SAG Offers Statement Regarding Video Game Voice Actor Strike
SAG Statement

October 21st is when the supposed voice actor strike initiates by the Screen Actors Guild against the video game industry. SAG-AFTRA laid out the terms and conditions last year, and earlier this week they threw down the gauntlet, letting the major publishers and production agencies know that they’re serious about the strike. Well, the game publishers continued to laugh in their faces, so SAG issued a statement.

Blues posted up the statement, which originally went live on their official website. They state that it’s time to end the “Freeloader Model”…

“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.

 

“In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.”

 

No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.”

Essentially, SAG is saying that people who only partially contribute to the overall production of a video game need to be paid in royalties even when they aren’t working. I have no idea where they get the brazen audacity to demand publishers put voice actors ahead of developers on the financial food chain when it comes to back-end bonuses, but they seem to think that games that sell in the millions should start sharing those revenues with the voice actors.

Now a game selling a million copies or so is quite frequent, but a lot of what’s left over from operating expenses is used as capital toward a sequel, DLC or an expansion. For multiplayer games the extra funds is sometimes used to expand the game servers, offer more options or even release dedicated server tools for the community. Very few games out there sell enough where they can just aimlessly throw cocaine money at actors, unless it’s Call of Duty, anything from Blizzard or Battlefield.

The SAG press statement goes on to say…

“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”

SAG really seems to be over-playing their hand here, and the thing they don’t realize is that good gameplay and solid user engagement is what will drive sales for a game, not just the voice actor. Stardew Valley, Starbound, Stellaris and DayZ are proof that solid user engagement is enough to get a game to sell millions, and bypassing the need for a voice actor isn’t going to change that.

In other words, the gaming industry thrived well before voice actors were common place and it’ll continue to thrive even if voice actors initiate a strike.

About

Billy has been rustling Jimmies for years covering video games, technology and digital trends within the electronics entertainment space. The GJP cried and their tears became his milkshake. Need to get in touch? Try the Contact Page.

  • Fearghul

    Here’s one from SAG-AFTRA’s FAQ on residuals:

    Do I receive residuals for an initial release?
    No. Initial compensation covers a project’s preliminary release for the market in which it was produced. Residuals are due only for use of a production in media markets beyond the exhibition covered by initial compensation.

  • Mr.Towel

    Such bulshittery from SAG.

    While there are some video games that generate some huge profits, these games are the exception, the freak, not the norm. Most video games have the same profitability as any other art business, which is an average of 5%. This 5% is the reason so many investors shy away from art/entertainement investments and why publishers are so aggressive in trying to increase profits with shitty business practices. If SAG wants to enforce a regulation on that, they’ll just reduce profit and increase the costs of producing a game, which is already ridiculously high, video games are the most expensive kind of media to produce, more than movies or music, you put more weight into such costs and less games well be produced, it’s simple as that.

  • I know I’m not going to be popular here when people read my following opinions, but I’m going to say them anyway. Wall of text incoming.

    “Essentially, SAG is saying that people who only partially contribute to the overall production of a video game need to be paid in royalties even when they aren’t working. I have no idea where they get the brazen audacity to demand publishers put voice actors ahead of developers on the financial food chain when it comes to back-end bonuses, but they seem to think that games that sell in the millions should start sharing those revenues with the voice actors.”

    Yes, because they are still actors. If you believe voice acting is easy, I can tell you just from doing it on a smaller (and shittier) level that it really isn’t. If actors who do films can still get royalties and earn enough money to sustain themselves while not having to work in other non-acting jobs, then you would think voice actors should be given more benefits to ensure they can still actually continue their full-time work as well. If the industry is going to create games that require voice acting, and they’re pushing for big names to be involved in those projects, I ask why voice actors shouldn’t be allowed to gain royalties for essentially doing what traditional actors do with films. After all, actors don’t edit the footage, nor operate the cameras, nor any of the other technical jobs, yet they get paid for their performances even after the film is finished. Last I checked, voice actors aren’t demanding 20+% of the total amount a game makes, I’m pretty sure it was somewhere between 2-8%, and that’s only for the games that earn a large sum of money, not niche titles.

    The expected response I get when I say this is, “but what about the people creating the game”? To which I say: I’m sick of this idea that we need to parade around who the biggest victim in this situation is. Of course game developers have a shitty time, that’s never in dispute. But this misconception that voice actors just read out lines and they’re done for the day drives me fucking crazy. Developers aren’t the only ones who need to stay healthy; voice actors also have to preserve their health (and especially their voice) over huge periods of time in order to ensure they can still go out the next day and record more lines for another project. On top of that, they have to continue to improve their acting skills in order to get another job (whether you and I believe they’re still shit or not isn’t the point here). If anyone could just pick up a script and read it out loud, then there wouldn’t need to be voice actors in any language, because the developers could just do it.

    Does Japan treat their voice actors this way, or do they get proper recognition? I would genuinely like to know, because there’s something else I notice here that also annoys me, and that’s the idea that English voice actors – and only English ones – are entitled babies for wanting the same thing their film counterparts receive without question. (Or not even that, just better work conditions – like not being fined large sums of money for not being 110% attentive, instead of just firing them if it’s continued behaviour.)

    I understand and agree with people that there are terrible English dubs out there – Persona 5, for example, does not impress me (and fuck Atlus for not including dual audio) – and that there are voice actors who have very fucking stupid politics, like Ashly Burch, her retarded brother Anthony, and Jamie “dumbarse GamerGate creep-shows” Marchi. But seriously, why is it such a problem to try and improve the voice acting industry in the West? Is it because they produce flaming pieces of shit? What about when they don’t? Why is the default response to this stuff to tell them to fuck off?

    And for one last point: is it the fact they’re fighting for royalties while game developers are creating games in silence and working their butts off that bothers you? Assuming game developers finally improve their working conditions – for example, I remember a Naughty Dog writer talking about how bullshit it is for AAA developers to essentially ruin their lives to finish a game on time – would you then agree with voice actors wanting to improve theirs, or would you still call them entitled? Because otherwise, it seems to me the fact they’re English voice actors is what pisses everyone off here more than anything.

    • I ask why voice actors shouldn’t be allowed to gain royalties for essentially doing what traditional actors do with films. After all, actors don’t edit the footage, nor operate the cameras, nor any of the other technical jobs, yet they get paid for their performances even after the film is finished

      Well, their face, financial appeal, demographic appeal and on-screen appeal all help sell the movie. We went to see Die Hard films for Bruce Willis. We went to see Terminator flicks for Arnold. We went to see Rocky for Stallone. We want to see Sharon Stone/Halle Berry for obvious reasons.

      Are there any games out there that actually sold based solely on the voice actor’s clout?

      If anyone could just pick up a script and read it out loud, then there wouldn’t need to be voice actors in any language, because the developers could just do it.

      Well, back in the day the devs would pull in a janitor or whatever and do the voice lines. No, it wasn’t great voice acting but it was serviceable and most gamers didn’t mind.

      I remember a Naughty Dog writer talking about how bullshit it is for AAA developers to essentially ruin their lives to finish a game on time – would you then agree with voice actors wanting to improve theirs, or would you still call them entitled?

      I still call them entitled. Voice actors don’t improve the game much, and FFVI is still my favorite Final Fantasy and it had no voice acting. A bunch of the Kickstarted games also don’t have voice acting (some do, when they hit certain stretch goals), and some of those Kickstarted games get on just fine without it, like I Am Setsuna.

      I just don’t see why people who contribute the least to a game’s development would deserve royalties?

      • (Before you read, how do you get your quotes to have the bar on the side? If I knew, it would make this a lot easier to read for everyone.)

        “Well, their face, financial appeal, demographic appeal and on-screen appeal all help sell the movie. We went to see Die Hard films for Bruce Willis. We went to see Terminator flicks for Arnold. We went to see Rocky for Stallone. We want to see Sharon Stone/Halle Berry for obvious reasons.
        Are there any games out there that actually sold based solely on the voice actor’s clout?”

        Not solely, no, but there are games that pride themselves on their voice talent: the Uncharted series and The Last of Us are examples. In Japan, I assume big-name voice actors get a lot of fans buying their stuff because they like their work, and a lot of money from the games and anime they work on. I know for a fact there are people who enjoy the work of specific voice actors here in the West.

        “Well, back in the day the devs would pull in a janitor or whatever and do the voice lines. No, it wasn’t great voice acting but it was serviceable and most gamers didn’t mind.”

        I concede this point. But if a game is going to include voice acting, and it wants the actors’ performances to help the game creatively, then surely, the actors involved should receive a cut of the profit because they played a role in bringing the creators’ vision to life. I know in the long run, the developers are more important – but if we looked at Japanese games with voice acting, I doubt we’d call them entitled if they demanded royalties (maybe they already do?). If I’m wrong on this, please tell me otherwise, but this comes across more as an issue with the fact it’s English voice actors demanding something.

        “I still call them entitled. Voice actors don’t improve the game much, and FFVI is still my favorite Final Fantasy and it had no voice acting. A bunch of the Kickstarted games also don’t have voice acting (some do, when they hit certain stretch goals), and some of those Kickstarted games get on just fine without it, like I Am Setsuna.
        I just don’t see why people who contribute the least to a game’s development would deserve royalties?”

        Because they’re still actors. Actors in films don’t technically contribute that much either, unless they’re already big-name stars, like Arnold. I would agree with you that demanding royalties is bullshit if they were asking for a much larger sum than I remember – but keep in mind, voice acting is more contract work than full-time work. Developers have it tough, but I’m pretty sure they get paid leave if they end up getting sick. I can’t say for certain if voice actors have this, so their financial situations would look pretty scary. If they still received money during a period where work is a bit slower for whatever reason, then that would be beneficial to them.

        Right, so I know we disagree on the royalties thing, and it doesn’t seem like either of us are gonna reach a consensus on that. What are your thoughts, then, on the other demands regarding work conditions and the penalties companies want to enact on voice actors? Would you say they’re more reasonable demands, or is it still entitlement for you?

        • Mr.Towel

          Disqus has some internal command to format text. You can check some of them here: https://help.disqus.com/customer/portal/articles/466253-what-html-tags-are-allowed-within-comments-

        • Sorry for the late reply, America’s internet is under attack and I can’t use Disqus through U.S. proxies.

          Anyway, you can blockquote using the following tags:

          insert text here

          Just remove the spaces between the brackets and it will block quote, like below.

          What are your thoughts, then, on the other demands regarding work conditions and the penalties companies want to enact on voice actors?
          Would you say they’re more reasonable demands, or is it still entitlement for you?

          Not keen on the penalties enacted against the voice actors, because anything can happen and that seems a little extreme. But then again, I don’t run a major design studio on a tight budget, so I’m sure studio managers have a different perspective on this.

          As for things like bringing in more safety personnel and stunt coordinators for performance capture… I just can’t see that being feasible. That’s one step away from having an armorer on set and that’s what kills a lot of the budget for action movies (though, understandably so given that using real weapons even with blanks can still prove to be hazardous).

          Having an extra crew of safety personnel on set means more money dumped into the production costs. While Activision and EA could afford it, this would basically kill any mid-budget studio. Not to mention that Activision and EA would also be far less likely to use performance capture having to pay extra for safety measures.

          Essentially the developers would front the costs to accommodate voice actors, and gamers wouldn’t really benefit from any of it in the end, except for maybe fewer cut-scenes, shorter gameplay and higher padded retail prices to offset the costs.

          • Fearghul

            Just as a note when considering the penalties thing, you might want to have a look at the SAG agreements and the penalties they are allowed to impose…if for example lunch is late by 5 minutes then that’s an automatic $25 per SAG member. Infact a lot of the 2005 contracts for interactive media are basically a list of things that SAG will fine you for, so the penalties dont actually seem that out of place when viewed in that persepective.

            Also, if getting paid at SAG rates for voice acting you’re looking at less than 200 hours of work a year to hit the median US household income. That’s nice fucking work if you can get it….

    • Fearghul

      Actually the Devs have often been the ones to do it. Frankly SAG can go fellate a goat with their closed shop bullshit and self important crap. There is only one game I play regularly where voice acting is an actual draw and that’s Star Trek Online and only because of tying it into the larger franchise. They had to retire characters they’d built up over the years though when they did bring in SAG because the Devs voicing them werent SAG members.

      I’m quite content to acquiesce to demands regarding conditions like breaks, session lengths and so on, but the closed shop bullshit, the royalties and the crap like wanting to be protected from consequences of fucking about and not doing work can die in a fire.

  • Migi

    IF this goes through we might finally be rid of english dub in japanese games YAY!!!

    • Holy snaps, I didn’t even think of that. That would be a miracle. Subs > dubs 4 life!

      • No thanks, I’d rather not get the game at all if I can’t have a good dub.

        But I’d pay whatever you want me to for an actually GOOD English dub.

    • Bitterbear

      I hope so too. It’s tiring to see Japanese games localized with the voice cast from the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime over and over and over and over.

      • Migi

        If they ge rid of the english dub all together we can get more visual novels games over here cause that money can be spend on localization instead of the westernization english dub brings with it.

  • employers want to be able to fine you $2,500 if you show up late or are
    not “attentive to the services for which [you] have been engaged.” This
    means you could be fined for almost anything: checking an incoming text,
    posting to your Twitter feed, even zoning out for a second. If a
    producer feels you are being “inattentive,” they want the option to fine
    you $2,500.

    Our employers want to be able to fine the union $50,000-$100,000
    if your franchised agent doesn’t send you out on certain auditions
    (like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour One Voice sessions)?

    • Fearghul

      Oh no! If you’re late you dont get paid…if you fuck about on your phone rather than doing the work you’re supposed to be doing, you dont get paid!!!

      Welcome to the world most people have to fucking deal with.

  • Gorgon

    I can’t wait for their strike to fail spectacularly. Never in my life have I met or heard of a person who would buy a game because of voice actor involved in it. They are severely overestimating their importance.