It seems as if British politicians are falling over themselves to lend a helping financial hand to the UK games industry, which is quite a turn up for the books, I can tell you. For years now, the industry has been calling for tax breaks to place the UK on a level playing field when it comes to games development costs. And now, all of a sudden Alistair Darling, the UK Chancellor (that’s the guy in charge of the country’s cash) has announced a financial lifeline for the industry — and now the Conservatives seem to be playing catch up.
Last week was Budget week in the UK, which is when we find out how much tax we’ll be paying on beer, cigarettes and all that malarkey. It’s also when the politicians in power bamboozle us with lots of tax reductions here and sneaky tax increases there so we don’t notice that nothing’s actually changed. However, things may be just about to change for the games industry, as the Chancellor made a surprise announcement of a tax credit system similar to that of the film industry.
"I will offer help to the computer games sector, similar to the steps which are helping restore the fortunes of the British film industry," Darling said during his budget speech. "This is a highly successful and growing industry, with half its sales coming from exports, and we need to keep British talent in this country."
But in just October of last year, Darling rejected calls for a tax break, so why the big turnaround? Could it be that games have filtered down so far into the mainstream that even the House of Commons is taking note? I’m sure the phenomenal success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has not gone unnoticed. And even Britain’s own GTA series is noteworthy. In turn, the Wii’s infiltration of homes and living-rooms, even Buckingham Palace, also has some part to play in giving games an acceptable, friendly face that isn’t just for pubescent boys or man children.
This year, as I’ve noted in previous columns, games have been entering highbrow circles. The Review Show (formerly Newsnight Review) discussed MW2 and The Culture Show on BBC2 recently had a look at the world of games and highlighted its impact on art. In fact, this year sees a number of art exhibitions featuring games or artists who use the world of games as an inspiration. It seems that games may be finally taken seriously. Feels kind of strange doesn’t it?
Darling’s Budget report read "The Government announces that, following consultation on design, it will introduce a tax relief for the UK’s video games industry, subject to state aid approval from the European Commission."
Richard Wilson, CEO of UK game developer trade association Tiga, has long been haranguing politicians over this issue and applauded Darling’s move, saying, "This is an inspired decision. In backing TIGA’s Games Tax Relief the Government has chosen the future over the past, growth over decline, success over failure. Games Tax Relief will increase employment, investment and innovation in the UK video games sector.
"For Games Tax Relief to be announced in the Budget is the decisive breakthrough that TIGA has campaigned for. Ministers have made the right decision at the right time for the right industry. Government Ministers are to be warmly congratulated for their visionary decision. TIGA now looks to the Opposition parties to give their full support to Games Tax Relief in the Finance Bill."
TIGA predicts that the tax relief will create 3,550 graduate level jobs and investment in development in the UK of £457 million. And it seems that the Conservatives want to get in on the act, as Ed Vaizey, the party’s spokesperson for the games industry announced that they would introduce game development tax breaks if they got into power at the ever-looming election. Now, this really is a bolt from the blue, as the Conservatives have always been backwards in coming forward on this issue. It could all be a bit of me-too-itis, but only time will tell.
Of course the real snag with all of these nice promises is that it’s a pre-election Budget, so it could just be a pipe dream that could melt away when they get their four more years. Alternatively, when they finally put their money where their mouth is, the European Commission could come along and stomp on the whole idea.
Whether it happens or not, it’s great to see games get some positive political news headlines. The people in power are finally sitting up and recognising the value of this industry and the need to stop the brain drain, which is currently killing the UK development sector.
We’ll just chalk this one up as a victory for the UK games industry and hope they make good on their promise.