Analysts dissect Manhunt 2 rating

Industry watchers predict whether Take-Two and Rockstar will tone down the violence in their action sequel or release it with an Adults Only label.

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This week, the unreleased action game Manhunt 2 took a beating worthy of its brutal subject matter. It's only Wednesday, and already the game has been banned in the UK and Ireland, drawn the ire of a parent watchdog group, and slapped with an AO for Adults Only rating in the US.

With the game's July 10 release date rapidly approaching, Take-Two Interactive and Rockstar Games will have to decide quickly if they want to tone down the game and have it rerated, appeal the Entertainment Software Rating Board to change the rating, or just accept the original judgment and release the game with the AO label intact.

GameSpot went to a handful of analysts asking for their expectations on how Take-Two will handle the situation, and found them split on how they expected the publisher to handle it.

Nollenberger Capital Partners' Todd Greenwald said he expects the publisher to do what it takes to get the game on the market with an M for Mature rating.

"Take-Two will have to make some edits--though Rockstar won't like it--to knock the rating down to Mature," Greenwald said. "AO games don't sell. They did it with GTA San Andreas after the Hot Coffee incident. I'd expect them to do it again here. The UK ban I think they could live with or work around, but I don't think they can launch the game with an AO rating."

Lazard Capital Markets' Colin Sebastian was a bit less certain about what the publisher will choose to do, but ultimately thinks Take-Two will resort to toning down the game.

"Take Two has to balance the benefits of free publicity for a new title against the potential risk of limited retail sales," Sebastian explained. "Unless Manhunt 2 is a sacrificial lamb to bolster Rockstar's 'bad boy' reputation ahead of the Grand Theft Auto IV launch, I think it's reasonable to expect Take Two to consider toning down the content in question."

Wedbush Morgan Securities' Michael Pachter said coverage of the game's ban and rating issues will draw additional curiosity in Manhunt 2, but notes that all the interest in the world won't help UK customers get around a ban, while an AO rating would also hurt overall sales. But when it comes to editing the content for an M rating, Pachter called it a tough decision.

"In order to [tone it down], they would most likely have to delay the launch, and invest more in the game," Pachter said. "I'm not sure whether it's better to just ship it as is, or spend more and hope for an M rating. Given that the new management is looking to control costs, I'd speculate that they just take their lumps with this game, and use the example as a lesson to help rein in bad decisions going forward."

From a stock market analyst's point of view, Pachter said the company made a financial mistake in making the game as violent as it is to begin with. But on a personal level, he expressed more dismay at the reactions to Manhunt 2's content than the content itself.

"It's a sad state of affairs when we have to discuss the use of the Wii controller as a weapon for a game like Manhunt, but don't think twice when the game is a typical shooter game," Pachter said. "Killing is killing, and it's either acceptable or not. I think that singling out Manhunt is tantamount to discrimination against Take-Two.

"My personal view is that so long as consumers know what they're getting, they should be allowed to buy the game. If it is restricted to adults, so be it, but a ban is inappropriate. Adults should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to play this kind of game, and if they do, they should be allowed to purchase it."

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