Oblivion rerated M for Mature

[UPDATE] ESRB bumps up game's rating from T for Teen, says Bethesda failed to properly report objectionable content in ratings submission.

Take-Two Interactive may not have a follow-up for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas yet, but it appears the publisher does have a pseudo-sequel to that game's Hot Coffee scandal on its hands.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board today issued a parental advisory that it has changed the rating of Take-Two subsidiary 2K Games' hit role-playing game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for the PC and the Xbox 360. (Inital reports indicated that only the PC version of the game had been re-rated.) Originally released with a rating of T for Teen, the game has now been rerated M for Mature, due to "more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as the presence of a locked-out art file or 'skin' that, if accessed through a third-party modification to the PC version of the game, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters."

Before the game was rerated, Pete Hines of Oblivion developer Bethesda Softworks discussed the mod with GameSpot. "Obviously we have a pretty big, and active, mod community for the PC version, and there are some gamers who hacked into Oblivion's art archive files and modified them to create a nude upper female torso in the game," Hines said. "We can't control and don't condone the actions of anyone who alters the game so that it displays material that may be considered offensive. We haven't received any complaints on the issue from anyone."

The ESRB is adding a "nudity" content descriptor to the PC version of the game "until it can be re-mastered and released with the topless skin removed."

[UPDATE]: As for how Oblivion escaped the ratings process with an improper rating the first time around, the ESRB pointed the finger at Bethesda. When a company submits a game to be rated, it is required to provide the ESRB with a video tape "showing the most extreme content and an accurate representation of the context and product as a whole."

After discovering the issues in "post-release monitoring and play-testing," the ESRB initiated a review of the game's original ratings process. The board cross-examined the tape Bethesda submitted with video taken from the final release of the game, and ultimately determined that the developer understated the detail and intensity of the blood and gore in the game. In reference to the nude skin, which is inaccessible during normal play and so couldn't have been included in the taped submission, the ESRB said publishers are required "to disclose locked-out content during the rating process if it is pertinent to a rating," and that Bethesda failed to do so.

As a result, the ESRB said a number of corrective actions are being taken regarding the matter. Bethesda will notify retailers of the rating change, provide stores and distributors with M-rating stickers for all unsold copies of the game, and preparing new packaging with the proper rating and content descriptors for future copies of the game. Bethesda will also prepare a downloadable patch to modify the game's art archive and make the topless skin inaccessible, even on a modded PC version of the game.

Shortly after the ESRB parental advisory was issued, Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association president Hal Halpin sent out his own statement about the re-rating. Halpin called the resulting change in sales policy for the game "immediate," and said a number of major retailers had already changed their systems so cashiers would be prompted to ask for ID when copies of Oblivion were scanned.

"Of note in this matter is the speed at which retailers reacted and parents were empowered," Halpin said. "Ultimately that is what makes any ratings system effective in the end."

A Take-Two representative deferred GameSpot's questions regarding the matter to Bethesda, but did say that the company doesn't expect the re-rating to have a financial impact on its operations.

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