Hot Coffee (minigame)
"Hot Coffee" is an unofficial name for a minigame in the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The minigame is not playable through normal means; the game must be modded to access it. When enabled, "Hot Coffee" allows players, as protagonist Carl "CJ" Johnson, to have animated sexual intercourse with an in-game girlfriend.
"Hot Coffee" was included in San Andreas as part of the boundary-pushing vision that Rockstar North president Sam Houser had for the Grand Theft Auto games. Before development concluded, Rockstar operations director Jennifer Kolbe warned Houser that explicit sexual content would likely bring restrictive assessments from ratings boards, harming retail sales. The minigame could not be fully removed, so the content was hidden from players using cutscenes. Data miners discovered evidence of explicit sexual content after San Andreas was released for the PlayStation 2 in October 2004, and confirmed its existence when the Windows version was released on June 7, 2005. Modder Patrick Wildenborg released a patch to unlock the minigame two days later.
While players found "Hot Coffee" humorous, it led to San Andreas becoming embroiled in controversy. Within a month of the patch's release, the American Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) re-evaluated San Andreas's content rating. The ESRB re-rated the game AO (Adults Only), leading several retailers to pull it from shelves, while the OFLC issued a Refused Classification, banning it from sale in Australia. Rockstar recalled all retail copies of San Andreas and released a new version that blocked access to "Hot Coffee" by the end of 2005, and issued an official patch for existing owners to prevent access. The "Hot Coffee" code remains in all versions of San Andreas, but takes more effort to restore due to missing models and animations.
"Hot Coffee" raised concerns from lawmakers related to mandatory game ratings, and several civil suits were launched against Rockstar. The company's parent, Take-Two Interactive, was already under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) related to insider trading, and lawmaker actions due to "Hot Coffee" triggered a separate investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. These events led to Take-Two losing over $184.9 million by 2006, and caused shareholders to oust the company's founder and chairman Ryan Brant and replace him with Strauss Zelnick.
In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the player, as Carl "CJ" Johnson, progresses through the action-adventure game through a series of story-based missions. Between missions, the player can engage in a number of side activities to earn in-game money, rewards, or to boost Carl's attributes. CJ may date up to six girlfriends, carrying out various "date missions" to improve his relationship with a particular woman. If CJ's relationship builds up high enough with one of these women, they will invite him to her home for "coffee" (slang for sexual intercourse). In the unmodified game, this is shown as a cutscene from the exterior of a house with muffled sounds of sexual activity. Achieving this rewards the player with benefits related to that woman; for example, successfully reaching this point with a nurse allows the player to heal CJ at any hospital free of charge.
If the game is altered through the use of a modification ("mod"), instead of cutscenes, the player can access a minigame in which they witness the intercourse and can control CJ's actions. While both CJ and the girlfriend are clothed, the motions of both characters and actions the player can have CJ take are unmistakably sexual activities, such as CJ spanking the girlfriend.
Grand Theft Auto is a series of action-adventure games featuring story-driven missions within an open world, following one or more characters engaged in criminal-related activities. Grand Theft Auto 3, released in 2001, redefined the approach to the series and became one of the best-selling games at the time, and its follow-up Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, released in 2002, was similarly successful. However, both games had drawn criticism from parents and similar groups for their violent content and adult language. Both were rated as mature titles on various content rating systems, such as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) for the United States, and still were allowed to be sold in stores in most countries. Rockstar president Sam Houser had stated that the violence had been justified, as these games were meant as commentary on the time periods and places in which they were set.
In planning for their next title, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Houser had stated in internal emails that he wanted to see his team push the bar on content within the game by including sexually explicit content, including cutscenes and minigames showing sexual acts. He had already recommended developers at Rockstar North to include some of these elements as the game neared the final stages of release. Houser asserted in an email that "we are keen to include new functionality and interaction in line with the 'vibe' of the game. To this end, in addition to the violence and bad language, we want to include sexual content, which I understand is questionable to certain people, but pretty natural (more than violence), when you think about it and consider the fact that the game is intended for adults." Houser saw that incorporation of sex into the series was the natural progression, though such content within video games had generally been avoided despite other media aimed at adults frequently including it, and wrote, "I know this is a tricky area, but I want to find a way for this to work."
Rockstar's operations director Jennifer Kolbe warned Houser that inclusion of these explicit cutscenes would very likely force content ratings groups like the ESRB to rate San Andreas as an Adults Only (AO) title, which would either ban or restrict it from sale in some countries, while retailers in most others would likely not sell it; either result would significantly harm sales. Houser conceded and wrote in this email, "Graphic displays of sex cannot be shown in a Mature rated game [...] The sex scenes that are in San Andreas currently are going to be considered graphic." Kolbe reviewed the current state of the game to find which elements had to be cut to avoid an Adults Only rating, which turned out to be far more than Houser had been expecting; he said, "The cuts are everywhere. It doesn't feel like we are pushing any boundaries now. Why bother? I really, really do not want to change this stuff. It feels SO wrong at the behest of psychotic, mormon [sic], capitalist retailers." The list of material to be cut also included content that had been engrained within the game and would have been difficult to remove in such a short time without potentially breaking other parts of the game. For these parts, the developers found a way to hide the sexual content behind other content that would otherwise be shown to the player, without having to rewrite other parts of the game's code so it could be shipped in time for its target release date.
After San Andreas was released for PlayStation 2 in October 2004, modders began data mining the game. Past titles in the Grand Theft Auto series had known to have a number of Easter eggs and secrets, and modders began searching through files and creating mods to help locate them and for video game trainers that made the game easier for other players. One mod group, which included Patrick Wildenborg, started evaluating files from the PlayStation 2 version in anticipation of preparing mods for the Microsoft Windows release in June 2005. The group found references to animations and script files related to sexual acts, and while they could not fully visualise these in the PlayStation 2 version, they recognised these animations were clearly of sexual acts. They decided to revisit them when the Windows version was released, as from their past experience, this version would be easier to work with. The group opted not to speak about their discovery until they could confirm with the Windows release.
Between the PlayStation 2 and the Windows launch, Houser had written in internal emails if they could push more on the sexual content for the Windows release, including the possibility of a separate Adults-Only release that included all the prior cut and hidden sexual material. After internal debates, they opted to go with plans to release an Adults-Only official patch that would unlock the content they had hidden, and the Windows version was shipped effectively in the same state as the PlayStation 2 version for this official patch to work. On June 7, 2005, the release date of the Windows version of San Andreas, Wildenborg's group acquired their copies of the game and confirmed their assumptions of sexual content; they also discovered how to unhide the sexual intercourse dating minigame.
Wildenborg created a mod consisting of a patch file, which was titled "Hot Coffee", for the purported reason the girlfriend invites CJ to her home, and released it on GTAGarage.com (then the primary site for Grand Theft Auto mods) on June 9, 2005, two days after the release of San Andreas for Windows. According to Wildenborg, the mod was downloaded over a million times within four weeks. Most players found the minigame "hilarious", and the gaming media covered the mod positively rather than with shock.
Product rating and reissue
On July 8, 2005, the ESRB announced that it was aware of and opening an investigation into the circumstances surrounding "Hot Coffee" in order to examine "whether the mod unlocks preexisting code [...] or is actually a purely third-party creation". The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) also opened an investigation into the game. Both reviews brought mainstream media attention to the "Hot Coffee" mod, with Wildenborg, who had released it, as a focal point. Due to media misconceptions of how the mod worked, Wildenborg clarified that the sex scenes were only accessible by modifying the code, and were not immediately available from the retail version of the game, which he claimed that Rockstar thanked him for clarifying. Rockstar asserted that it was not responsible for the "Hot Coffee" mod, claiming that "hackers created the 'Hot Coffee' modification by disassembling and then combining, recompiling and altering the game's source code".
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On July 20, 2005, the ESRB announced that it would change the rating of San Andreas from "Mature" (M) to "Adults Only" (AO), making it the first and only game in the Grand Theft Auto series with the rating and the only mass-released game in North America to receive such a rating. As a result, major retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, GameStop, Sears, Blockbuster, Hudson's Bay Company, Zellers, Hollywood Video, and Electronics Boutique removed the game from sale. On July 29, the OFLC revoked the game's original rating of "MA15+" and instead gave it a "Refused Classification", which banned any retail sales of the game under Australian law. Rockstar stated that it would discontinue manufacturing the current version of the game, recall existing copies, and produce a new version without the content that is unlocked by the "Hot Coffee" mod. The product recalled was estimated to cost Rockstar $24 million. In August 2005, the company issued an official patch for existing owners of the game that disabled access to the "Hot Coffee" scenes even with use of the mod. By the fourth quarter of 2005, Rockstar had re-released new retail versions of San Andreas that similarly blocked any access to the "Hot Coffee" scenes, restoring the ESRB's original M rating and OFLC's MA15+ rating.
It is still possible to unlock the "Hot Coffee" minigame through mods for the new version, but Wildenborg said that it takes much more effort to create the necessary mod. A data miner quoted by Eurogamer explained that the "Hot Coffee" source code is still present in every re-release of San Andreas, but the necessary models and animations were removed, rendering the minigame unplayable by normal means.
Federal and legal action
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After the ESRB announced its investigation into re-rating San Andreas, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton suggested that new regulations be put on video game sales. Congress passed a resolution to have the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigate whether Rockstar intentionally undermined the ESRB by including the content in the game. In December 2005, Clinton and Senators Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which called for a federal mandate enforcement of the ESRB rating system in order to protect children from inappropriate content. The bill expired at the end of the 109th Congress. Clinton's role in the controversy would later be satirised by Rockstar in the next mainline entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV, where a parody of the Statue of Liberty called the "Statue of Happiness" bears a strong resemblance to Clinton, also replacing the torch with a steaming cup of coffee in reference to the "Hot Coffee" controversy.
On June 8, 2006, Rockstar, Take-Two and the FTC announced they had reached a settlement, with Rockstar and Take-Two 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 would be liable for $11,000 in civil penalties.
Civil class actions
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 considered inappropriate for this age). Cohen's lawsuit claimed that Rockstar and Take-Two 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.
In 2006, attorneys brought several class actions alleging that 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 it 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 part of the settlement, Take-Two would pay an $873,000 cy-près award to the National Parent-Teacher Association and the ESRB.
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.
On 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 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 organisation that 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. On August 4, 2005, a group known as the Peaceholics organised a protest at Rockstar's headquarters, demonstrating against San Andreas as well as the game Bully, the latter due to fears that the content could inspire children to become bullies themselves.
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 (SEC) on charges of inside trading that involved company founder and current chairman Ryan Brant (son of Peter Brant). On June 9, 2005, two days after the release of the "Hot Coffee" mod, Take-Two agreed to a US$7.5 million fine from the SEC. The company had lost US$184.9 million in 2006 as a combined result of these issues. Shareholders had become concerned with Take-Two's leadership due to lack of management and oversight of Rockstar related to the "Hot Coffee" minigame and the subsequent legal costs, and the SEC investigation. A group of Take-Two shareholders worked together to arrange a buyout of a majority holding of the company, ousting Brant and naming shareholder Strauss Zelnick the new CEO.
The modding scene around Grand Theft Auto and other games was impacted by the negative attention from ratings groups and media. Though Rockstar had initially blamed the modders for adding the "Hot Coffee" material but later backed off once it was shown it had shipped with the game, this had created the impression that modders could introduce undesirable content into a released game. The ESRB began incorporating language into its review policies to developers and publishers to consider the impact of modders on the ratings of a game and to avoid the inclusion of content that could be unveiled in the same manner as "Hot Coffee". The mod itself was voluntarily taken down from GTAGarage.com once the controversy began to ignite, but this had left other modders in fear of becoming either legal or media targets for mods, creating a chilling effect on the modding community in the year that followed.
In 2006, the ESRB re-rated The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion from "Teen" (T) to "Mature" after it was discovered through a mod that the game included art assets with nudity and violent imagery. This led Congress to call the ESRB to testify on matters related to how it reviewed video games, and led to the ESRB implementing changes to its policies, including that if the publisher of the game did not reveal the extent of content on a shipped game and was later discovered by similar means, they could be subject to a fine of up to $1 million. In 2006, Senator Sam Brownback introduced the Truth in Video Game Rating Act following these hearings that would have made ESRB required to review all portions of a game, as well as having the FTC oversee the ratings definitions and the Government Accountability Office oversee the ESRB. This act failed to reach the Senate floor for voting.
In 2012, Dan Houser commented, "We never felt that we were being attacked for the content, we were being attacked for the medium, which felt a little unfair. If all of this stuff had been put into a book or a movie, people wouldn't have blinked an eye".
On its initial release, the Windows version of the 2021 Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition, which included San Andreas, was pulled by Rockstar a few days after launch, claiming that it was released with "unintentionally included" files. Data miners found that the version still included content that the "Hot Coffee" mod previously accessed.
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