FTC ends 'Hot Coffee' probe

Yearlong investigation into Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sex scandal ends with no fines levied; Take-Two "extremely pleased."

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A yearlong Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into Take-Two Interactive is finally and formally over, as the publisher today announced that the FTC unanimously approved a settlement outlined last month.

The investigation followed last year's discovery of the hidden "Hot Coffee" sex minigame in Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. After the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rerated the game AO for Adults Only, the FTC launched an investigation into the company's advertising practices surrounding the game. Take-Two recalled all copies of San Andreas, releasing an edited version with the rating of M for Mature restored later on.

As part of the agreement, which sees no fines or penalties levied against Take-Two, the publisher has committed to not misrepresenting a game's rating or content descriptors. It also must set up a system to ensure that all game content is reviewed by the publisher in connection with a game's submission to the ESRB.

Take-Two CEO Paul Eibler said in a statement that the company was "extremely pleased" that the investigation was finally over.

"We recognize the importance of maintaining public confidence in the Entertainment Software Rating Board rating system and helping the ESRB educate parents and consumers about the rating system," Eibler said. "We look forward to putting this behind us and focusing on what we do best--creating video games."

While Take-Two was not fined for the San Andreas controversy, the FTC last month did warn the publisher that if it violates the terms of its agreement in the future, it would carry a fine of $11,000 per violation. That might not sound like much to a company that can make hundreds of millions of dollars off of a hit like San Andreas, but it would be up to a judge to decide what constitutes a violation. Given that judges have ruled on FTC violations differently in the past, that could equal a fine for each copy sold, for each day a game was on sale with an improperly advertised rating, or for some other metric of the judge's choosing.

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