Wilsonâ??s third year started with a â??huh?â?? We look for clarification

Tough questions for Tiga

It has nearly been two years since Richard Wilson was sworn in as Tiga’s CEO. Industry verdict on his impact – from the conversations Develop has had with developers – is near-unanimous. He’s seen the group taken to a whole new level, people say.

And one of the first things developers point to when praising Tiga is its efforts to bring about development tax relief. Clearly, there is no association in Britain that has worked harder, or done more on the issue.

But Tiga’s recent announcement that it will return to the issue of development tax breaks – mere weeks after the UK govt firmly kicked the agenda off the table – has raised a few eyebrows.

As a huge supporter of Tiga, Develop felt duty-bound to ask Wilson the questions that the develop community asked us.

Last year Tiga very publicly campaigned for game development tax breaks during a time of great economic instability. Why were you positive that the tax reform would happen at a time when the UK has a huge budget deficit?

Because we believe that the case for Games tax relief was strong in 2009, and it remains strong today.

And the best way to reduce a budget deficit is by promoting strong economic growth. Tiga’s campaign for game tax relief should be part of a wider package of tax measures that stimulates economic activity in the UK.

Our proposed tax breaks would promote employment, new game development, innovation and investment. And, and crucially, this would more than pay for itself.

Over five years we estimate it would cost around £192 million in taxes, but create or save around 3,550 jobs. It would also increase and safeguard £457 million in new development expenditure and saved development expenditure that would otherwise be lost without tax relief.

Months leading up to the Government’s decision, it was clear that Tiga was using all its resources to bring about tax reform. Though commendable, as the initiative failed why should people have confidence that another try is worth the resources and time?
Never confuse a setback with a final defeat. Last year, the video games sector was invited in a Government policy paper, Digital Britain, to present a case to change UK tax policy. This was a highly unusual invitation.

The department of Culture, Media and Sport and the department for Business, Innovation and Skills are both committed to work with the industry to collect and review the evidence for a tax break for games production. This was, and remains, a breakthrough for us.

It was achieved because Tiga waged a relentless campaign. The British game industry needs to maintain the campaign and keep the pressure on the government and on the opposition parties if we are to achieve beneficial tax reform to help the sector.

I should point out also that it’s believed that games would save £415 million in tax receipts if tax relief was implemented, so that more than pays for itself, right?

Do you buy Mike Rawlinson’s argument that “the Treasury has a fundamental dislike for sector-specific tax measures”?
Well, the Treasury has of course accepted a sector-specific tax measure in respect of the film industry.

Other sector-specific measures also exist to help car manufacturers, the oil industry, agriculture and even wind farms. There is no reason in principle why the UK video games industry should not benefit from a sector specific tax break, especially at a time when many of our key competitors in other countries benefit from similar measures.

We have heard from a few studios that Tiga has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to day-to-day development matters, due to the efforts in Westminster. Do you think that’s fair criticism?
Tiga’s vision is to make the UK the best place in the world to do games business. To that end, we are in fact focussing on three areas of activity.

Firstly, we’re engaging with governments and parliaments to create an environment favourable to the game industry – obviously including our Westminster activities. But also we’re raising the sector’s profile, and developing services that make a genuine, material difference to our members.

Yes it is true that last year we campaigned vigorously to advance the games industry’s cause and raise its profile in political circles. We instigated the creation of the All Party Group on the Computer and Video Game Industry in Westminster, and we held two high-profile events to fly the flag for the games industry amongst politicians.

However, our core principal is that this is only one part of the work we do. Last year we partnered with UKTI to help games businesses to attend overseas trade shows; we launched the TIGA-NESTA Play Together initiatives; that in itself included the launch of a jobs board, a jobs sharing facility, opportunities for developers to work with other creative industries, and strengthened links between developers and universities.

We took steps to become an awarding body to the Train2Game distance learning courses, we held networking events, published a careers guide for people looking to get into the games industry, encouraged best practice on key industry issues such as self-publishing, launched an HR Group, launched a TIGA tax group, supported Develop Liverpool and Develop Brighton, conducted research and produced numerous policy papers.

We exist entirely to serve our members’ interests. But the biggest room in the world is the room for improvement, and we are always looking for new ways to meet members’ interests and to respond to their concerns.

Indievision has been set up to provide assistance for independent developers in areas of legal representation and expert advice. What is Tiga’s relationship with the association?
We already support and advance the interests of start-up and small game developers, and will continue to do so. At the same time of course, we wish all organisations committed to helping the UK games industry well.

Tiga has the benefit of including in its membership a number of excellent law firms and lawyers who defend their clients’ interests vigorously and effectively. We also have some first-rate accountants who can provide valuable advice to small developers.

We have negotiated discounts for our members in respect of legal and accountancy advice, and indeed, in respect of other key service providers.

Are you wary when certain ministers promise they’ll reconsider tax breaks? The Labour Government has on numerous occasions been criticised for leading-on the game industry only to shun it.
Certainly in politics, promises can be like marriage vows; made at the beginning of a relationship between a political party and voter, but often forgotten.

We remain committed to the cause of advancing the UK games industry, and we are committed with confidence that our arguments carry weight. We’re determined to make a difference.

And the Conservatives. Ed Vaizey recently implied the Tories wouldn’t implement tax breaks. Will that take pressure off the government?
Well, games tax relief continues to have the support of some government departments, including Culture, Media and Sport, so we will continue to make the case to the Government as well as opposition parties.
And we will continue to seek to influence Conservatives’ tax policy with respect to tax relief and to adopt other fiscal measures to support our industry.

What do you envisage for the industry over the next 24 months, assuming that no tax break system is implemented?
Many UK games businesses will continue to develop world-renowned video games. Nevertheless, if Games Tax Relief is not introduced it seems likely that the sector will continue to shed jobs and the UK will slip down the world league table. Instead of leading the world we run the risk of trailing behind other countries.

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