Sex sells? Not for Take-Two Interactive (NASDAQ:TTWO). The stock lost 5% of its value yesterday after racy scenes in its popular Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game had the Entertainment Software Rating Board changing the title's rating from Mature to Adults Only. The tumble may be only the beginning.

The extreme rating, which stipulates that the game is suitable for sale only to those 18 and older, isn't just some token gesture. The game was already pretty gritty. However, after media reports began to circulate this week of more risque animated scenes that could be unlocked with widely available modification hacks, the ESRB had to make the move.

Take-Two will be smarting over this action. It is bracing for retailer returns and is now projecting a $50 million shortfall as a result of the new rating. For fiscal 2005, the company is now looking to earn between $1.05 and $1.12 a share. Analysts had been resting on the $1.44 mark.

It's not as if the game will be available only in a brown paper bag, though. Take-Two will be providing Adults Only stickers to retailers and will press a new version of the game without the ribald content. However, will retailers even bother with the stickers?

On Wednesday, popular chains with active video game departments, including Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and Target (NYSE:TGT), announced that they will pull the game off their shelves. Last night, it was video-game giant GameStop (NYSE:GME) bowing out, warning that it would miss its current quarter's profit target by a penny a share as a result of the move.

We can argue about the origin of the sexual content. Take-Two refers to the modifications as unauthorized, but the unlocked content was clearly Take-Two's handiwork. In the golden years of animation, bored animators would try to slip in racy frames into kid-friendly cartoons. So maybe this was just a naughty programmer. Maybe not. It doesn't matter at this point. The brand is what is at stake here.

The notoriety may move a few more copies when Take-Two's next installment comes out, but that may be more than offset by discerning parents or adult gamers who no longer trust the franchise. I hear you. It's not as if carjacking, pimping, and killing are wholesome virtues, anyway. This is a hard-core game. But if players feel cheated or deceived, they may not be so quick to line up and give the series another shot. That's important because unlike diversified software publishers such as Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) and Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI), Take-Two's success has rested mostly on the huge success of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. For now, it's up on concrete blocks with big plans but no way to get there.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz fancies Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned 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.