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Opinion: Just how important are mature games to the industry?

Publishing giant Electronic Arts has seen its stock rating being upgraded by key industry analysts over the past few days, effectively suggesting that the biggest company in the industry is about to get even bigger. There are a number of reasons for the upgrade, but one which has been latched on to by most media sources is the possibility of the company moving into the "mature" games market - the current darling of the stock market.

This speculation comes off the back of EA CFO Warren Jenson's announcement last week that the company is working on a videogame based on Francis Ford Coppola's classic mafia movie The Godfather. The resulting game is expected to be EA's first foray into publishing M-rated (the US equivalent of the UK 18 certificate) titles for several years, and the timing of the announcement couldn't have been better, coming only days after Wedbrush Morgan Securities analyst Michael Pachter spoke at the DICE summit in Las Vegas, saying "God save us if EA wakes up and wants to make mature content - if that happens, there's only going to be one company."

However, it's worth standing back from the hype over mature games and asking just how important they really are to the industry, and what effect this decision will have on EA. Mature games, although certainly a popular theme with the stock market, are still basically a hot topic because of one franchise - namely Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto titles, the PS2 iterations of which have sold over 20 million copies combined. However, no other "mature" title has come even close to emulating that success yet.

The fact is that aside from the GTA poster-child, mature games simply aren't that important to the videogames industry. 49 titles sold more than half a million units in the United States last year; of that number, 44 were rated E or T (the equivalent of UK "U" and "12" ratings). M-rated games accounted for only 11.9 per cent of videogame sales in the USA last year in total - and that figure is thought to be even lower in Japan and Europe.

Despite this, publishers are rushing headlong into making mature games, believing that emulating the success of Grand Theft Auto is just a splash of blood and a bucketful of swearwords away. Not only are they competing for a very small slice of market, which is already absolutely dominated by a single all-conquering franchise, but their approach to producing mature content is often frighteningly, well, immature. Witness Acclaim's cringe-worthy BMX XXX or Rockstar's desperate attempt to shock with Manhunt - both games which were mature for the sake of being mature, and largely ignored by the game buying public.

Typically, EA is being sensible and cautious about the whole affair. It won't be making games with "gratuitous sex and violence", according to Jenson, and the company still recognises that you don't have to be making mature content to sell well. At the end of the day, Grand Theft Auto didn't sell twenty million copies because you could shoot police officers and employ the services of prostitutes in it; it sold well because it was an excellent game with superbly tuned and finely polished gameplay. It's important that developers should be able to include mature content in games when it is creatively necessary, and it's good to see that the market is now able to support games like that - but just including "mature" content for the sake of it won't yield results, and the stock market is likely to learn that soon as well.

This editorial originally appeared in the Weekly Update, a free email news bulletin which is distributed to subscribers every Wednesday afternoon and features a round-up of the key headlines from the previous week, software charts, recruitment information and editorial opinion on key issues of the week.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.