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.
“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.