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The ESRB, Earmarks, and Manhunt 2 in Game Politics

Zonk posted about 7 years ago | from the sucker-punching-senators-like-rockstars dept.

Games 48

GamePolitics has a number of interesting posts up this week on developing stories. The ESRB has fired off a warning to 3D Realms over some out-of-date labeling on the Duke Nukem portion of their website. The organization says it's standard procedure, but 3D Realms co-founder Scott Miller views it as a 'sucker punch'. Meanwhile, Senators discussing earmarks for the year are in a row over videogames. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is resisting a $7.5 Million appropriation for an advanced computer system, which he 'compared ... to videogames.' Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) countered by noting that Coburn authorized spending that resulted in the creation of an actual videogame, the Full Spectrum Warrior title released by THQ. Finally, Rockstar has fired back at GamesIndustry.biz. The respected European news site wrote a blistering editorial when the Manhunt 2 kerfuffle first started, saying that Rockstar was being 'juvenile, shameful, and irresponsible'. They've now responded: "What about games make them deserve special treatment from the authorities? According to industry groups, the average games player is in his or her 30s, yet you support the widely held view that games are somehow a less sophisticated medium than cinema, only suitable for immature audiences. In other words, although gamers can negotiate the boundaries between reality and fiction in other media, you believe we are incapable of navigating the same boundaries in videogames ... We believe in a well-run ratings system. With the best rating system in history and the future of the industry and medium at stake, we don't understand why it is necessary to effectively ban all games intended for players 18 and older."

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So much... (1)

deftcoder (1090261) | about 7 years ago | (#19901979)

For being a voluntary rating system. It's grown out of control.

Bend to the will of the Enclave of Seriously Ridiculous Bureaucrats!

I, for one, do *NOT* welcome our new ESRB overlords.

Re:So much... (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#19902289)

They enforced part of their contract in an ongoing attempt to cover the industries ass for the next big thing that involves games. They are trying to prove they have a functional, well maintained, and consistent ratings system. They are trying to maintain advertising guidelines that the industry agreed to. They are trying to prove on the PR front that the ratings system isn't a sham.

Really the only thing the ESRB can do is make two adult ratings, one for "adult violence" and one for "adult sexual". The ones who are "censoring" developers is the Big 3 that won't allow an adult game on their systems and the retailers who won't stock adult games.

Re:So much... (1)

C0rinthian (770164) | about 7 years ago | (#19903023)

Thank you for making that distinction. The ESRB doesn't ban games. retailers and console manufacturers do. (In the US at least)

Re:So much... (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#19903091)

Not to say that I have no problems with the ESRB, they done some annoying things too, but so have the ESA and others.

dead on (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19903269)

"They enforced part of their contract in an ongoing attempt to cover the industries ass for the next big thing that involves games. They are trying to prove they have a functional, well maintained, and consistent ratings system. They are trying to maintain advertising guidelines that the industry agreed to. They are trying to prove on the PR front that the ratings system isn't a sham."

Exactly, and why are they doing this? To avoid actual federal regulation or government oversight which would kill the industry. A comment like the previous one that says the ESRB enables political beauracracy and censorship is misinformed, myopic and idiotic at worse.

Re:So much... (1)

nuzak (959558) | about 7 years ago | (#19903567)

I prefer "Sanctimonious Repressive Bureaucrats" myself.

how do i get tetris (0, Troll)

BlackMacUser (1009741) | about 7 years ago | (#19902081)

1/10 ban

As much as I dislike what Rockstar says... (2, Insightful)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 7 years ago | (#19902235)

Rockstar makes games that don't often appeal to me, but at the same time, games do receive a lot of undeserved flak. As has been said many times before, what makes this game worse than Hostel or Turistas? Do games deserve to be judged more harshly than any other medium?

Re:As much as I dislike what Rockstar says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19902703)

"what makes this game worse than Hostel or Turistas?"

Nothing. Those are both 18 rated films (or th US equivalent) and Manhunt is an 18 rated game. Or it would be if the major retailers were prepeared to sell 18 rated games. They knew it would be an 18 rated game when they made it, and they knew very few people would be willing to sell such a thing. I say, let 'em crash.

Re:As much as I dislike what Rockstar says... (1)

Altus (1034) | about 7 years ago | (#19902777)


the rating manhunt has recieved (AO, I believe, adults only) is more like NC-17. Many theaters wont carry movies with that rating and it is considered stronger than R rating which would be most like the "M for mature" rating that the ESRB hands out. If Manhunt had an M rating none of this would be an issue.

I think its a shame that there is no way for AO rated games to make it to the public on consoles, though I have no interest at all in Manhunt. I think its going to take something a little more refined and subtle to break this barrier down though.

Set-top PC (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#19906923)

I think its a shame that there is no way for AO rated games to make it to the public on consoles
Easy. Buy a Mac mini, connect it to the TV, and call it a console.

Re:As much as I dislike what Rockstar says... (1)

westlake (615356) | about 7 years ago | (#19907365)

what makes this game worse than Hostel or Turistas? Do games deserve to be judged more harshly than any other medium?

You watch a movie for ninety minutes. You watch a movie from a physical and psychological distance. You do not act out the twist of the knife. You are not rewarded for the brutality of your kills.

The "torture porn" of Hostel has become box office poison.

Manhunt 2 is the video game equivalent of the exploitation flick that ups the ante but hits the screens after the audience has gone elsewhere.

... Hrmmmm (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19902307)

.. These problems will disappear when I can download the game directly to my console (see: steam).

Re:... Hrmmmm (1)

metamatic (202216) | about 7 years ago | (#19904089)

No they won't. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft keep just as tight a rein on what you can download. It all has to be signed with their secret cryptographic keys.

Set-top PC (1)

tepples (727027) | about 7 years ago | (#19906987)

Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft keep just as tight a rein on what you can download.
Apple doesn't. So why don't more games come out on Apple's "Mac mini" console?

Re:... Hrmmmm (1)

westlake (615356) | about 7 years ago | (#19907503)

These problems will disappear when I can download the game directly to my console (see: steam).

The console manufacturers don't need the grief.

There will be federal legislation - demands for proof of age online that cannot be trivially compromised.

Kudos to Rockstar (1)

MeanderingMind (884641) | about 7 years ago | (#19902365)

For all the controversy, Rockstar are one of the few development houses actively pushing video games to achieve the same status as other media.

They've called the whole situation for what it is, ridiculous. Without such controversies, video games will never break out of the "juvenille" image so many people have of them.

I salute you, Rockstar... (1)

p4rri11iz3r (1084543) | about 7 years ago | (#19902667)

... for being one of the few developers still willing to take a risk in this industry. You refuse to play by anybody else's rules.

I used to think that the "main-streamification" that began 10-15 years ago was a good thing. More people were playing games, which meant that because of the increase in sales, more games would be offered. Aw, if it only were that simple. Now most development houses are too cowardly to take a risk on a game that might fail. They would rather stick to the tried and true shovelware we see year after year (see: EA Games). So when I see someone like Rockstar, who's willing to stick their neck out there with an unconventional game, it makes me smile to know that somewhere, creativity still has chance, instead of being stifled under the usual corporate greed. So I salute you, Rockstar, for giving creativity a chance.

Re:I salute you, Rockstar... (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#19902923)

Um what has rockstar changed? 1:Make something violent and controversial. Make sure there is a hoopla about it. 2:??????? 3:Profit, rather well. Really none of the GTA games have been that big a departure, really They haven't been innovative. They have improved on a rather fun formula and added some nice social commentary and a rather funny, yet at the same time serious story. manhunt on the other hand... whats the point? All it seems to have are better graphics graphics and the Wii controller. What is going to make it different from the 1st game which i felt was rather craptastic?

Re:I salute you, Rockstar... (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#19902955)

bugger

Um what has rockstar changed?
1:Make something violent and controversial. Make sure there is a hoopla about it.
2:???????
3:Profit, rather well.

Really none of the GTA games have been that big a departure. They really haven't been that innovative since GTA3. They have improved on a rather fun formula and added some nice social commentary and a rather funny, yet at the same time serious story.

Manhunt on the other hand... whats the point? All it seems to have are better graphics graphics and the Wii controller. What is going to make it different from the 1st game which i felt was rather craptastic?

Re:I salute you, Rockstar... (1)

p4rri11iz3r (1084543) | about 7 years ago | (#19903625)

Let my clarify for you: I am not necessarily saying Rockstar is the most innovative of developers. Rather, I am saying they seem to be one of the few left in the industry willing to take a risk. What other companies are pushing the boundaries of what we find acceptable in games? Rockstar has been doing this for sometime now. And it appears as though they may have finally found it.

It will be interesting to see if Manhunt 2 is ever released and what changes they make in order for it to "comply." The only other Rockstar game I've played is Vice City (which I love). They make some very interesting social commentary in that game (listen to any of the talk stations). That's what I find interesting about all of their games, as both in game and in real life, there are some very interesting social implications being explored.

I think that, as a society, and as Rockstar was saying, we've yet to come to grips video games being a valid form of media. We need someone to ask the tough questions, to push the limits. At the moment, the only one I see doing that is Rockstar. And that is why I salute them.

Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and Sony (5, Insightful)

Satanboy (253169) | about 7 years ago | (#19902695)

Since none of the three console producers will allow AO games, they have effectively ruined the rating system.

If these companies would just allow all games to play on their systems without artificially hampering them, everyone would be happy. This issue has less to do with the ESRB and more to do with the foolishness of the console makers for stating that we, as adults, cannot judge for ourselves what we want to play.

Imagine if your DVD players said 'this movie is too adult for you, you cannot play it' if you tried to play a John Waters film or a porno.

Shame on Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo for preventing AO games from being able to play on their systems!

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

Altus (1034) | about 7 years ago | (#19902807)

It would be kind of nice if they allowed the games but had a parental control option and required the game format to include its rating so that a parent could lock down a console to not play these games.

This would seem to be a much better way of dealing with this. Hell, I dont even care if retail places wont carry AO titles, if they are available on the internet people might make them and eventually someone would make one that was really really good and had enough other merit that people might take notice.

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

Winckle (870180) | about 7 years ago | (#19902921)

You know what the craziest part is?

The console based parental restriction system you described is already in the wii, and probably in other next gen consoles as well.

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

Broken scope (973885) | about 7 years ago | (#19903031)

They are in all the systems, the XBOX had parental controls last generation.

Parental Controls. (1)

trdrstv (986999) | about 7 years ago | (#19906373)

It would be kind of nice if they allowed the games but had a parental control option and required the game format to include its rating so that a parent could lock down a console to not play these games.

This exists in each of the current systems (Wii, PS3, 360) and is enforced for both retail games and downloadable content. They also as a matter of policy will only allow games that are rated by the ESRB (or whatever the local equivalent is) on their system.

The exact scenario you described exists with the exception of allowing AO games to run. If they allowed AO as an option, then this would be a non-issus.

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

nuzak (959558) | about 7 years ago | (#19903503)

> Imagine if your DVD players said 'this movie is too adult for you, you cannot play it' if you tried to play a John Waters film or a porno.

Most DVD players do have such lockout features. My player occasionally gets corrupted and locks EVERYTHING out -- have to reset the firmware to fix it.

I'm all for controls in the console, but unfortunately the morality police won't be satisfied unless they personally control the distribution of everything.

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

dufachi (973647) | about 7 years ago | (#19904523)

Imagine if your DVD players said 'this movie is too adult for you, you cannot play it' if you tried to play a John Waters film or a porno.
OMG you mean it's not supposed to do that? How do I turn that off?! Must... have... pr0n!

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

Rolgar (556636) | about 7 years ago | (#19904607)

Well, AO games can still be distributed for the PC although it would have to be by download since Walmart and the gaming stores wouldn't carry it.

As you said, the console makers have made these decisions. But if they decide that the effort to police the sale of a game and the risk of bad press (see Hot Coffee Mod) is too high, they aren't going to make a decision to make something available, then there must be market forces that indicate there is something detrimental to making the game available. If that's the case, you should accuse the parents of gamers who make decisions about what to buy based on what games are available for the system even if they don't plan on allowing it in their home.

Games that gamers would like to play don't get released all the time for all kinds of business reasons, and all of them boil down to money. Maybe another game has more financial promise (WOW over Starcraft: Ghost), maybe the market is saturated (WOW over other MMOPGs), maybe the cost of making the game is too high or can't be made up to good enough standards to sell, or maybe the console makers want to guarantee certain standards of what will be required of a game, in quality or content, to protect the reputation of the console to prevent an Atari like collapse of their system.

If there were a huge market of gamers that would give preference to an AO friendly console, any console maker would love to have a corner on that huge market of hard core AO gamers. But parents will take that into consideration when they buy for their kids, and so will limit the company in other ways. So far no company has been willing to strike out and go that route, which must say something about the market research for AO games, or the risk averseness of the gamers. If you think there is a huge market for an AO friendly console, maybe you should convince a bunch of gamers to petition Sony to open the console open for AO games. Right now, Sony is the only one of the three desperate enough for sales to go AO friendly against the risk of losing some of the mainstream market. This would play along with Sony's hardcore market stance with this round of consoles, and might give them the edge they'd need to edge Microsoft this round.

As for the argument about the TV and DVD players not restricting things based on content, they can, but that's a voluntary decision made by the owner of the system deciding to activate controls on something they've brought home. There are too many TV and DVD makers and around for a company to start implementing filtering by default. Also the TV and DVD markets are much more open and competitive markets than the consoles, because every TV can basically be perfectly replaced by a competitors product, and nobody buys a TV based on the content that will be available on it because all content can play on all TVs. But each of the consoles are a closed system exclusively sold by one maker, and if you lose the sale of a console to a competitor, you lose out on all of the licensing revenue that goes with it, and Microsoft and Sony are playing to destroy the competition, which makes them very risk adverse.

But if you look at how content has changed on TV and Video games, both have gotten more lenient over time since kids that have grown up with the medium have wanted more mature content on their console, and given another 10-20 years, AO content might be readily available to video gamers on their platform of choice, and in a decade or two, you will probably see what you want come to pass.

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

Other Than That... (824148) | about 7 years ago | (#19905593)

A better analogy would be if a major movie studio decided they were not going to distribute a porno, which I'm pretty sure they wouldn't.

Of course the analogy doesn't really match up, as the DVD players are a profitable item unto themselves, use an 'open' standard, and are made by people who don't also make movies. (And people make DVD's who don't make players)

Re:Part of the blame falls with MS, Nintendo and S (1)

westlake (615356) | about 7 years ago | (#19911149)

Since none of the three console producers will allow AO games, they have effectively ruined the rating system. If these companies would just allow all games to play on their systems without artificially hampering them, everyone would be happy.

Manhunt 2 is "adult entertainment" only in the sense that it rquires proof of age.

One of the rewards of maturity is turning your back on the schlockmeister's blood and gore fest and admitting that you rather spend an evening out with Brad Bird, Tim Burton, Nick Park, etc.

Sounds like a dup...2 Manhunt "stories" in 2 days? (0, Offtopic)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 7 years ago | (#19902741)

This also sounds like a dup...but then I realized it's just good Slashvertising.

2 Manhunt 2 mentions in 2 different "stories" (blogfarts) in 2 days? It's a plant, Burt.

Re:Sounds like a dup...2 Manhunt "stories" in 2 da (1)

brkello (642429) | about 7 years ago | (#19903455)

Considering you can't buy the game, I fail to see how this is "Slashvertising". The fact that we can't buy AO games because of the console makers is a big deal. Any gamer should be concerned that we are held to a different standard than other media. Of course, this will eventually get better with time. As the older generation that is scared of video games die off...those of us who grew up with it will take over.

In short, AIDA (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about 7 years ago | (#19903747)

Considering you can't buy the game, I fail to see how this is "Slashvertising".


I can help with that part of your education too: look up "AIDA" somewhere. We're currently in the "Awareness" to "Interest" sections of Manhunt 2's marketing plan.
 

Oh noes! (2, Funny)

Ecuador (740021) | about 7 years ago | (#19902963)

They demanded that 3D Realms updates their website. They were late with DNF as it was, if they also have web design tasks, I am afraid they might never finish it...

Choice (0, Redundant)

hellfire (86129) | about 7 years ago | (#19903549)

Just to make a point...

I don't like the Grand Theft Auto series, I don't like the concept behind manhunt 1 or 2. I think these games are overly juvenille and unentertaining. I also don't like slasher movies with incredible amounts of gore for the sake of gore, and I think gangster rap is crap.

I like heroic and funny movies and games. I like movie soundtracks, folk music, upbeat rock n roll.

I also like the fact that I can chose, like a grownup, what I do and do not like.

Down with video game bans.

Have you ever... (1)

d3vo1d (607758) | about 7 years ago | (#19903997)

seen an NC-17 movie being played in a movie theater? Just a thought. If the ESRB ratings system roughly equates to the rating system of our other four-letter word friend, the MPAA, then EC~G,E~PG,T~PG-13,M~R,AO~NC-17.Then I would say that this does seem about right. If a game developer oversteps the "M" boundaries, is it really absurd to make them edit the game content to not receive an "AO" rating? Look at the number of films that have been rated NC-17 and then been edited down to R... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NC-17_rated_f ilms [wikipedia.org] . Then again, if the bar for an "AO" is lower than an "NC-17" then that is clearly not fair to artists who choose to work in the medium of videogames.

I think that it would be better to have a single media ratings system for both movies and games. The reviewers could even be shown clips of gameplay footage (maybe they are already, I don't know) so that essentially what they are rating is no different from rating a movie. It might also help parents realize "gee, I'm guying an R-rated game for my kid?" since half of them seem to pay no attention to the ESRB's ratings. There is certainly a difference between movies you see in a theater versus what you can watch in your own home (notice how the "Unrated version" DVD's of movies have become quite popular?), so it seems that once that media comes into our house all bets are off.

Disclaimer: I think there is a lot wrong with this country and the way it rates media (i.e. violence is fine as long as there is no sex), so I am really all for using ratings as guidelines for parents but not restricting the sale/showing of anything.

Re:Have you ever... (1)

ivan256 (17499) | about 7 years ago | (#19904107)

I've seen at least one of the movies on that list which wasn't re-rated in an actual mainstream theatre....

However, I've seen many of those movies released on DVD as "unrated" (really the original cut that got an NC-17 before editing) available for sale in stores like Target, or BestBuy, and they are playable in my DVD player (as are many more explicit titles). Unlike AO video games, NC-17 movies are available to purchase and play, whereas AO video games are essentially banned.

Re:Have you ever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19906731)

Your analogy sucks.

If you analogy actually worked, the correct way to put it would be DVD players in your homes versus game consoles... Fundamentally, a game console with game is different then a movie theater with movie. One is based heavily on consumer participation, while one is just what a single individual prefers.

Look at it this way. When you choose a game to play, you buy it (or pirate it, lets be honest), pop the disc into your game console, and play. The same thing goes for a DVD player. The only difference is that the DVD player doesn't have AO (NC-17) titles blocked from it.

Rockstar hold the cards (1)

metamatic (202216) | about 7 years ago | (#19904115)

If I were Rockstar, I'd be saying "Hey, Sony, are you going to release Manhunt 2 as is, or are we going to make GTA IV be an Xbox 360 exclusive?"

Then we'd see how quickly Sony caved.

(GTA IV is the one thing currently making me think I might buy a PS3 before the end of the year.)

((Not that I have any interest in playing Manhunt 2.))

Re:Rockstar hold the cards (1)

Shabadage (1037824) | about 7 years ago | (#19908409)

Except that from reports, it seems that the PS3 version is going to be the "definitive" version. Rockstar is having serious issues because they can't count on a Hard Drive being in the system; which essentially means no free swap space (Using the internal Hard Drive for memory swapping was a common thing on the original Xbox). The relatively small size of DVD's is also probably hampering development. Rockstar knows what they're doing of course, and they will/may have already find (found) a way around these problems; but it just sounds like they're doing first run code on the PS3. Then there's the issue of how much money they've spent making both versions. I wonder how long it will be until we see games for the X360 that require a Hard Disk.

Absolutely Standard Procedure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19904317)

The ESRB has fired off a warning to 3D Realms over some out-of-date labeling on the Duke Nukem portion of their website. The organization says it's standard procedure, but 3D Realms co-founder Scott Miller views it as a 'sucker punch'.
I've been creating and maintaining game company websites since 2001. ESRB compliance has always been like this: They've always given you a timeline to comply, a list of their expectations, required you to use up-to-date descriptors, etc. This is nothing new.

That said, only getting 10 days probably does feel like a sucker punch to 3D Realms. When you're an industry joke for not being able to launch a game in ten years, ten days to come in to compliance with anything must just seem crazy.

Sorry about being an anonymous coward but I'd also like to keep working in the field and, true as the statements about 3D Realms are, people tend to get touchy.

Senator Tom Coburn (1)

MarkAyen (726688) | about 7 years ago | (#19905107)

Senator Coburn has a long-standing record of fighting against pork barrel spending (aka the "earmarks" referenced in TFA). I can certainly understand how he would have approved spending for development of a videogame that is essentially a marketing tool for the military (and which ultimately paid for itself) while opposing the 21CSI project, which, as I understand it, has no clearly defined value whatsoever.

I don't support Coburn's position on a great many issues, but as a porkbuster, he's virtually unrivaled in the Senate.

It's the movie rating system that needs to change (1)

7Prime (871679) | about 7 years ago | (#19905239)

I do think there is a problem, and that's the inconsisistancy between game ratings and movie ratings. I have no problem with Manhunt 2 being rated AO (NC-17 equivelent), if there's any game that deserves this title on the basis of violence, it's probably this title. However, it is nothing compared to what the film industry is allowed to do. Hostel, Saw, Touristas and the like just as grim and violent, yet they somehow "buy" themselves out of the NC-17 rating. It really is the movie rating system that's corrupt. Society doesn't change all that quickly, yet the difference between ratings in the last two decades is ENORMOUS. What used to be R is now on the low-end of the PG-13 rating, or even PG these days. Rating inflation is a huge problem, and I think that it's because studios are, little by little, buying the ratings. When you have 75% of movies falling under one category (R), I think there's a problem.

I just want to see games and films be treated equally. But I really think that it's the movie ratings that are broken. And then there's the content. Show a billion severed heads, and watch people screaming for their lives as they're brutally murdered, but show two people making love, and it's NC-17 for you.

Re:It's the movie rating system that needs to chan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19911319)

The problem is, 93% of gamers are over 18. That's almost the entire market. Effectively censoring all games geared to that market, solely because some bigoted intolerant people don't understand the industry or its patrons, is ludicrous.

Re:It's the movie rating system that needs to chan (1)

7Prime (871679) | about 7 years ago | (#19917201)

Okay, now that's excessive. I've seen figures in the high 40% ranges, I've seen it up to mid-60%, but 93% is simply ignorant.

the right way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 years ago | (#19911731)

you know why video games get so much heat? Video games companies havent united and got lobbyists yet. They need to join together if only vaguely, and get lobbyists to represent themselves and bribe politicians - the way the American government system was designed!

Video games: if you would just play by the rules and hand out money and hire lobbyists and prostitutes for senators, you wouldnt be in the situation your in. But you refuse to conform, and your deviant behaviour in the political sphere has caused you the situation your in.

I'm sure if you played your cards right you could have Solid Snake as a US senator inside the decade - just like how Hollywood got Arnold up in California.

PC (1)

fozzmeister (160968) | about 7 years ago | (#19912693)

Please release on PC, maybe on STEAM or any other online system. That way the demographic tends to be older and you don't have rating issues.
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