I’ve been thinking about the political/satire angle of “Grand Theft Auto IV” for a while, but I almost scrubbed today’s column after my experience with the studio behind the game.
Studios are a breed apart, especially Rockstar Games, so it really wasn’t surprising. But I thought readers might be interested in how intensely the makers of triple-A games manage the pre-launch flow of information.
Earlier this month, Rockstar’s public relations agency offered to fly me to New York, put me up in a hotel, give me a long interview with the co-founder and let me spend a day playing the game.
I wouldn’t take the freebies — we pay our own way — but I was ready to go.
But first they had to interview me. A spokeswoman called and asked about my interest in the game and story angles I’d like to pursue. She said I sounded perfect, but there were a few conditions. That’s where it gets ugly for old school reporters.
They didn’t want the coverage to include any mention of Rockstar’s “hot coffee” incident, where it was found in 2005 to have included hidden sexual content in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” The company fessed up and changed the game, but it launched another uproar about game content.
Rockstar also didn’t want any mention of efforts by Electronic Arts to acquire Take-Two Interactive, Rockstar’s parent company. The takeover is the Microsoft-Yahoo story of the game world, and GTA’s performance in the market could affect the outcome.
I said I wasn’t planning to lead with those angles, but I wouldn’t agree to any restrictions on what we would publish.
At first it sounded like I passed the secret handshake test, but I stopped hearing from the spokeswoman and never received a final confirmation as our scheduled date approached. I ended up not going, and drew on preview material — including the flood of early peeks that came out over the last week — in today’s piece.
It’s no skin off my nose — I’ve had similar experiences with tech companies big and small — but something I should disclose when I’m writing about the game.
Besides, there are plenty of awesome reviews of the game out there now.
My favorite so far is Seth Schiesel’s hometown angle. He’s right: If you’re looking for an overarching message in the game, it’s a love letter to New York.
If you want to go straight to the source, and you’re 18 or older, Rockstar has all sorts of fun preview material posted at the “Grand Theft Auto IV” page.