Chancellor Alistair Darling's pledge to support the video games development industry with tax breaks could do more than simply protect the future of the UK dev sector – it could also have dictated the setting of the next Grand Theft Auto.
Though the exact criteria of the tax break requirements is yet to be decided, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has indicated that it will follow a similar model to that currently applied to the UK film industry.
Under that model, those seeking relief must score at least 16 points out of a possible 31 in a ‘culturally British' test. There are four criteria under which studios can qualify that are as follows:
a) Cultural Content (16 pts) –Determining whether the film's narrative is set in the UK, whether its lead characters are British, whether the film is centred on British subject matter, and if the dialogue is recorded in the English language”.
b) Cultural Contribution (4 pts) – Determining whether the film represents a diverse British culture, British heritage or British creativity”.
c) Cultural Hubs (3 pts) – Determining whether the film is produced in the UK studios.
d) Cultural Practitioners (8 pts) – Determining whether the cast, crew and/or producers come from the EEA (European Economic Area), with points based on each role.
A developer based in the UK will not score sufficiently on that basis alone, meaning that projects will have to meet part A to qualify for tax relief.
So, for instance, the fact that Rockstar has studios based in the UK (Leeds, London and Edinburgh) is not enough on its own to guarantee its eligibility for the new tax measures. But setting the next Grand Theft Auto in London, for instance, could lead to significant savings.
It was recently estimated that GTA IV cost approximately $100m to produce. Though its sequel will hopefully cost less – owing to that fact that less investment will be needed in engine development – it will still inevitably be a hugely expensive project.
And estimates put the typical saving for films qualifying for relief at around 16 per cent of their total production budget – meaning Rockstar could potentially save around 10.7m if the next game is set in London. Or any other UK city, of course.
And yes, we know that there has already been a GTA London. But that doesn't rule out another one, does it?