Video Games: The Government Wants To Avoid Game Over

The government has announced measures in favor of the second cultural leisure activity of the French. But will these have an effect or are they more of a publicity stunt at the opening of Paris Games Week? Decryption.

Two ministers for the opening of Paris Games Week. The government was well represented on Wednesday evening for the inauguration of the biggest French video game event of the year, which is held until October 31 at Porte de Versailles in Paris. Axelle Lemaire, Secretary of State for Digital and Innovation had made the trip like Audrey Azoulay, Minister of Culture. The latter took advantage of the event to announce new aid to the sector. “I came to assert the creative dimension of video games and support it with two measures” argued the occupant of Rue de Valois.

A writing aid fund of 100,000 euros will be allocated to young creators according to criteria defined by the National Center for Cinema and Animated Imagery (CNC). The other provision concerns a renegotiation with the European Commission concerning the removal of the cap on production aid in order to “move up a gear”. Because today this aid is limited to 200,000 euros per company under the so-called de minimis rule.

“There is tax competition between the States for cinema, audiovisual and also for video games because these are industries with very high added value, analyzed Audrey Azoulay. We have schools in France for video games and animation. We want these talents to be able to continue working here. ” The objective is for France to remain competitive in an industry where it today occupies an honorable position. “There is a stake so that these highly qualified jobs can be kept in France throughout the sector: training, writing, production and uses”, specified the Minister of Culture. But will these aids be really useful?

Technical measures which “can have a colossal effect”

There is no doubt about the answer for Emmanuel Martin, general delegate of SELL (Syndicate of leisure software publishers). “This is not a communication blow, all measures are good to take. Virtual reality is coming and will require new forms of writing that highlight the creativity of video games ”. Julien Villedieu, general delegate of the SNJV (National Union of Video Games) is on the same line. “We are in a fierce global competition. The measures announced are technical but they can have a colossal effect ”. Really ?

One of the flagships of the French video game industry, Ubisoft, employs 3,000 people in Canada. They are only 2,000 to work in France although its head office is in Montreuil. The group benefited in 1997 from the very attractive policy of Quebec to settle massively in Montreal when the city was experiencing a high rate of youth unemployment (20%). The province had pledged to take on half the salaries of certain employees in exchange for Ubisoft’s commitment to recruit hundreds. An example of the very strong competitiveness necessary for France in order to keep its studios.

“France is very important for Ubisoft and these measures will allow the company to be able to continue developing games in Paris, Annecy and even Montpellier” explains Emmanuel Carré, the publisher’s spokesperson. Moreover, Steep, the extreme sports video game, was produced by the Annecy studio. The action game Ghost Recon Wildlands was designed in Paris. “France is expensive but it has a very important breeding ground of engineers, graphic designers as well as successful schools in the video game”, adds one at Ubisoft by pointing out the 800 recruitments carried out in the country during the five last years.

Negotiations with the European Commission

Except that the main measure announced by the Minister of Culture remains hypothetical to this day. Indeed, the desire to remove the cap on aid provided by the French State requires authorization from the European Commission. “I imagine that on the side of the ministry, it is not a simple effect of announcement, analyzes Emmanuel Martin even if the negotiations with the Commission are always complicated”.

In 2016, the French State planned to allocate 34 million euros to the sector via the video game tax credit, the video game assistance fund and the participatory guarantees and advances funds managed by the Institute for the financing of cinema. Jullien Villedieu deciphers the situation: “in 2017 we come to the end of the authorization period that the European Commission had granted to France for the implementation of the video game tax credit. In addition to these negotiations on the removal of the cap, it would be necessary to be able to strengthen the video game tax credit in order to absorb part of the deficit that France maintains vis-à-vis Canada ”. Because according to many sources in the video game industry, the competitiveness of France, if it has improved recently, is enough to keep existing jobs but does not attract new companies.

The post-Brexit period could precisely be the occasion for a redistribution of the cards in Europe. “With Brexit, our only real competitor will now be outside the European Union, analyzes the SNJV general manager. We have the wind in our sails. ” The test still needs to be finalized during negotiations with the Commission.