Hot Coffee is the name of a modification initially released on June 9, 2005 for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, that allowed the player to enter Carl Johnson's girlfriends' houses and engage in a crudely rendered, partially clothed or nude (depending on the version) sexual intercourse mini-game. The mini-game was disabled from the game before release, but assets for it were soon discovered, and the Hot Coffee mod restored access to it. The modification attracted considerable controversy from lawmakers and politicians following its publication, and led the US ESRB to re-evaluate its rating for the game. A patch has been since released by Rockstar to remove all Hot Coffee assets, restoring its ESRB rating to normal.
Hot Coffee in an Unmodified Game
The name "Hot Coffee" refers to the way the released game alludes to unseen sex scenes. In the unmodified game, Carl takes his girlfriend to her front door and she asks him if he would like to come in for "some coffee". If the player agrees, the camera stays outside, swaying back and forth a bit, while moaning sounds are heard along with various comments from Carl and his girlfriend. Since the camera is outside the house, all of these sounds are severely muted. "Coffee" is usually offered once Carl reaches a certain relationship percentage, although if he has collected all the oyster pick-ups, coffee is offered automatically, even after the first date.
The sex minigame feature was disabled from the game before release, but not actually removed. The files containing the mini-game content were soon discovered and Patrick Wildenborg (through his online account PatrickW) released the Hot Coffee mod to enable it. The PC mod itself is only an edited copy of the main game script file ("main.scm") with a single bit changed. The mod was also made possible on the console versions by changing the bit inside a user's saved game file or by using a third-party modding device. The mod was first released for download on PC in June 9, 2005 through GTAGarage.com and was released for the PS2 and Xbox soon after.
The second major release of the Hot Coffee mod, often referred to by its version name Hot Coffee v2 to differentiate from the original, was released just days after the original and largely replaced it. The v2 version is identical in gameplay but includes a new edited copy of the disc image file "script" containing unclothed bitmaps that replaces the semi-nude girlfriends' textures from the first version. The v2 version also includes the "sacensor" program which can detect and flip the status of the in-game censorship for easier access.
The original download link to the mod was later removed over a month after its release in July 2005 by PatrickW as a sign of support towards Rockstar following the controversy surrounding it. However, numerous copies of the originals as well as newly created versions continue to be available for download. All versions of the mod are limited to being compatible with the first version of GTA San Andreas as subsequent releases have removed vital scenes and coding essential to launching the mod after the controversy.
The revelation of the mini-games existence, its explicit content, and Rockstar's attempt to cover it up soon made it a minor international news story from various media outlets. Repercussions due to its discovery varied from intense public and media scrutiny to legal and political action being taken against it.
Legal and federal
Activist and then attorney Jack Thompson and other anti-gaming advocates denounced the Hot Coffee mod in the media, as if it were an existing feature of the game that children could easily stumble across. Thompson had previously been involved in a number of suits against Rockstar regarding in-game violence from previous Grand Theft Auto titles as a possible influence on murderers who played the games.
In the middle of July 2005, politicians including U.S Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) launched an FTC investigation into the Hot Coffee mod following the re-rating of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas by the ESRB (see re-ratings). Clinton had urged her colleagues to "take immediate action to determine the source of graphic pornographic and violent content appearing on the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas video game." This led to a U.S. House Resolution introduced by Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI) to determine if Rockstar had intentionally deceived the ESRB to avoid an Adults Only rating. The resolution passed 355 to 21.
Initially, Rockstar released a statement that strongly suggested that the Hot Coffee content was entirely created by "hackers". However, this claim was undermined when codes were released on web forums for the PlayStation 2 Gameshark and AR Max cheating devices that demonstrated that the controversial content was, indeed, built into the console versions.
In December 2005, U.S. Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh introduced the Family Entertainment Protection Act, which called for a federal mandate enforcement of the ESRB ratings system in order to protect children from inappropriate content. This bill did not become law and expired at the end of the 109th Congress without further action.
On January 27, 2006, the city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against Take-Two Interactive, the game's publisher, accusing the company of failing to disclose the game's sexual content.
On June 8, 2006, Rockstar, Take-Two and the FTC settled. They are required to "clearly and prominently disclose on product packaging and in any promotion or advertisement for electronic games, content relevant to the rating, unless that content had been disclosed sufficiently in prior submissions to the rating authority." Should the companies violate the settlement they are liable for $11,000 in civil penalties.
In 2006 attorneys brought several class actions alleging Take-Two committed consumer fraud. In December 2007, a settlement of the litigation was reached. In 2008, Ted Frank filed an objection to the settlement on the grounds that the settlement sought $1 million for attorneys' fees, but the total payout to class members was less than $27,000. A court hearing was already scheduled on June 25, 2008. Frank previously told GamePolitics that the lawsuits were meritless and extortionate.
As part of the settlement, Take-Two will pay a $873,000 cy-près award to the National Parent-Teacher Association and the ESRB.
In December 2007, Take Two Interactive approved a class action settlement with an exchange or refund for the original game copies. According to the final report, only 2,676 people were reported to have returned the game, compared to over twelve-million sales, for which the plaintiff's attorneys expressed disappointment. Frank expressed that this was further proof that the case had no merit.
In September 2009, Take Two finally settled the class-action lawsuit brought against them for US$20m, of which 15m will be paid by insurers and 5m by the company itself.
On July 20, 2005, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was re-rated as "AO" (Adults Only) by the ESRB. Rockstar halted production of all versions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and planned to release a censored version of the game, which intended to conform to the initial "M" rating, later that year. Due to the AO rating, many major retail outlets, including Sears, Hollywood Video, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Blockbuster Video, Target and GameStop, pulled the PC and console versions of the game from their shelves.
On July 29, 2005, as a result of the newly discovered scenes, the (OFLC) Office of Film and Literature Classification (Australia) revoked the game's "MA15+" classification (the highest available for computer games in Australia at the time), and changed the game's status to "RC" (Refused Classification) meaning that the original version could no longer be sold in Australia. The patched version was given an "MA15+" classification on September 12, 2005.
As of July 23, 2005, the PEGI rating for the game remained unchanged, although it was likely that the PEGI sexual content label was going to be added to the game cover.
On August 10, 2005, Rockstar Games officially released a patch for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Nicknamed the "Cold Coffee Patch" by some, the patch fixed many performance issues and bugs. However, the most notable addition was that the patch disabled the controversial "Hot Coffee" scenes, even if the "Hot Coffee" mod was reinstalled.
The game has since been re-released with the "Hot Coffee" scenes removed (Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas 2.0 and subsequent releases), allowing the game to return to its "M" rating. However, the "Hot Coffee" mod dashed financial expectations for TakeTwo Games, which lost $28.8 million in its fiscal 3rd quarter of 2005 (May to July) partly because of the re-rating; the company lost $14.4 million in the same quarter in 2004.
Actor James Woods who voiced Mike Toreno in GTA San Andreas and is the only voice actor to have spoken out publicly on the subject stated that he was not aware of the Hot Coffee mini-game's existence during development and was vocally upset in having participated in the game as a result, implying that he would not have done so had he known about it.
Rockstar vowed legal action against any sources that revealed how to access the Hot Coffee mini-game but it appears that they no longer enforce this policy.
On all subsequent releases of GTA San Andreas starting with 2.0 (see above), Rockstar removed all code and models relating to Hot Coffee completely. The 2.0 version also made modding other areas of the games files more difficult or impossible as a consequence. The 3.0 version released on Steam made it even more difficult to mod or even downgrade to an earlier version of the game.
- In Grand Theft Auto IV, there are references to the Hot Coffee incident.
- An achievement called "Warm Coffee" can be unlocked. When coming back from a date with any girlfriend, Niko Bellic asks "Could I come in for some hot coffee?" Depending on how well the date went, the girlfriend can let Niko go to her apartment or refuse to let him in. The aforementioned achievement is unlocked when Niko is first invited into the girlfriend's apartment. (Ironically, GTA IV, due in part to its improved graphics, features content somewhat more suggestive than that of the Hot Coffee scenes, such as in Niko's interaction with prostitutes and strippers).
- Sometimes, a girlfriend will ask Niko if he wants coffee, but if the player decides against this, Niko will respond with "I'm sorry, but I don't want to get burned."
- The Statue of Happiness is holding a steaming cup of coffee in her right hand. Her face is modelled on former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who investigated the Hot Coffee controversy and spoke critically about the mod in the press.
- There is a coffee shop named "Hot Coffee Shop" in Hove Beach on Crockett Avenue. (image)
- The Hot Coffee incident is also referenced in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars. In GTA Liberty City Stories, Maria Latore invites Toni during the final cutscene of the mission Taken for a Ride to join her for "coffee" at her house. Toni tells her that he'll pass. In GTA Chinatown Wars, Huang Lee asks Ling for "coffee" at the end of Pursuit Farce but she rejects his advances.
- On November 11, 2005, FOX program Killer Instinct's latest episode Game Over referenced GTA San Andreas, the Hot Coffee mod, and murderer Devin Moore. The episode focused on a hit online video-game with explicit violence that could cause players to murder people. Other parts of it showed teenagers playing it and unlocking sexually explicit scenes and mini-games. With detectives trying to find the creator of the game, get information and stop the murderer who's been playing the game for hours. The fictional game title was Murder One: San Francisco and the box art looks similar to San Andreas and Vice City but with poorly drawn art. Also, the fake game is actually pre-rendered with models from Poser. It is also combined with another controversial game, 25 to Life, a cops and robbers simulator.