June 20, 2007 / 9:00 PM / 13 years ago

Maker of banned video game calls "Manhunt 2" art

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A video game banned in Britain and Ireland and facing restricted sales in the United States due to its violent content was a fine piece of art, the game’s publisher said on Wednesday.

“Manhunt 2,” in which a player become an insane asylum escapee killing enemies in gruesome ways, was made by Rockstar Games, a label of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. (TTWO.O) which was behind the controversial “Grand Theft Auto” series.

British and Irish censors this week banned the game, citing an unacceptable level of “gratuitous violence.” It is the first time in 10 years that British censors have refused a video game a rating and the first time ever Ireland has banned a game.

Despite the controversy, Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick said he stood behind the game “fully,” and parents and consumers should be able to make their own choices once they are informed about a product.

“The Rockstar team has come up with a game that fits squarely within the horror genre and was intended to do so,” Zelnick said in a statement.

“It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art,” he said.

A spokesman for Rockstar Games on Wednesday said a U.S. self-regulatory group set up to classify video games had imposed its most stringent rating, “Adults Only,” on the game, meaning many major retailers will not stock it.

This group, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, said any rating could be appealed, or a game modified to obtain a less restrictive label. Rockstar declined to say whether it would overhaul the game or appeal the rating.

JURY OUT

The jury is still out on whether violent video games lead to violent behavior, but many big retailers, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT.N), which accounts for 25 percent of U.S. video game sales, refuse to carry “Adults Only” titles.

The game was slated for a July 10 release for Sony Corp.’s (6758.T) PlayStation 2 console and PSP handheld device, and for Nintendo Co. Ltd.’s 7975.OS Wii console. But the game’s fate is unclear because Sony and Nintendo do not allow “Adults Only” content on their systems.

The developments, however, are not expected to have a major impact on the bottom line of Take-Two, a troubled publisher that installed Zelnick and other new executives in March after a shareholder-led coup.

The company reported revenue last year of just over $1 billion, and “Manhunt 2” had been expected to post sales of about $40 million, according to Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter.

That could be halved if the “Adults Only” rating sticks, or be trimmed to $35 million if Rockstar reworks the game to get a less-restrictive “Mature” rating.

“This is one of the tasks ahead of new management, to rein in that creative talent and tell those guys we are in the business of making money and you should make games that will sell, not games that are artistically beautiful but not available at Wal-Mart,” Pachter told Reuters.

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