Take-Two Toughens 'Elder Scrolls' Game Rating Due to Sex, Gore

A popular fantasy role-playing video game co-published by Take-Two Interactive Software (TTWO) had its rating toughened due to excessive gore and the discovery that female characters could appear topless, the industry's content-ratings body said on Wednesday.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board changed its rating on "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion" to "mature" from "teen." A "mature" rating advises the content is unsuitable for those under 17.

It was the second time that the ESRB had rerated a major game developed or published by Take-Two as a result of content accessed through a downloadable software modification — or "mod" — usually created by a third party.

The ESRB said it found an art file in the PC version of "The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion," made by Bethesda Softworks, the game's other co-publisher. A mod from a third party allows players to change settings in the art file to make female characters appear topless.

The ESRB also said Bethesda understated the detail and intensity of the blood and gore in its initial application.

Last summer, the ESRB slapped a restrictive "adults only" rating on Take-Two's "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" after it found hidden code in the blockbuster title that, when enabled by a mod, allowed characters to engage in explicit sex acts.

Take-Two was forced to pull "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" from shelves and remove the offending scene, which cost the company tens of millions of dollars in losses and spawned ongoing legal and regulatory actions.

Take-Two and Bethesda said in April that shipments of "Oblivion" — which lets players perform quests as wizards, fighters or other characters in a massive and detailed world — had topped 1.7 million units worldwide.

"We don't expect there to be a financial impact," Take-Two spokesman Jim Ankner said of the ratings change.

Most of the copies sold have been for Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox 360 console. That version is not susceptible to the topless mod.

Shares in Take-Two dipped less than 1 percent in extended trading after the ESRB's announcement, then rebounded to $16.33, slightly above its Nasdaq close of $16.31.

A spokesman for Bethesda was not immediately available to comment.

For now, ESRB President Patricia Vance told Reuters the ratings board is asking retailers to treat "Oblivion" games now on their shelves as "mature" and sell them only to people aged 17 and older.

"In terms of pulling the product, that's an issue between retailers and the [game's] co-publishers," Vance said.