The week in technology: Video game censored

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Video game censored

Take-Two, the US games publisher, became the latest victim of moral hysteria over sexually explicit content after its top selling title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was re-rated from M to Adults Only.

Take-Two said its revenue for the third quarter would be in the range of $160m - $160m, compared with expectations of $213m after it announced that it would allow retailers to return current versions of the game for a rebate.

The furore was over a “mini-game” hidden in the car-looting title in which the protagonist has sex with a female character designated as his girlfriend by players of the game. Parent groups and politicians, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, called for it to be banned. The sexual content was originally blamed on the kind of hackers who have been responsible for many such additions to games. But as Wired reported, an investigation by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board revealed Take Two had actually designed the content, and a modification known as “Hot Coffee” and written by a Dutch hacker merely made it available.

A new version of the game which prevented the Hot Coffee mod from being run wouldn’t be available until the fourth quarter, Take-Two said. Stores who were willing to continue selling existing versions were offered Adults Only stickers, but many big retailers including WalMart and Best Buy decided to pull the game from their shelves and claim the rebate.

TechDirt was one of many websites to wonder why carjacking and killing are fine, but consensual sex in a game had to be banned.

Earlier M-rated versions of the game are now selling fast on Ebay, reported games website Punch Jump, with bidders paying up to $86 for the Xbox version.

Microsoft sues Google

Google’s announcement that it was opening a research lab in China was marred by news that Microsoft planned to sue over the appointment of the new centre’s head, Kai-Fu Lee. Microsoft said that Mr Lee, who once headed the software giant’s own Beijing R&D centre, was violating the terms of a non-compete clause which prevented him from working for a competitor for at least one year. It is suing both Google and Mr Lee.

The news came shortly before both companies reported quarterly results, with Microsoft meeting expectations and raising its full-year forecast range for its yearly earnings to June 2006. Google’s 110 per cent year-on-year revenue growth was insufficient to allay fears about falling margins from investors, who wiped 5 per cent off its price.

Microsoft can’t have been happy with the latest quarterly search engine statistics which showed that its MSN search site has lost 4 per cent market share. As Search Engine Watch pointed out, it was MSN’s worst results this year.

Apple’s ambitions?

Steve Job’s reluctance to spill the beans when it comes to Apple’s future strategy means that there are always plenty of rumours doing the rounds as what he has in store.

Rarely will reporters get any more than a wait-and-see response to probing questions.

However, CNET, the technology website, has been following clues and fitting pieces of the jigsaw together, and has concluded there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Apple might be preparing to take on the video market.

Since May, the iTunes music store allowed users to play videos, film trailers and home movies, as well as selling music videos from bands such as Gorillaz and Morcheeba. Apple is reported to be in talks with record labels to expand the range of muisc videos available.

Apple itself has suggested that it an iPod that plays videos may be unveiled in Spetember. A report from Techtree.com in India says that videos might cost around $1.99 each on iTunes save for the possibility of a discount, if consumers were to buy a music video and a song at the same time.

Meanwhile, the latest version of its QuickTime video player - shipped with Apple’s latest Tiger operating system - lets consumers view high definition video with less bandwidth and storage space that early versions.

But if Steve Jobs intends to plunge head first into providing movies on demand it may find it heavy going with resistence from Hollywood executives worried about copyright protection and enjoying soaring DVD sales.

Those in favour of opening up the movie market digitally think Mr Jobs could be the person to do it because of his connections with Hollywood which include a spell as chief executive at Pixar.

Apple’s ambitions are also scrutinised in another story this week.

The Register asks whether the company is about to become a mobile phone operator on the back of the launch of its iTunes-branded handset, manufactured by Motorola.

MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) are setting up all over the globe, leasing spectrum from traditional mobile carriers.

The website opines that iTunes recognisable brand is ideal for attracting the sort of narrow customer base that is behind other successful MVNOs such as the UK’s Virgin Mobile.

A service which stresses music downloading but also provides a phone service could have a lot of appeal for the younger generation - and rival similar offering from phone companies who are trying to pull in users with music downloading options.

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