For many years now I have followed the funding of the arts in their various forms and I am happy to include games in this category.
This means that I have been watching the government’s movements on tax breaks pretty closely. Since they were first announced, earlier on this year, there have been statements from TIGA on how they intend to persuade the government to alter current plans to make them more inclusive of smaller companies.
That’s an aim I am in total accord with – not just targeted at supporting a specific, large multinational – and to make them more specific to gaming. For anyone who has ever applied for European funding another major issue will spring to mind; the length of time anything that goes to Europe takes to be agreed.
A TAXING MATTER
Currently it seems that there are two ways for the UK government to leap on these laws. They can either follow the current law on tax breaks for film, which are less pertinent to the industry but already agreed by Europe: which will mean that their movement through Europe will be much smoother.
Or we can carve out our own tax breaks which, as with the French before us, will have to be approved separately – as I hinted above, the last thing we should do is implement similar breaks to the French. We should be supporting the whole industry as far as possible. This means that even if they are eventually approved, of which there is no guarantee, their journey is likely to be pretty long and painful.
The exact details of the law are currently under discussion. However, the concept of receiving a tax break based on Britishness is one that is still pertinent, and one that I must admit I find pretty intriguing.
TIGA are arguing, as seems only right and proper, that “fictional settings and species to allow sci-fi, fantasy and non-narrative titles” be included in the test. This seems an obvious and intelligent thing to argue. If the game is set in Bristol then this becomes easier. However, if it is set in space but the characters have an English sensibility it becomes harder. Lets look at some example of this.
As a much respected and much loved filmmaker, Oliver Postgate would be seen as quintessentially English, and Bagpuss and The Clangers would be viewed in a very similar light. However, it is a much harder thing to explain. In fact, as I think about this, I am unsure as to how exactly I can justify this comment. So, here goes.
Is Oliver Postgate English enough? I feel I am probably on pretty safe ground here. In Bagpuss, Emily has a shop in which she displays all of the much loved but forgotten items that she finds. This shop is obviously English. Hmm, okay, I seem to have hit a problem already. I am not sure that it says this at any point in the narrative.
The beginning of each episode describes Emily and her shop, it displays pictures of it and it feels very English, but it doesn’t say so at any point in the voiceover. I guess that if I wanted to be really clear on this point I would have to mention that her shop is based in ‘Little Heatherington’ to score vital points on location. In The Clangers, this issue is even more obvious; the Clangers live in outer space, in caves.
SAFE WITH PROFESSOR YAFFLE
Lets move onto the English-ness of the content. Again, I think I am probably on safer ground with Bagpuss than with The Clangers.
The characters in Bagpuss vary but they each have, what seems to me pretty English characteristics, for example Professor Yaffle the woodpecker is characteristic of a bespectacled English professor – based on Bertrand Russel, who Postgate had met – and Madeleine and Gabriele, the frog, often sing old English folk songs. Even the mice seem to be English-style mice. But it is a really hard thing for me to explain.
This seems to me to be at the crux of the issue. I know that when we wrote our proposal for a European games fund a few years ago we chose to write a specific idea. We looked at the requirements of the fund and wrote to these specifications, which certainly makes things easier.
However, if this is not what you want to do, and you want to get your current game or idea funded, it becomes much harder.
It seems to me that for these tax breaks to be of genuine use, and not just a list of targets that need to be shoehorned into a project that has nothing what-so-ever to do with shoes, it needs to be run with genuine sensitivity and intelligence.
The truth is that we generally do know when something exhibits a British, English, Welsh or Scottish feel. Justifying this feeling is what is going to prove far more challenging.
You can read more on tax relief for the UK games industry here