Sunday, 4 July 2010

Games as art: economic implications

People have been talking rather a lot recently about whether video games are art. Roger Ebert, a film critic with very little knowledge of games, told everyone that they weren't. People got rather cross with him. Gabe at Penny Arcade pulled rank. And now Ebert's revisited the issue saying they're still not art but he wishes he'd never told anyone.Which Lum found funny.

In all the excitement one aspect that everyone seems to be missing is that there's a lot of money to be made in being considered art.

In the UK films get money because they are "art". They get tax breaks:

# For films with a total core expenditure of £20 million or less, the film production company can claim payable cash rebate of up to 25% of UK qualifying film production expenditure;
# For films with a core expenditure of more than £20 million, the film production company can claim a payable cash rebate of up to 20% of UK qualifying film production expenditure;

They are eligible for grants: from the Film Council alone there's a film making fund, a printing and advertising fund, a training fund, regional film funds and like any business they may be eligible for other grants like the European Regional Development Fund. They may also be eligible for National Lottery money some of which supports sport and the arts.

Games development companies on the other hand are considered businesses of no intrinsic cultural value. An attempt to stimulate the industry here was promoted mainly on economic grounds rather than cultural grounds.
Our research shows that Games Tax Relief over a five year period should create or protect 3,550 graduate level jobs, increase or safeguard £457 million in development expenditure and encourage developers to adopt new business models and create new Intellectual Property.

Recently the Con-Lib government decided not to go ahead with their predecessor's plans in this area to the dismay of the industry.

Ebert is wrong, games are art and their creation is of great cultural value to the nation. The best way forward for the British industry is to keep this issue burning and address the entertainment divide where the entertainment that some people enjoy is subsidised but the entertainment other people enjoy is not. Oxford Economics estimates that film tax relief generates £13 GDP for every £1 invested. Is it not time we pressed again the issue of game tax relief? Not only because games celebrate and explore our culture. But because as a country WE NEED THE MONEY!


  1. I don't know... if we're reliant on Big Brother to pad out the pocketbook, he has his hooks into the process as a vested interest. Might not be the best idea...

  2. Here in the UK we've been utterly terrible at producing MMOs. The country that gave the world MUD has no professional MMO businesses. (Although CCP have a small office here). That's awful considering that they're really popular here.

    We'd like to at least have a process that we can then worry about undue government influence over.

  3. Beyond that, though, if your business plan is reliant on government subsidy, might I submit that it's not the best plan in the first place? That's simple economic reality, no tin foil required.

  4. If everyone thought that no films would be made in the UK. Nor theatre, nor opera. Nor for that matter farming.

    It really is different here. Taxes are high but there are a lot of subsidies for business. Unless you're a games company.