There's a new bully in town today as Take-Two Interactive (Nasdaq: TTWO ) releases its already controversial Bully video game. The game takes place at the fictional Bullworth Academy, where, as a new student, you face the stereotypical social dilemmas and warring cliques that are a part of high school life. Along the way, you will ultimately choose whether you wish to bully the bullies. And here is where the game has found some resistance from critics, who believe the game is inappropriate for easily influenced kids.
Calling the game a "Columbine simulation," as some critics have done, is wrong. Unlike more violent Take-Two games, there are no guns here. The weapons of choice are things like knuckles and slingshots. Yet some parental-advisory groups are critical of the decision to sell the game under the T (for teen) rating instead of the restrictive M (for mature) rating. After all, the violence may be tamer, but there's still some pretty heavy psychological warfare at play.
For Take-Two, a little notoriety can go a long way. It has ridden its Grand Theft Auto franchise to stardom, despite leaving critics aghast at the abundance of senseless violence and the trivializing of carjacking.
Sometimes, the company does cross the line. State of Emergency was a dud a few years ago, when gamers couldn't sympathize with the premise of pummeling corporate executives. Its Grand Theft Auto series also took a hit when it became known that an explicitly animated tryst could be unlocked within the game. Did that move hurt? Did it help? Ultimately, it cost the company in retailer returns from companies such as Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) and in costs incurred with redistributing the title.
The company has a lot riding on Bully. This isn't Electronic Arts (Nasdaq: ERTS ) or Activision (Nasdaq: ATVI ) , with their ambitious release schedules. It's not even a move reminiscent of THQ (Nasdaq: THQI ) , which produces lots of low-budget titles in the hope that one or two will stick. No, Take-Two's release slate is pretty bare of potential blockbusters between installments in the Grand Theft Auto and Elder Scrolls franchises. And if Bully is a hit, Take-Two investors may finally be rewarded after watching their shares tumble 43% lower since peaking in May of 2005.
What if it's a flop? Well, let's just say that it won't sound so convincing if it tells its shareholders that some Bully stole its lunch money.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is old enough to remember playing on an Atari 2600 before it became a relic. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story.The Fool has a disclosure policy. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.