Key facts and figures:
£180m paid out in VGTR last year
48% increase in VGTR on the previous year
55 claims for over £500,000 represent 87% of the total value of payments
Video Games Tax Relief (VGTR), a form of subsidy to the UK videogames industry, has seen a 48% increase in the past year. Originally forecast to cost £35m a year, VGTR cost £180m in the 12 months to March 2021.
The reason given for the increase is “large payments for a small number of very high-budget games and underlying growth in the value of claims1”. The intent of the scheme is to promote British culture, and to foster innovation amongst small independent games developers through subsidies. The reality however is that this scheme is increasingly being captured by large, successful, multinationals.
In 2020-2021, 55 claims of more than £500,000 equated to 16% of all claims made. These claims were worth £156m, or 87% of the total amount paid out – again an increase from last year, where claims over half a million were worth 80% of the total.
While almost half of these claims were for under £50,000, these claims are only responsible for around 2% of the total amount paid out.
It would be unfair to say that the claims paid to multinationals has a negative effect on independent, British SMEs, as it appears that the pot of money available is effectively limitless, with costs increasing year on year.
Figure 1: Amount of video games tax relief paid (£ million, receipts basis) 2014-15 to 2020-21
In order to access VGTR games must pass a test and be certified as ‘Culturally British’ by the British Film Institute (BFI). Previous TaxWatch research has demonstrated how the ‘cultural test’ administered by the BFI is meaningless, as games are able to gain subsidies regardless of the subject matter, and even if they are produced overseas.2
The Guardian revealed in 2019 how four large multinationals – WarnerMedia, Sony, Sega, and Rockstar – had claimed close to half of all VGTR.3 In the past we have analysed the accounts of videogame multinationals, finding that regardless of whether or not they turn a pre-tax profit, the companies paid no corporation tax.4 VGTR is set up in a way whereby the scheme is almost bound to ensure that the UK games industry will not pay corporation tax.
Rockstar North, a UK based and American owned videogames developer responsible for the Grand Theft Auto Series, has in previous years been the largest beneficiary of VGTR. Their latest accounts, dated January 2020, revealed that the company claimed £37.6m in Video Games Tax Relief that year, taking its total to £80m since the scheme was introduced. Of the 1,110 VGTR claims made up until that point, Rockstar accounted for a quarter of all the relief, despite only making two games that qualify as ‘culturally British’.5
Companies House shows that Rockstar North’s accounts are over six months overdue, so we are unable to comment on how much money the American owned company has received in the most recent financial year.
Figure 2: Rockstar North accounts showing as overdue on Companies House. Image taken 13 October 2021.
The cost of this tax relief is increasing year on year, with just shy of 90% of the money going to games claiming over half a million. We have seen in the past how games such as Grand Theft Auto have claimed tens of millions.
In establishing the relief, the UK argued to the European Commission that British games were in decline, and that “culturally significant games may have production costs equal to global games but a significantly smaller market”.6 Seven years from the introduction of VGTR, questions need to be asked as to whether this is achieving its initial aim, creating culturally significant games and helping British developers, or is it a scheme gone awry, with hundreds of millions in taxpayer cash subsidising successful multinational enterprises?
1 The “growth in the value of claims” is likely regarding the fact that a company has two years to make or rectify a claim once a project is finished.
3Revealed: global video games giants avoiding millions in UK tax, The Guardian, 02 October 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/games/2019/oct/02/revealed-global-video-games-giants-avoiding-millions-in-uk-tax-sony-sega
4Global Video Games Giants: Playing the system or paying their fair share?, TaxWatch, 20 November 2019, http://18.104.22.168/video_games_giants_tax_report/
6Commission Decision of 27.03.2015 on the state aid scheme SA.3619 (2013/C) (ex 2013/N) which the United Kingdom is planning to implement for video games, European Commission, 27 March 2014, https://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/cases/248371/248371_1557990_171_2.pdf