Research has been conducted on behalf of HMRC to look at the impact of video games tax relief (VGTR) on the production of culturally British and European video games. The survey was conducted by holding qualitative in-depth interviews with 51 video games developers. The research report has been published on the HMRC website.
The research looked at the awareness and perceptions of VGTR and approaches to the application process. It explored the impact of the relief on video games produced, such as their content and creative decision-making. It also looked at the impact on the developers in relation to their recruitment, business models, financial processes as well as the effect on inward investment.
Video games tax relief
The VGTR, introduced in 2014, is one of the UK’s creative industry tax reliefs. Under the VGTR a 25% tax relief is granted on a maximum of 80% of the production budget of a qualifying video game for expenditure in relation to goods or services used or consumed in the UK. A video game qualifies for the relief if it is intended for supply; at least 25% of the core expenditure is incurred within the European Economic Area (EEA); and the developer passes a cultural test administered by the British Film Institute (BFI) that demonstrates their video game is culturally British or European.
The cultural test is a points-based test under which points are given for cultural content; cultural contribution; cultural hubs; and cultural practitioners. Cultural content refers to the setting in which the video game takes place, the nationality of lead characters, the subject matter and the language of the game. Cultural contribution looks at British creativity, heritage or diversity. To gain points for cultural hubs at least 50% of the conceptual development, storyboarding, programming or design should take place in the UK, or at least 50% of the music recording, audio production or voice recording should take place in the UK. To gain points for cultural practitioners a minimum number of project leaders, scriptwriter and lead composers, artists, designers or heads of department should be EEA citizens or residents; and 50% of the development team should be EEA citizens or residents.
Summary of findings
Developers considered that the tax relief had been widely promoted but could reach more developers if promoted through a dedicated website, within university departments or through other initiatives. Smaller developers such as solo developers (self employed using freelances if necessary) and micro developers (with up to nine employees) suggested that they lacked the time and resources to find out more about the relief. There was a general feeling that the accountancy profession still lacked knowledge about the VGTR. Obstacles to applying for the relief included high accountancy fees for assistance with applications; projects that were often perceived as too small to justify taking time to fill in the paperwork; an assumption that the application process would be complicated (based on experience of R&D relief); and misunderstandings about how the relief worked.
Research suggested that games likely to fail the cultural test were not being put forward for relief. Developers wanted assurance on this point before starting the application and had often spoken to the BFI about the application. Developers applying for the relief considered that the application process was more straightforward than for R&D tax relief.
The cultural test was not considered to be an administrative burden and the required information could be gleaned from records already kept in-house. Developers applying for the relief considered that they were already making culturally British or European games and the relief helped them to get the games developed, finished and onto the market. They were therefore not setting out to make games that pass the cultural test but used the cultural criteria as a check when finalizing the story and characters for a game, making minor tweaks if necessary. Evidence suggested that developers had become more sustainable as a result of the VGTR, improving financial monitoring and record keeping and using the relief to look for new investors.
There was a feeling that the VGTR had not yet reached its full potential as not all developers were applying for all the games that might be eligible. Some were intending to claim but had not yet done so. More time would be required for the VGTR to become embedded in the video games industry.