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October 14, 2002 07:21pm
Retailers Shun New Acclaim 'XXX' Game
Source: Reuters
by: Ben Berkowitz

(LOS ANGELES, CA) -- Three of the nation's top retailers, including Wal-Mart, on Monday said they had refused to carry a new video game billed as the first major release to feature full-action nudity and with prostitutes and pimps as major characters.

Using the tagline "Keep it Dirty," video game publisher Acclaim Entertainment Inc. Is gearing up for the Nov. 19 launch of "BMX XXX," a game that also features copulating pink poodles and a variety of racing bike stunts.

But major retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Toys R Us Inc. And KB Toys all said they would not carry the game, a potential blow for the game's exposure.

"We're not going to carry any software with any vulgarity or nudity - we're just not going to do it," Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Williams told Reuters.

However, Best Buy Co. Inc. said it intended to sell a censored version of the game for Sony's PlayStation 2.

Acclaim Chief Executive Gregory Fischbach told Reuters the critics were being unfair and missing the point of the game, which he said was intended as a kind of spoof along the lines of movie comedies such as "Austin Powers" and "Airplane."

A promotional video clip first bills "BMX XXX" as a "game of cultural sophistication and artistic aspiration" then launches into a hard-rocking montage of clips, including bike tricks and shots of strippers in action. The video ends with the admonition: "We're going to hell for this and you're all coming with us."

"I still believe that we'll get substantially full distribution in the United States," Fischbach said. "I don't really think it goes much further than some other video games on the marketplace."

He added, "I think the game stands on its own and I think that... we have no intent to change the content of the game."

Glen Cove, New York-based Acclaim wants the title to be a hit and reverse its sliding fortunes the way that "Grand Theft Auto 3" did for Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.

"GTA 3," which like "BMX" carries a "Mature" rating from the Entertainment Software Review Board, featured controversial scenes of violence but went on to become the top-selling video game of 2001.

While "GTA 3" was exclusive to Sony Corp's PlayStation 2, Acclaim has a broader strategy for "BMX," with releases planned for the PS2, Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s GameCube.

Fischbach said there has been no decision yet on changes to the Sony version, though he said if Sony asked for changes Acclaim would make them. He added that any changes would not affect the game's release date.

A Nintendo spokeswoman said the company had not asked for any changes for the GameCube version. A Microsoft spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment.

Attention Helping Acclaim

Since Oct. 1, shares in Acclaim have gained nearly 12 percent, the best performance among the listed U.S. video game publishers. Even so, the stock, which rose 13-fold in 2001, is off nearly 77 percent this year and down 41 percent since a Sept. 19 profit warning.

That warning jarred investors at a time when most video game companies expect to post record profits and sales. Acclaim warned of a fiscal fourth-quarter loss of up to 13 cents, compared with the 13-cent profit analysts polled by Thomson First Call had on average had expected. As a result, many analysts cut their ratings and estimates on the stock.

Besides "BMX," Acclaim had bet its holiday season on the games "Turok: Evolution," "Aggressive Inline" and "Vexx." but both "Turok" and "Inline" were major sales disappointments, and Vexx has been postponed into 2003.

"BMX XXX" will also compete with "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," the follow-on to "GTA 3" and an expected top seller in its own right. The marketing for "Vice City" has also relied heavily on images of near-naked women and thuggish men.

"What we're doing here is funny," Fischbach said. "The people that we're selling to are the people who bought 'Grand Theft Auto'."

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