GRAND THEFT AUTO V presents a cutting parody of modern life, the rise of social media, and Los Angeles, but it doesn't poke fun at the white-collar world of tax avoidance, which is interesting, as a think tank found the developers Rockstar North, from sunny Edinburgh, paid nothing in corporation tax between 2009 and 2018.
According to Tax Watch, Rockstar North, which is a subsidiary of US-based publisher Take-Two Interactive, sucked up £42m in tax relief through the UK's Video Games Tax Relief scheme.
That scheme, introduced in 2014 to give "culturally British" games a financial leg-up, is good for game developers who are just getting started and can claim a cash credit from HMRC is they make a loss.
But GTA V is estimated by Tax Watch to have raked in $5bn in operating profits for Take-Two, with sales estimated to have generated $6bn since GTA V's release in 2013. In no uncertain terms, GTV V is one of the biggest and most successful games of all time.
So Tax Watch is scratching its head as to why Rockstar North managed to allegedly pay no tax for around a decade.
"Our analysis shows that the amount claimed by Rockstar North is the equivalent of 19% of the total relief paid to the entire video games industry in the UK since the programme came into effect.
This raises serious questions as to whether the relief is being properly targeted, at a time when the industry is lobbying for the relief to be expanded and made more generous," said Tax Watch.
The whole situation looks like it stems from Rockstar North and other UK-based Take-Two studios posting profits in Blighty of a mere £47.3m, which allows Take-Two's British-based operations to claim the tax credit.
This also has Tax Watch itching its noggin: "How is it possible that a game made in the UK, generating billions of dollars in profit for its parent companies and senior management, makes a loss for tax purposes in the UK and is able to claim tax back from the government?"
Furthermore, Tax Watch isn't convinced GTA V is culturally British given the game doesn't feature any major British characters and is based in the US, so perhaps shouldn't qualify for the Video Games Tax Relief scheme.
GTA V could be seen as one of Britain's great modern exports, but if it's not generating any cash for a divided nation of EU lovers and haters, then one might argue that it's not as good for Blighty as first thought.
Rockstar North and Take-Two have yet to comment on the situation, but Tax Watch director George Turner isn't mincing his words.
"It is outrageous that the UK taxpayer is being asked to shell out tens of millions of pounds in subsidy to the developers of Grand Theft Auto, when at the time that the game's developers put in their tax credit application Grand Theft Auto V had already generated several billion dollars in sales and profits," Turner said, reported the Guardian. "This is a drive-by assault on the British taxpayer and corporate welfare scrounging at its very worst."
As a result Tax Watch reckons HMRC should investigate Rockstar North to assess it's eligibility for the tax credits, as while it hasn't acted illegally in its allocation of profits, the whole situation is worth an eyebrow raise. µ
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