March 8, 2021

Rich Tax Breaks Bolster Video Game Makers

It also provides tax breaks for a company whose hit video game this year was the gory Dead Space 2, which challenges players to advance through an apocalyptic battlefield by killing space zombies.

Those tax incentives — a collection of deductions, write-offs and credits mostly devised for other industries in other eras — now make video game production one of the most highly subsidized businesses in the United States, says Calvin H. Johnson, who has worked at the Treasury Department and is now a tax professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Because video game makers straddle the lines between software development, the entertainment industry and online retailing, they can combine tax breaks in ways that companies like Netflix and Adobe cannot. Video game developers receive such a rich assortment of incentives that even oil companies have questioned why the government should subsidize such a mature and profitable industry whose main contribution is to create amusing and sometimes antisocial entertainment.

For example, Electronic Arts of Redwood City, Calif., shipped more than two million copies of Dead Space 2 in the game’s first week on the market this year. It shows a total of $1.2 billion in global profits the last five years using an accounting method that management says captures its operating profits.

But largely because of deferred revenue, deductions for executive stock options and a variety of accounting requirements, the company officially reports a net loss for the period. And the company reports that it paid out $98 million in cash for taxes worldwide in those years.

Neither corporations nor the government make tax returns public, and the information most companies disclose in their regulatory filings is insufficient to determine how much they pay in federal taxes and how that compares to the official United States corporate rate of 35 percent.

All told, the federal government gave $123 billion in tax incentives to corporations in 2010, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, with breaks for groups and people as diverse as Nascar track owners, mohair producers, hedge fund managers, chicken farmers, automakers and oil companies.

Many tax policy analysts say the breaks for the video game industry — whose domestic sales of $15 billion a year now exceed those of the music business — are a vivid example of a tax system that defies common sense. Most times, subsidies begin as a way to nurture a fledgling industry that will not be profitable for years or to encourage a business activity deemed to have a broad benefit to society, like reducing pollution or improving public health.

But it’s a lot easier to create a tax break than to eliminate it. That leaves a generous assortment of tax incentives available to all types of companies, like Electronic Arts, with skilled accounting departments.

Electronic Arts has also lobbied successfully for more tax assistance. The architect of the company’s strategies in recent years was Glen A. Kohl, a tax lawyer colorful enough to publicly compare himself to Bruce Springsteen and to joke in the pages of The Wall Street Journal that his dog, Rubin, shared the name of the Treasury secretary under whom he served (Robert E. Rubin).

After working in the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration, Mr. Kohl entered the private sector and became head of E.A.’s tax department in 2004, leading the company as it aggressively lobbied for a federal tax break on domestic production and set up a matrix of offshore subsidiaries, many in low-tax countries.

As a result, the company with the defiant sales slogan, “Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2,” in effect gets financial help from moms and other United States taxpayers to reduce its federal tax bill.

Company officials say they have no qualms about taking all the tax breaks legally available to them. To do otherwise would be like a consumer “insisting on paying full price during a store sale,” wrote Jeff Brown, a company spokesman. Even E.A.’s competitors acknowledge that the company’s tax strategies aren’t particularly aggressive compared to others in the industry.

Furthermore, Electronic Arts officials say that in recent years the company has paid a substantial portion of its profits in taxes, but declined to discuss details of its financial reports.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=346245e6bd0da039e12c8de0790232a8

Speak Your Mind