Hatred, the forthcoming shock game wherein the player takes on the role of a spree-killer, has been given the rare “Adults Only” rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board, one of the game’s developers disclosed Friday.
As reported by Ars Technica, the rating means Hatred will most likely not be listed on Valve’s Steam distribution service or be carried by any major retailers. Further, it effectively scuttles any of the developers’ hopes to bring the game to current-gen consoles.
Valve and other game retailers typically do not stock AO-rated games – it’s the equivalent of an “X” rating from the MPAA. It’s no surprise that we won’t see Hatred on Wal-Mart or Best Buy shelves – as I said in our coverage of the game’s Greenlight controversy in December:
It’s worth noting here that there isn’t even a discussion about whether Hatred will be stocked in brick-and-mortar retail stores, because it won’t be, ever, and everyone knows that.
As rare as the AO rating is, it’s rarer still for it to be given out over violence. Being that the ESRB’s “jurisdiction” is North America, most of the AO ratings it has handed out have been for explicit sexual content. Given the importance of the North American market, publishers have in some cases removed offending content from games in order to have an AO rating reduced to “M,” for mature. Atari removed sex scenes from David Cage’s Fahrenheit and released a version called Indigo Prophecy for North America (where fans in many cases opted to import the uncut European version). The ESRB briefly raised Grand Theft Auto San Andreas’ rating to AO when players discovered they could use a mod to access an explicit sex scene. This was changed back to M after Rockstar patched the game and axed the offending content.
But ESRB certification isn’t really a requirement for a game to be sold on Steam, which makes Hatred developer Destructive Creations’ decision to pursue it rather puzzling. Going only on the game’s controversy-seeking trailer, it seemed clear to me in December that the game had no hope of a console release, and there was no indication at the time that Destructive Creations was working on console versions. And while Steam does allow unrated games in its store, it does not sell games that have been given the AO rating.
Given the way Destructive Creations has actively sought controversy with Hatred, I suppose it’s probable that getting an ESRB rating is another publicity stunt. However, this may be the one that finally winds up turning around on them. As others have pointed out, Valve is now in a much stronger position for when they almost inevitably refuse to distribute the game, and being that PC will almost certainly be the only way to play Hatred, that means drastically reduced exposure and sales.
Destructive Creations has other options, of course – they’ll be distributing Hatred from their own site, and there are other online retailers that may choose to stock their game. But the sales hit they’ll take from missing the Steam market could very well mean they fail to recoup their development costs, which can be a death blow for small independent studios.