Take-Two Interactive has had its share of controversies in the last couple of years. The discovery of a sex minigame in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, dubbed "Hot Coffee," and that game's subsequent rerating comes in at the high end of the controversy scale for inspiring federal gaming legislation, while the discovery of a "nude" skin and more violence than was initially rated in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion seemed to cause less of a stir.
In between the two was Bully. Originally announced in May of 2005, the game puts players in the role of a student at the fictional Bullworth Academy, where the protagonist is said to "stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids, win or lose the girl, and ultimately learn to navigate the obstacles of the fictitious reform school." Critics soon jumped on the game, labeling it "a Columbine simulator," calling for it to be banned, and demanding that Take-Two stop production of the game.
A new wrinkle has entered the discussion today, as the Entertainment Software Rating Board told GameSpot that Bully has been rated T for Teen. When it hits the PlayStation 2 next month, Bully will carry content descriptors warning consumers of "Crude Humor, Violence, Sexual Themes, Language and Use of Alcohol & Tobacco." According to the ESRB rating guide, T for Teen games have content that "may be suitable for ages 13 and older."
Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter told GameSpot he actually expected the game to get a T-for-Teen rating given recent information Take-Two has released on the game since confirming the October launch.
"I think that Take-Two generated a lot of unintentional bad will with the Hot Coffee fiasco, and I think that they are trying to enhance their reputation by avoiding controversy where it doesn't help their business," Pachter said. "Bully will be just as fun with a T rating as it would have been with an M [for Mature] rating. To be honest, I think that Manhunt would have performed better with the violence toned down a bit. It was an incredible game but got a lot of criticism from the gaming press for over-the-top violence."
Pachter said he wasn't sure if the game's rating would help or hurt its prospects at retail but said he didn't expect the game to be a huge seller, anyway.
"I have low unit estimates for the game, especially since it's only on PS2," Pachter said, "so it will likely not have a dramatic impact on the bottom line. If anything, there is probably some upside to my estimates if the game performs well."