Games Tax Relief: Kirsty Rigden, Director of Operations at Futurlab, explains how tax relief helped her studio

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Games tax relief is an excellent way to significantly reduce or refund your tax bill. But with Brexit threatening the health of the public finances, there are questions about whether the scheme will remain open – meaning it is a good idea to start applying for it as soon as possible.

Prior to the vote, we spoke to Kirsty Rigden, Director of Operations at Futurlab, about how Plus Accounting helped them secure a share of hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of games tax relief. Here’s what we found out.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kirsty Rigden and my title is Operations Director at Futurlab. My background is in game design though, I’ve been a game designer for about 12 years now. I started off in mobile games before they were cool, back when it was java games and then I moved on to a company called Cohort Studios who were working on a Move title for PS3.

Then I moved to Brighton, ended up at Futurlab and turns out I’m the most organised one. I deal with finance, HR, running the studio, production and I also do game design still when I get a chance. We’re a small studio: there are nine of us and we’re actually based in Hove…so yeah!”

In terms of what Futurlab is known for, what would people know you for?

So Futurlab are best known for working on the Velocity series. It started as a PSP Minis title and it did very well, so Sony asked us to create a Vita native title for it so we created Velocity HD. We released Velocity 2X, which was the sequel on PS4 and PS Vita, then it came out on Xbox One and PC last year. That’s the franchise we’re best known for, but we had made a series of PS Mobile games before that.

What are the big challenges you face on a day to day basis when dealing with the operation of a games business?

Erm, just constantly learning things and trying to deal with new bits of red tape thrown at you, trying to manage the business side of things and managing the team. It’s going alright though!

One of the challenges I think of managing people is knowing when you’ve got to delegate something or get help something. How do you decide what you can do and take on yourself versus going ‘ok, this is a time when I need an expert in?’

Well project wise, it depends. It’s much easier to delegate because the rest of the team are making a game, have made games before and are all up on the business of it.

On the business and finance side, I’m always asking people and friends who have successful studios whenever I need help.

How important are these informal networks to success?

They’re massively important. It’s interesting because Futurlab has been going since 2003, when James set it up with the intention of getting into games via the medium of flash games. Which worked and was good, but he didn’t have the contacts.

I took the more traditional route – starting in QA and working through all the games companies – but I don’t think we would be where we were if I wasn’t able to ring someone up and go “I don’t know what kind of insurance this is, please help, can you recommend a lawyer, what do I have to do about health and safety.”

They’re really boring things but you don’t realise how they’re going to be so important, but [it’s great] having contacts or someone older or wiser to ask about these things.

So when you found out that games tax relief had gone through, what did you do to get yourself into a position to benefit from it?

We went to our accountant Luke, to ask him. He just pointed me to the BFI website and said you need to get the cultural certificates and he can sort out the accountancy side of things, because they’re not that dissimilar to the R and D credits.

I got a contact at the BFI asked him loads and loads of questions, so I emailed them a lot and they were super helpful. They really wanted people to pass the cultural test and weren’t trying to be difficult. It was super helpful.

How useful has qualifying for this tax relief been with you?

Massively. So we have had two successful claims so far and each time we’ve had a cheque back, we’ve basically been able to hire senior artists as a result of tax breaks.

I really love the tax breaks. When I was doing it for the first time I wondered if it was worth it, but when you find your tax bill is being wiped out and you’re getting a bill for a cheque it is definitely, definitely worth it.

What would be your top piece of advice for a developer who hasn’t claimed tax relief before?

Go to the BFI website, read all the documents and then look at what they ask for. Even if you haven’t started the game, look at that and the information they want and get your spreadsheets and books tied up so you can spit that information out. Just start having a go and filling out the cultural certificate.