In a sharp reversal on their previous stance regarding unlocked content, the ESRB has issued a statement on the recent hacking of Manhunt 2 for the PSP, saying that Rockstar is not responsible for the AO-rated content that has been revealed as playable in the game. Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB, read the statement to journalists in a telephone press conference:
Once numerous changes to the game’s code have been made and other unauthorized software programs have been downloaded to the hardware device which circumvent security controls that prevent unauthorized games from being played on that hardware, a player can view unobscured versions of certain violent acts in the game. Contrary to some reports, however, we do not believe these modifications fully restore the product to the version that originally received an AO rating, nor is this a matter of unlocking content.
This contradicts numerous instances where the ESRB brought the hammer down on game companies, including Rockstar, for explicit content that was only revealed after modifications to the game’s code. For instance, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was re-rated from Teen to Mature when it was discovered that a player had modified the game using the game’s own engine to create topless skins for players to use.
Vance defended the ESRB’s stance against the reporters, saying there was a fundamental difference between modification of content and the unlocking of content. She mentioned Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as an instance of unlocking, even though to reveal the content, the game had to be modified by a patch found on the internet. She also said disclosure was an issue.
“There was a lack of previous disclosure of the content [in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas],” Vance said, whereas the violent content was disclosed by Rockstar to the ESRB during the ratings process.
The difference between modification and unlocking of content and how Manhunt 2 differs from Oblivion and San Andreas, as well as the precise rationale behind the re-rating of Manhunt 2 from AO to M was not made explicit by Vance.