Rockstar Games’ ‘Bully’ Won’t Take Your Lunch Money Until ’06

Company says development concerns, not protests, caused delay.

Critics of violent video games won’t have “Bully” to kick around this year.

Take-Two Interactive, parent company of “Grand Theft Auto” maker Rockstar Games, announced on Wednesday (September 7) it was delaying shipment of Rockstar’s latest hot-button game, the reform-school brawler “Bully.” The title had been expected in stores by November but now won’t be available until at least February, when it will be released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox.

“We need more development time,” Rockstar spokesperson Rodney Walker said. “That’s the thing, basically. It’s trying to honor our commitment to making innovative and groundbreaking games. All of our release dates are based on what’s right for the game.”

Walker said protests against the game did not factor into the delay. “[The delay is] completely related to the creative process,” he said.

Rockstar’s “Bully” Web site describes the game as follows: “As a troublesome schoolboy, you’ll laugh and cringe as you stand up to bullies, get picked on by teachers, play pranks on malicious kids, win or lose the girl, and ultimately learn to navigate the obstacles of the fictitious reform school Bullworth Academy.”

That description, and the handful of screenshots released to the press this year, had been enough to provoke attorney Jack Thompson, a frequent video game critic who described the title to CNN last month as a “Columbine simulator.” Rockstar defended the game by referring to it as a work in progress.

None of the few glimpses Rockstar allowed of the game indicated that the protagonist would be using guns or engaging in violence similar to the 1999 school massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Critics of Rockstar’s games have interpreted the company’s games loosely before. The “Grand Theft Auto” series, for example, has been criticized for rewarding the player for killing police officers. But the game actually penalizes players for violence against police with a wanted-level system that causes the in-game authorities to aggressively crack down on players who attack the police force.

And while furor over violent games has generally emerged only after they hit stores, concerns over “Bully” were raised well in advance of its release. In early August, a youth group called the Peaceaholics protested the release of the game, calling on the company to scuttle work on “Bully,” only sell its violent and sexually explicit games in adult video stores, and atone for the release of its “Grand Theft Auto” games, in part, by creating a fund for victims of carjackings.

Rockstar was also criticized recently for leaving hidden interactive sex scenes in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” (see ” ‘Grand Sex Auto’? Sex Scenes Possibly Hidden In Game Have Critics In A Lather” ). While the company laid blame for the revelation of the so-called “Hot Coffee” hack on modders who figured out how to unlock the sexual content (see ” ‘GTA’ Sex Scandal Changing How Industry Looks At Modders” ), public scrutiny centered on the company that had actually made those scenes: Rockstar. After the game was re-rated to “Adults Only,” most retailers returned their copies — some 800,000 of them — to Rockstar.

Some of that “Hot Coffee” heat seems to be spilling over onto “Bully.”

Take-Two President and CEO Paul Eibeler also announced Wednesday during a company-earnings call that the company will release M-rated, “Hot Coffee”-free versions of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” for PC and Xbox next week and for the PS2 “in the next quarter” (October-January).

Eibeler said 2006 would see an extension of the “GTA” franchise but did not elaborate on what form that will take.

“Bully” joins EA’s “Godfather” and Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess” among the prominent games that have delayed beyond the upcoming holiday season.