The UK is offering tax breaks to video games that pass a British “cultural test”

Rule Britannia.
Rule Britannia.
Image: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Somewhere between two world wars, inventing sports and then being bad at them, and constantly fretting about the weather, Britishness emerged as one of the most recognizable cultures in the world. Like many countries, the UK has long offered tax incentives to movies filmed in their country. Now it has a similar offering for video games, the Wall Street Journal reported this week, as long as they can pass a test of Britishness.

The British Film Institute (BFI), a UK charity mainly funded by the British government, administers a “cultural test” for the government to determine if a video game can be considered British—or European—enough to qualify for a tax break. Essentially, if developers can prove that the zombies in their games have a stiff upper lip or if the Boer War provides an adequate backdrop for the next Call of Duty game, they might be eligible for a financial helping hand from the government.

In rather traditionally British bureaucratic style, the BFI has a 31-point test to determine just how British a video game is. The test awards points to games set in the UK, or if the main characters are British or European citizens. The test is quick to note, however, that “dual nationality or other artifice” doesn’t count as British, in case any video game scriptwriters were wondering how they were going to shoehorn in expository dialogue about why their superhero has applied for permanent residency status in the UK into their story.

The test does not discriminate between games with human characters or ones with anthropomorphic characters. Essentially, if you can prove that a dragon has a strong preference for Earl Grey tea or Super Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom is actually based on the Lake District, then your game might soon be certified as a “British video game.”

Games based around British subject matters—such as British novels or plays, or events the UK was involved in—will also be awarded points. While it’s unlikely that game developers will be rushing to adapt the works of Shakespeare or Downton Abbey for the Xbox, it does mean that games like The Beatles: Rock Band or Battlefield 1942 could be considered, were they made today.

The BFI’s test also includes points for game companies that are based in the UK, or employ British and European workers. In fact, it’s much harder for a game that doesn’t have some physical ties to get certified, though not impossible. According to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ website, the tax break that video game companies could be looking to receive is between 18.4% and 20%.

And this incentive is not just for the big game developers. One of the first games that successfully applied was called “Spacepants” and made by a 12-year-old, the Journal noted.

“Are we going to have tons of games based on double-decker buses and people with bowler hats? The answer is no,” Jason Kingsley, CEO of games company Rebellion Development told the Journal. “But you could have games like that, and they would probably qualify very easily.”