,700 claimants responded to the settlement, for which the plaintiff's attorneys expressed disappointment. Frank expressed that this was further proof that the case had no merit.
As of September 1, 2009, Take-Two agreed to settle a securities class-action suit related to the controversy over the game and over backdating allegations for just over $20 million.
The Hot Coffee mod controversy occurred around the same time that Take-Two's leadership was undergoing investigation by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission on charges of inside trading. The company had lost US$163.3 million in 2006 as a combined result of these issues. A group of Take-Two shareholders worked together to arrange a buyout of a majority holding of the company, ousting the former leadership and naming Strauss Zelnick as the new CEO, who remains CEO of the company as of 2020.
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