Comic courtesy of Fat Gamers.

Banned down under

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Will the scandal never end?

So they've banned GTA: SA completely in Australia. It was originally MA15+, but now 'Hot Coffee' fever has struck and Australia's Office of Film and Literature Classification have revoked the rating. This is what the director of the ratings board Des Clark had to say: "Parents are strongly advised to exercise caution in allowing children continued access to the game, particularly if they have might have access to the 'Hot Coffee' modification."

What the hell?? Ok, there are a number of things wrong with this statement. One: Mr Clark makes GTA: SA sound like the plague, and 'Hot Coffee' the mutated strand that refuses to be beaten back by antibiotics. It's just not this serious people!!

Two: Mr Clark is shunting the blame on parents. You're right, parents should exercise caution in allowing their children continued access to the game, and that's because YOUR CHILDREN SHOULDN'T BE PLAYING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE! I certainly don't think GTA should be classified as a 15-rated game - it's a sure fire 18, so the classification stinks in the first place. But don't ban the game because content isn't appropriate to the rating. Re-classify the damn thing! This would be possible if higher ratings were available to videogames in Australia. While an 'R' and 'X' rating are available to movies, they aren't for videogames. What kind of democracy are you running down there anyway? We assume that the game will be re-released when Rockstar remove the mini-game code from the game.

Sigh. So far, the only good to come of this whole sorry mess is that Rockstar may be investigated for allegedly trying to trick the ESRB into passing a game with hidden explicit material inside. It's a good move, only because perhaps now it will force publishers to cover their backs, something they should be doing already, and because Rockstar had no business including 'Hot Coffee' in retail code in the first place.

And everyone seems to be missing the wider point: underage gamers who want these games are getting them. Banning GTA: SA isn't going to work out why parents don't care what their children are doing in their bedrooms or why sales assistants can't work out their customers' ages.

But back to the point - sensational reactionary comments like the one from Mr Clark do nothing for the industry and really do parents a disservice. If I had a 16 year-old kid and I didn't know my GTA from my GBA, I'd read that quote and immediately call an exorcist in to try and purge every single form of electronic entertainment in my child's obviously corrupted bedroom. I'd also never trust a game rating again in my life.

In a funny way, the UK has been the epicentre of calm and informed reaction to 'Hot Coffee' mania, led mainly by the largely factually correct BBC and good work from writers at The Guardian. The BBFC, which correctly gave GTA: SA an 18-rating when it was released, said the 18-rating still applied even with the 'Hot Coffee' mod. They're bang on.

We haven't even seen the Mail or the Mirror sh*t bricks over it. Why? Because it's a damp squib. US and Australian officials would do well to realise this, and stop doing irreparable damage to the most interesting and creative medium the world has ever seen.

The end of the Blackberry

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Who doesn't want one?

This week Sony confirmed that the PSP will come equipped with a web browser when it's released on these shores on September 1st. The new firmware, v2.0 (like the Garbage record, but not as dirty) also slaps the face of anyone who wants to use pirate or homebrew software on the portable wonder.

It's great news (not stopping tinkering with the hardware of course). If I can access my emails through my PSP on the way to work I'm delirious. If I can check Pro-G news on it, I'm in heaven.

Add web browsing to music, TV and film downloads and the PSP is looking less like a game console and more like a utopian portal into the digital world. Not only are gamers going to be interested in the device, but perhaps tech savvy executives too. A low cost alternative to the Blackberry? If Sony market it right, the PSP might become the next iPod.

Of course, as long as they let me play Pro Evolution Soccer on the bus I'll gladly sell my mother for one. I might even throw in my little sister too, if the batteries hold up.

Where's EA?

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GT4 - The best selling game in the US this year

This week, game industry analyst NPD Group released US revenues for the first half of 2005. Overall, revenue increased by 21%, which is a hell of a lot, and a slap in the face of those who say we're in a difficult transition period. But what I find most interesting of all is the top ten selling games in the US during the period of January to June 2005.

Yeah it's only US - but the US is the biggest game market in the world, and the one all the publishers pay attention to the most. So it's a fair reflection of the best performing games right now.

1. GT4 (PS2) - SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT

2. POKEMON EMERALD (GBA) - NINTENDO OF AMERICA

3. MVP BASEBALL 2005 (PS2) - ELECTRONIC ARTS

4. STAR WARS EPISODE III (PS2) - LUCASARTS

5. GTA:SA (PS2) - TAKE-2 INTERACTIVE

6. GOD OF WAR (PS2) - SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT

7. ZELDA: THE MINISH CAP (GBA) - NINTENDO OF AMERICA

8. RESIDENT EVIL 4 (GC) - CAPCOM USA

9. MIDNIGHT CLUB 3: DUB ED (PS2) - TAKE-2 INTERACTIVE

10. STAR WARS EPISODE III(Xbox) - LUCASARTS

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God of War - The only original IP in the list

Like I said - interesting. There's a whole number of issues this list throws up. One is originality - only one game - God of War - is new IP. All the others are either sequels or franchise based. The list also highlights the complete dominance of the PS2 in the hardware stakes. Couple that with Sony self-publishing two of the top ten selling games in the first half of 2005 and you can see why they have the confidence to admit the PS3 will be extremely expensive when it's released next year.

But look at Nintendo. Two of the top 10 games are published by the legendary toy makers, and three are on of their consoles. Apart from the GBA doing surprisingly well in the hardware stakes - you can see why Nintendo are a quietly confident company right now, buoyed by stable revenue and strong profitability. As they have done for many years, Nintendo can always rely on the good old Game Boy. Perhaps their much talked about demise is a tad premature?

But what of EA? The largest independent publisher in the world only has one game in the top ten. Couple this with recent financial warnings brought on by a delay in The Godfather game, and maybe we're starting to see cracks in that previously impregnable franchise-based wall EA have built up over the last decade.

WOW for president?

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Taking MMOs into the mainstream

What's next for World of Warcraft? After announcing 1.5 million Chinese gamers had taken the total number of subscriptions to 3.5 million comes news that publisher Vivendi Universal Games' Q2 figures are up 76%. And it's all down to WOW. I wonder what Blizzard will get from their publisher? Like bands get platinum disks in frames from their record label, maybe the Blizzard board will get all four disks arranged in some carefully crafted wooden frame, basking in the glory of world domination. But if I were a Blizzard GM, I'd want a bloody Porsche.

It's fairly safe to say that WOW will go down in gaming lore as a milestone. One: it's dragged nerdy tech-heavy MMO gaming kicking and screaming into the mainstream, and opened up the market to upcoming MMOs like Auto Assault.

Two: it shows how much money can be made from a successful MMO. £8 a month times by 3.5 million is... a hell of a lot of hard cash. Sure you need to release regular patches and maintain servers, but I'd say it's fairly safe to book that holiday in advance guys. Well done on a fantastic game.

This week's new releases

July has been a rather barren month for game releases in Europe, and this week is perhaps the worst, with only one game (from what we can see) being released. At least Codemasters' Worms 4: Mayhem is an above average game that is taking 3D Worms in the right direction. It certainly isn't as brilliant as the 2D classics, but it is getting there.

If you are pondering over which version to choose, this week only sees the release of the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions (PC version is due next week), and the Xbox release has one massive feature that is missing from the PlayStation 2 version: Online play. That alone should be enough to make it the platform of choice, but both versions play equally as well offline. Next week looks just as poor, with only Namco's Dead to Rights 2 appearing on the release schedule.