Rockstar takes the pot – 2019 accounts show huge increase in Grand Theft Auto tax claim

Rockstar North, the Edinburgh based company behind the wildly successful Grand Theft Auto series, has published its latest accounts, revealing a huge increase in claims for Video Games Tax Relief.

As reported in today’s Sunday Telegraph, analysis by TaxWatch shows that the claim was by far the largest for Video Games Tax Relief granted by HMRC in 2018/19, accounting for 37% of all claims made by the UK video games industry in that year.

The claim means that for the fourth year running the company has paid no UK Corporation Tax, despite the Rockstar group racking up more than $6bn sales of Grand Theft Auto V since it was released in 2014.

The accounts for 2019 show that the company claimed £37.6m in Video Games Tax Relief, taking its total to £80m since the scheme was introduced. Of the 1,110 claims made since VGTR was launched, Rockstar have accounted for a quarter of all the relief claimed from the government, whilst publishing only two games that qualify for the relief.

The claim is believed to relate to the production of the next edition of GTA, rumoured to be scheduled for release soon. Rockstar North is the lead developer for the series, although Rockstar has also registered Red Dead Redemption 2 as being ‘Culturally British’, the pre-requisite required to qualify for the relief. Studios are able to make interim claims for VGTR before a game is completed, and the huge claims being put in by Rockstar are likely related to the production costs of GTA VI. As VGTR is related to production spend, the large claim indicates the scale of Rockstar’s spending on games development.

When VGTR was introduced, the government estimated that the new relief would cost in the region of £35m a year, and support smaller games developers. The scheme is now costing in excess of £100m a year, with close to half of all relief being claimed by just four companies.

Figures published by HMRC on all Video Games Tax Credit claims show just how large Rockstar’s share of the pot is. In 2018-19 there were 345 VGTR claims for a total of £103m.1 While these numbers may change, as companies have a period of one year to submit returns and another year to amend a claim, evidence from previous years suggest that the total claims are unlikely to change much from the published figures. The share of this pot going to Rockstar North, which was already significant, has increased from 18% in 2018 to 37% in 2019.

Of the 345 VGTR claims last year, 315 of them were for less than £1m, for a total of £30m. Rockstar North’s claim is worth more than the value of all of these 315 claims combined. There were 29 claims (excluding Rockstar) of over £1m, totalling £35.4m. And then there is Rockstar at £37.6m, which managed to claim more than 50% of the entire amount granted to games claiming more than £1m in relief. In fact, the stats tell us that Rockstar claimed at least five times the amount of its next biggest rival in 2019, making it by far the largest production in the UK that year.

We await to see whether any profit from this huge investment by the UK taxpayer makes its way back to the UK.

This research featured in Metro, The Sunday Telegraph, and was covered extensively in the video game press.

This article was amended on 20th January 2020 to reflect the fact that Rockstar had also gained certification of Red Dead Redemption 2 as being “culturally British”. 

Photo by John Sting on Unsplash

1 Data taken from ‘Video Games Table 4.4’, from the August 2019 HMRC Publication ‘Creative Industries Statistics’, available here; https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/826824/August_2019_Commentary_Creative_Industries_Statistics.pdf