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Gaming's Voice Actors Are on the Verge of a Strike

Jack Gardner



SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors and voice actors, is in the middle of a media blackout and considering a strike to try to come to an agreement with video game publishers. The union is looking to put forward a new agreement with publishers to modernize their contracts from the standards that were agreed to in the mid 90s as voice actors are required to do a lot more than they were twenty years ago. However, game publishers aren't super keen on the idea.


The union is asking for several things as part of their negotiations. Primarily, they are looking for royalties based on the performance of the games members work on. The royalty system they propose would only go into effect after two million copies sold, protecting smaller indie devs from additional costs, with a bonus for every additional two million copies sold that caps out at eight million copies. The reasoning behind this is that royalties are a standard industry practice for every type of physical actor, but not voice actors. While union members work on only 20% of all games across all platforms, the union claims that of the top 100 best-selling games from the last two years, they've worked on almost all of them. 


SAG-AFTRA is also looking to limit vocally stressful recording sessions to two hours apiece to limit the possibility of long-term vocal damage. That makes sense for people who make their living off of their ability to use their voices. Additionally, with the rise of motion capture as a part of vocal work on video games, the union wants stunt coordinators to be present for any stunt work that has to be done. They cite past incidents of voice actors being injured on the job while doing motion capture as enough justification for this stipulation. 



Finally, the union wants to have more open dialogue between publishers and members. While this doesn't sound like a lot, it has become common practice in the game industry not to reveal the name of projects for which voice actors are applying or what role they are going to play. Members want to know the following: "How many sessions are [publishers] expecting to book? What rating [is the game expected to receive]? Why? Is there offensive content? Will the sessions be vocally stressful?"


The game publishers, of which SAG-AFTRA names EA Games, Activision, Disney, Warner Bros. Studios, Blindlight, and Formosa, have also put forward their own version of the agreement which has its own goals. The publisher's offer ignores all of SAG-AFTRA's requests while including a $2,500 fine for actors who show up late or are thought of as being too inattentive, which could loosely be interpreted to mean pretty much anything. Publishers also proposed a $50,000-$100,000 fine for agents who don't sent their actors to certain auditions. On top of that fine, if an agent chooses not to submit their voice actors for those certain auditions, publishers want SAG-AFTRA to revoke that agency's union franchise, meaning they wouldn't be able to send actors to audition for union jobs in animation, TV, film, or commercials.


Publishers also don't want to cover motion capture in the agreement, proposing instead to hire their own employees for motion and performance capture work with little to no oversight by stunt coordinators. This is essentially proposing to cut the union out of motion capture acting, which is not really something that they can let fly. You can read their full contract proposal here.



After two meetings earlier this year that ended in a deadlock, SAG-AFTRA is now marshaling members to vote yes or no on a potential strike. 75% of its members must vote yes in order for the strike to be authorized. We will know if that happens after the ballots have been counted on October 5th. If the strike is authorized, one last round of negotiations will be held between publishers and the union before the strike goes into full effect. If that happens, the union will not send voice actors to work on game projects until a new agreement can be reached. SAG-AFTRA has also encouraged even non-members not to work during that time as it claims such an agreement will also benefit non-members. 


So far, many prominent voice actors have publicly declared their support of the strike with the hashtags #PerformanceMatters and #IAmOnBoard2015 including: Ashley Burch, Jennifer Hale, Wil Wheaton, Steve Blumm, Gideon Emery, David Hayter, and Tara Strong. 

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