Taking a stand against excessive violence last fall, video game maker Nintendo of America brought out a toned-down version of the popular Mortal Kombat arcade game that did not depict bloodied or dismembered characters.
What a difference a year makes.
Mortal Kombat II, the sequel, arrives in stores today with “fatality moves” that allow players to slice and dice opponents. Though an industrywide rating system isn’t yet in effect, Nintendo has assigned the game the equivalent of an R movie rating: The package bears a warning that the martial arts game may not be suitable for players under 17.
Nintendo said it changed its stance toward game violence because its customers didn’t want the game maker to play Big Brother.
“We got the response we didn’t expect to get,” spokeswoman Perrin Kaplan said. “Our customers almost 2 to 1 said: ‘Don’t censor the games. Let us do that for ourselves.’ We were a little surprised by that, but business reality is to be in touch with your customers.”
Game players punished Nintendo in the marketplace for its decision to sanitize Mortal Kombat. Investment analysts said the Sega of America version of Mortal Kombat--complete with moves allowing players to rip opponents’ hearts out--outsold the cleaned-up Nintendo game, helping Sega overtake Nintendo as the No. 1 video game company.
“We lost millions in potential sales,” Kaplan acknowledged.
According to New York-based Acclaim Inc., the company that manufactures the Mortal Kombat video games, the Nintendo and Sega versions of Mortal Kombat II are virtually identical. Sega has assigned Mortal Kombat II an MA-17 rating, roughly the same as an R film rating.
That is a step up from the level of violence in the Sega version of Mortal Kombat. The company rated its original Mortal Kombat suitable for people 13 and older, as only skilled players could advance far enough into the game to perform fatality moves. That is not the case with Mortal Kombat II.
An industrywide video game rating system takes effect in November.
How the increase in video-style gore will affect sales of the $59 game remains to be seen. Analysts expect the number of Mortal Kombat II games sold to reach at least 2.5 million over the next year--a good showing but short of the record 6 million Mortal Kombats sold since last September.
“A sequel rarely outsells the original,” said Alfred Tobia Jr., an investment analyst with Wertheim Schroder in New York. The rating isn’t expected to hurt sales. Major retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target and Toys R Us, have ordered the game and aren’t expected or required to check the age of purchasers. Tobia speculated that the rating might enhance Mortal Kombat II’s appeal to younger players.
“It is a little rebellious,” he said.
Despite the fatality moves, Mortal Kombat II has other features that allow parents to rationalize buying it. As an alternative to killing opponents, players can turn them into babies or offer them paper dolls and birthday cakes in so-called friendship moves.
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