I’m against tax breaks. that makes me a pariah amongst UK games industry folks. I’m, not against these tax breaks, I’m against ALL of them, especially the French, who frankly wanted to have them, but deny them to us. Fuck that. But I’d be happier if no video game in any country had them, as they are a distortion that is unwelcome. However, in the real world, we have to compete so…yay? I bet it’s impossible to ‘game’ them right? No new tax law ever has loopholes, thats why Starbucks and amazon pay the same tax rate as me! Lets try anyway…

“3 points if at least 66% is set in the United Kingdom or another EEA state or set in an undetermined location;”

CHECK! GSB2 is set in the star system Zog, so that is an undetermined location. pretty british so far…

“if there are only three characters depicted in the video game, 4 points if two or three of them are from the United Kingdom or another EEA state or from an undetermined location”

CHECK! I’ll get some tiny 32×32 faces drawn of 3 alien dudes who help with the tutorial. They are from Zog, which is undetermined, so yup, pretty british…

up to 4 points depending on the percentage of the original dialogue that is recorded in the English language or in a recognised regional or minority language as follows

CHECK! I have plans for zero dialogue, so I can state on oath that 100% of it was recorded in English.

2 points if at least 50% of the work carried out on any of the following is carried out in the United Kingdom

Ok, lets try to define 50% of the work. By time? by cost? By talent? by final contribution to the game? And lets define ‘carried out in’. If I have a design meeting over skype, where was that? here? the other guys place? skypes headquarters? the nearest fiber cabinet?

(a) 1 point if the project leader (or, if there is more than one, the main project leader) is a qualifying person;

Well thats me, so CHECK!

(b) 1 point if at least one of the scriptwriters (or, if there are more than three, one of the three lead scriptwriters) is a qualifying person;

Scriptwriter? is this a movie now? OK, I will write some dialog for the tutorial so thats me too. CHECK!

(d) 1 point if the artist (or, if there is more than one, the lead artist) is a qualifying person;

Yup, CHECK! Thats me too. I don’t get my hands dirty with actual art though, as lead, I hire other people to actually do my work…

(e) 1 point if the programmer (or, if there is more than one, the lead programmer) is a qualifying person;

(f) 1 point if the designer (or, if there is more than one, the lead designer) is a qualifying person;

(g) 1 point if at least one of the heads of department is a qualifying person;

(h) 1 point if at least 50% of the development team are qualifying persons.

Wow, that was an easy four points, as all those people are me too. As department head, and half the team, lead designer coder and artist, and scriptwriter, yeah, thats a lot of points.

So far so easy, now how much do I actually GET?

In summary, the relief allows a company to make an additional deduction in calculating the profit and loss of a game development project.
Righty ho. This isĀ  going to be hilarious. So a game development project is already crazily hard to define. Is this engine work, or project work? What if I’m coding a routine used in one British and one non-British project? do I still claim the costs of writing that function? What is really an expense for this project anyway? My salary? do I need to keep a time log of which project I’m on now, for the Inland Revenue? If I have a business lunch where I discuss 2 different games, do we split the cost depending on which one was discussed the most?
If I run a generic ad campaign for my website that has 50% British and 50% non British games, is that an expense? is the marketing budget included? Define dev budget vs marketing budget for this purpose.
Lets now have a laugh with income from the game.
If I have 1 British and 1 non-British game in a bundle, do I split the profits from the sale 50/50? Ok cool. One of them is GSB 2, one of them is a pong clone I set in piccadilly circus and coded in 5 minutes that’s bundled with GSB2, so lets split 50/50 right? You think that’s unfair? Prove it.
In fact I might only sell bundles of my games from now on, all bundled with piccadilly-pong, so all of my back-catalog is now British too. Yay!
Some of this might not work, but some will, and people whose entire job is to find exploits will. So the 2 pages of tax-code for this ‘relief’ will become 200 pages, and at that point one-man indies won’t be able to justify the bureaucracy of claiming.
I’d love to be proven wrong…

4 Responses to “UK Tax breaks, great…but what a mess it could become…”

  1. Andrew Fray says:

    I agree with you about the exploitability, but I’m more concerned that this points system codifies that narrative movie-like games – locations, characters, scriptwriters – are the pinnacle of games. That Call of Duty is, in the eyes of the taxman, inherently more of a game than Threes.

    A more nuanced “culturally british” test would have to recognise the british influence on game design – Elite, GTA, Darwinia, etc. I understand that’s inherently a harder problem, but a crappy test is not certainly better than no test.

  2. Hunter says:

    Your point is well made and my history with tax systems (in another jurisdiction) is similar. They are nonsense, coded in exacting detail. R@D concessions worth hundreds of millions are routinely gamed by companies for every day work. Anyone who is REALLY doing R@D is way too busy to comply with the government bureaucracy and madness involved.

    So what is the solution? I humbly suggest moving away from taxing productive activity and instead take the economic rent. Then again, I can’t model that in Democracy 3, so I don’t know how it would work out :P

  3. [quote]
    “Hugely profitable industry which employs relatively few people, demands free tax payer handouts or threatens nebulous economic consequences”

    Why does this sound familiar? First the banksters, then the energy firms, now game developers … [/quote]

    … quotation lifted from elsewhere – hence the quotes tags ;) ….

  4. Steven Haynes says:

    Cliff, I agree with you wholeheartedly that tax breaks and credits can really junk up a tax system making tax collection inefficient, time consuming, and generally annoying. Instead, governments ought to just pay straight subsidies to whatever purpose their trying to achieve. Efficient taxing, efficient spending. Best of all, an efficient economy that can deliver better tax revenues. Efficiency rules.