Why The Video Game Voice Actor Strike Is Utterly Silly
Batman: Arkham Knight

A number of high-profile publishers are probably learning that they never should have struck a deal with the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG-AFTRA has officially initiated their strike following a year of negotiating with various big name publishers.

Over on the official SAG website they announced that they are officially on strike as of 12:01am PST October 21st, 2016.

They rolled out a list of the publishers affected by the strike based on games having gone into production since February 17th, 2015.

Activision Publishing, Inc. Blindlight, LLC Corps of Discovery Films
Disney Character Voices, Inc. Electronic Arts Productions, Inc. Formosa Interactive, LLC
Insomniac Games, Inc. Interactive Associates, Inc. Take 2 Interactive Software
VoiceWorks Productions, Inc. WB Games, Inc.

As you can see, a lot of the big-name AAA publishers will be affected by the strike, including Activision, Disney, Electronic Arts, Take-Two Interactive and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, amongst others.

This means that upcoming Rocksteady projects, upcoming Battlefield games, upcoming Call of Duty games and upcoming Borderlands games could all be affected in some way.

SAG offered two main contentions that publishers were unwilling to bend on, the first being disclosure, writing…

“The two issues of greatest contention are transparency and secondary compensation. While the companies are willing to disclose potentially objectionable material that may be involved in the role, they refuse to tell the performer’s agent what game the actor will be working on.”

First of all, unlike movies it usually takes games between two and five years of production and they can’t afford a voice actor spilling the beans. I can completely understand that. They also don’t need a voice actor going full SJW on social media because a game might contain “objectionable” or “problematic” material such as foul language, certain pronouns, sexual content or gratuitous violence, or not enough “diversity”.

Having a bunch of non-gaming bloggers at the major gaming media outlets running hit-pieces based on a voice actor’s Twitter tirade for an unreleased game is a death knell for a studio, and anyone with common sense (especially in today’s media-degenerate society) would instantly throw out that request from SAG.

The second issue is royalties, listed under “secondary compensation”. According to SAG…

“[…] employers have offered to give actors an upfront bonus based on number of sessions worked, starting at the second session worked. The negotiating team is willing to agree to their proposal, as long as secondary compensation is an option. In other words, an employer would have the option to buy out an actor by paying a bonus upfront or, if they prefer, they would have the option to pay a bonus after the game releases, if the game happens to sell more than 2 million units. The employers have refused to consider this option, excluding games from union talent if they are unable to afford the upfront bonus structure.”

Again, this is a completely reasonable response from the publishers.

A lot of game productions cannot afford to throw money away – especially on a game still early in production – on a voice actor. A lot of the brunt of the production cash is going to be spent on the engineers making sure the game works, then the artists, then the voice actors. Plain and simple: there is no game without the first two.

What’s more is that just because a game sells 2 million units (whether digitally or physically) shouldn’t entitle a voice actor to royalties unless their part was significant in bringing the game to life. This is a rare thing in gaming, with the only notable exceptions being The Last of Us, Enslaved and possibly the Uncharted series. Should the people doing the grunts and light voice work on MOBAs be awarded royalties? Are their voices really that important and integral to the sales of the game? What about stuff like Skylanders or EA’s mobile titles?

A lot of people use the excuse that voice acting is still acting, and just like with movies and TV they deserve residual compensation. The difference is that people tune in to watch their favorite show(s) because of the actor/actress. They go to the movies to see their favorite actor/actress in a story they feel is entertaining. How many games that sell over 2 million copies do so because of a voice actor? As an anecdote, I’ve never bought a single game based on who voiced a character.

But real gamers aren’t alone in seeing the silliness of SAG’s strike. According to Game Informer, Scott J. Witlin from the Barnes & Thornburh LLP law firm representing the major game publishers, expressed a similar sentiment, stating…

“We consider the Union’s threatened labor action to call a strike precipitous, unnecessary and an action that will only harm their membership. SAG-AFTRA represents performers in less than 25% of the video games on the market. Any strike would not only deny SAG-AFTRA’s membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place. […]

 

“It is important to note that the Video Game Companies’ upcoming games are already in production and the majority will be unaffected by any SAG-AFTRA strike due to the nature of the ‘no strike provisions’ of the collective bargaining agreement. We anticipate minimal impact on current and near-future game releases.”

I think Witlin sums it up perfectly. SAG has overvalued their worth in the gaming industry.

If there is a choice between a company expanding the budget to bring in more developers to fix a game or keep the QA team in place for a few more months to help squash bugs, and the choice of spending more to accommodate a voice actor, I’m guessing most gamers are going to choose the former 10 times out of 10.

Heck, all the fancy voice acting in the world couldn’t save Assassin’s Creed Unity from being a broken mess.

As a gamer, I’m still willing to spend $60 on a good game even without voice acting, and there are still plenty of games out there that will continue to be amazing, fun and engaging even if gaming and SAG part ways for good. This isn’t Hollywood; gamers aren’t complete idiots; and the Screen Actors Guild should learn their place.

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.

  • Adrian Brody’s O face

    I would like to be able to speak with one of the Directors of SAG-AFTRA off the record and get their honest non-public approved perspective. From a purely practical standpoint, they have to know that there is very little chance that they will get the studios to give ground on all four of their major talking points (residuals, transparency, stunt coordinators, hazard precautions on stressful recording sessions) So, I am honestly curious as to which of those demands they would willing take off the table in order to get the studios to consider the others. What would be the hierarchy of importance? And more, importantly, what would they be willing to concede to get those items. Studios want to be able to use their own devs for smaller background parts, as well as levy fines and penalties against voice actors for various offenses. (I suspect some of these demands from the studios stem from the stories I have heard of Dev’s nightmare experiences with Prima Donna voice talent) Which of those items would the Guild give ground on in order to realize any of their proposals.
    Okay, time for my wholly unqualified prognosticating. The studios concede on the stunt-coordinator request. They offer a 25% bonus on stressful recording sessions. They agree to disclose a proposed project’s genre and projected ESRB rating, but nothing else. Residuals are a hard no. The guild allows publishers to run an open shop for voice work and use devs to back-fill voice-work. Studio’s are allow to fine voice actors for habitual tardiness to sessions.

    • Some of those concessions actually don’t sound that bad. I’m curious about mid-budget studios, though? Offering upfront bonuses to voice actors who are SAG members eats into development budget. Or is this purely aimed at AAA studios? My biggest issue with this is that SAG seemed to be coming at this from the direction that every game studio is making a Call of Duty and is as big as EA, Activision, Ubisoft and Take-Two, and a majority of the time that just isn’t true.

      For instance, a lot of mid-budget studios use their own in-house devs for some mo-cap work… would the stunt coordinator and safety crew still be required for this off-sessions or only when VAs from SAG are around? There’s a lot of logistics that goes into this kind of thing, and I could see some studios forfeiting mo-cap in favor of procedural animations to avoid the expenses, if they did agree to some of those terms.

      • Adrian Brody’s O face

        The guild’s proposal for residuals only kicks in after a game has moved 2 million units. Caps at 4 payments. The numbers are pennies, but the studios aren’t idiots. They know it is a play for precedence more than anything else. They start now, and during negotiations ten years down that road they can start demanding full points. That is why of all the demands, the studios will hold their ground on that demand the longest.

  • MusouTensei

    The industry should really find new talents, hearing the same old english VA’s over and over again gets boring anyway.

  • Brad

    Looks like Wiliam found himself the two trolls that have been shitting up very V thread on the subject.

    Voice actors are only 1% of the game. But cost the most in terms of PAY for hours worked to put in a game. Something is off here.

  • corsair82

    “First of all, unlike movies it usually takes games between two and five years of production and they can’t afford a voice actor spilling the beans.”

    According to Wikipedia the principal filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy lasted 274 days from October 1999 through December 2000. Pickup shots were also factored in every year from 2001-2003. During those 3 years there were an additional 6 weeks or so of filming every year. Many other popular motion picture series’ and movies have taken a year or more post-filming before release.

    You want to try maybe using some actual reasoning in your argument? Or at least some facts, rather than the bullshit excuses the studios fed you.

    NDAs are a thing, and film actors DO manage to keep a lot of stuff under wraps for years, contrary to that highly inaccurate statement you made above.

    • According to Wikipedia the principal filming for the Lord of the Rings trilogy lasted 274 days from October 1999 through December 2000. Pickup shots were also factored in every year from 2001-2003.

      Nice try, ace. But The Lord of the Rings is an anomaly in filmmaking. Plus, using Wikipedia? LOL

      Average movie filming goes anywhere between three weeks and three months. In some rare cases films will stretch on for years (like in LOTR case, which spanned three whole movies), but if we’re going to be pulling out silver lining examples, need I point you to Duke Nukem Forever, Final Fantasy XV or The Last Guardian?

      NDAs are a thing, and film actors DO manage to keep a lot of stuff under wraps for years

      Yeah, but there’s been an uptick in outrage media aimed at gaming over the stupidest things. Most actors know that they can’t pull that nonsense with a big studio, but attacking game companies over idiotic things has become the norm. Giving SJW actors/actresses potential fuel to boost their own profile by letting them in on certain themes that they may find “problematic” would only spell doom for them.

      • corsair82

        You are correct that the average *filming* is short, yes. But read my whole comment once again. There’s this thing called post-production. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? That’s the period where they edit the film, add in special effects and a score, etc. That can and DOES take up to a year on average, and longer for the special-effects heavy movies that regularly perform well at the box office today.

        “Giving SJW actors/actresses potential fuel to boost their own profile by letting them in on certain themes that they may find “problematic” would only spell doom for them.”

        Seriously? You think only “SJW” types might object to certain roles?? You do realize there are evangelical Christians who work as voice actors, right? Some of them may, for perfectly valid religious reasons, not want to work on a game like GTA. Your prejudice against people who hold a different worldview than your own (those you call “SJWs”) is blinding you to reality here.

        • There’s this thing called post-production. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

          Yeah, but on average it’s still shorter than the average AAA title, in which the shortest production time of an AAA title is two years. And during this time they’re usually not showing the actors the full thing or the complete turnout, so there’s still a bit of a blackout on production to prevent leaks. The turnaround is a lot faster in Hollywood on most projects comparative to video game studios.

          There’s just more risk involved with letting in an actor on the details of a project too early on, because it’s not like if something leaks three to six months into production they’re just going to stop and scrap millions of dollars worth of content.

          You do realize there are evangelical Christians who work as voice actors, right? Some of them may, for perfectly valid religious reasons, not want to work on a game like GTA.

          I’m pretty sure the production staff gives actors at least a cursory introduction to the game like “Hey, this is going to be an adult-themed title”. Outside of the basics I don’t see why they would need to know any further specifics regarding content whether they’re SJWs, Christians, Catholics or Muslims.

  • Conner Garry Sennett
  • Phasmatis75

    Let’s review something really quick.

    Developers get
    -bonuses
    -health care
    -overtime (if lucky and not working at Ubisoft)
    -steady pay
    -unemployment

    Voice Actors get
    -A check

    End of list.

    It seems you don’t know that art of negotiating, no one in the comments thus far seem to get it. You never, ever open with what you want. You are going to get negotiated down, period. You open with more than you want and some ridiculous demands that you ceed in the negotiation process so the other side feels like it has won. It’s one of the many strategies for negotiating.

    As for they want royalties and that’s scummy let us review again.
    Who gets royalties
    Actors
    Voice actors in animated films
    Voice actors in anime
    Musicians
    Writers when applicable

    Who doesn’t get royalties
    Video Game Voice Actors

    You see when everyone else in your field is getting royalties for their work and you’re not even getting healthcare, that’s going to be something you want.

    • Sure, but actors in animated films, musical artists and actors in live-action movies help actually bring the movies to life. They’re an integral part of those productions. A lot of people go to see certain films, Broadway plays or even animated flicks because of their favorite favorite actors… they’re needed for those.

      That’s one of the big differences here: VAs in video games aren’t needed. There are barely a handful of games where they’re absolutely integral for the gaming experience. They’re essentially negotiating based on the quality of those rare gaming productions that rely heavily on the actor’s performance. But as Witlin pointed out, they barely make up a fraction of most games out there.

      Speaking of the art of negotiating… SAG has nothing to negotiate with.

      • FlamingoJet

        This is so insulting, idk what to do.

      • Conner Garry Sennett

        That’s really insulting. http://www.gameactorsforall.com/

        • So you agree SAG has nothing to negotiate with but are offended that what I said was insulting. How does that change SAG having nothing to negotiate with?

          • corsair82

            I don’t think he’s actually agreeing with you on anything. That’s totally not how I read his comment.

            Pro-tip: just because someone doesn’t address every part of your argument doesn’t mean they agree with it. Assuming agreement on unaddressed points is both asinine (that part’s my opinion) and fallacious (that part is fact).

          • The agreement comes from the lack of rebuttal. If he didn’t agree he would have said so since SAG’s negotiating skills is directly predicated on whether or not voice actors are needed in games. The crux of the previous comment hinges on SAG’s negotiating skills based on the relative need of VAs in games.

            Given that you also have no rebuttal for that statement, I’m going to assume you also agree that SAG has nothing to negotiate with?

      • corsair82

        Just because *you* skip through the cut-scenes and/or play with the game volume turned down and/or don’t care about the voice-acting doesn’t mean everyone else does.

        Regardless of why you don’t appreciate video game voice actors, your logic here is flawed. VAs in commercials and Actors in TV commercials get residuals, so why on Earth should a VA in a video game not get the same deal a VA in a 30 second commercial gets?

        And seriously “aren’t needed” is a really douchey thing to say about what someone does for a living.

        Given modern technology, from a pure efficiency standpoint, my profession as a bartender is not “needed.” I could theoretically be replaced with a self-serve machine tomorrow. We already do this with canned soda. Yet no one comes to my bar and tells me I’m “not needed”. That would just be rude and mean.

        • Given modern technology, from a pure efficiency standpoint, my profession as a bartender is not “needed.”

          First of all, hot bartenders will always be needed. No amount of chrome will make a machine shiny enough to replace the appeal of a hot bartender. If you’re not a hot bartender? Then sure, technology needs to replace you.

          Yet no one comes to my bar and tells me I’m “not needed”. That would just be rude and mean.

          Well apparently they like you. Take it as a compliment, ace.

          VAs in commercials and Actors in TV commercials get residuals, so why on Earth should a VA in a video game not get the same deal a VA in a 30 second commercial gets?

          Because Morgan Freeman or Samuel L. Jackson in a 30 second spot is easily recognizable. How many VAs can you name in a 30 second spot for the last big AAA title? I’ll wait while you try to scour the internet for an answer, Kojak.

          And seriously “aren’t needed” is a really douchey thing to say about what someone does for a living.

          I’ve been playing games way before VAs were a thing. They weren’t needed then and they aren’t needed now. I’m still willing to pay money for games without VAs. Is it a douchey thing to say? If you’re a VA, sure. But it’s my money and that’s how I feel about spending it.

          • corsair82

            My roommate when I lived in LA was in a commercial. He’s not anyone famous and yet gets residuals.

            And your opinion that VAs aren’t necessary to *your* gaming experience is just that: an opinion. I’ve been gaming since Mario Brothers on NES and I love a game with good voice-acting. That’s my opinion.

            What you’re doing wrong here is assuming that yours is the only correct one and the one that should determine how the world of video games should be run. There are plenty of gamers like me who appreciate elements of a game that are purely aesthetic.

            I get you don’t care about the aesthetic with regards to voice-acting. That doesn’t make voice actors “not needed.” I stay with games and buy more DLC if I like the aesthetic (as well as the gameplay and other factors). From the studio’s perspective, voice-actors are definitely needed if they’re trying to appeal to people like me. Which they clearly are, since a great many games today have quite a bit of voice-acting in them.

          • I get you don’t care about the aesthetic with regards to voice-acting.

            It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that relative to the production funds needed to bring a game to life, VAs are always going to be extremely low on the totem pole. The only thing lower is marketing.

            I would prefer budgets get curtailed on both Hollywood VAs and marketing, so that they can focus more on making fun and engaging games, something that seems to have disappeared from the gaming industry these days.

    • LurkerJK

      Developers make the product, they are highly trained, specialized and they cannot be easily replaced

      Voice actors talk to a microphone and, while experience and training affect quality, they can be replaced by anyone

      they are not worth the same and i have never heard of developers getting royalties either, in fact in many companies they are treated almost like well paid slaves

      • YoungZer0

        “they cannot be easily replaced”

        That’s not true. They are being constantly replaced.

        • LurkerJK

          sure but by other qualified people not by “anyone” you could literally go out to the street and get a voice actor replacement

          • Phasmatis75

            Yeah just like you can go and get another Clint Eastwood. They’re practically walking around everywhere.

          • LurkerJK

            Why would you need Clint Eastwood to record lines about Jill sandwiches?

      • corsair82

        “Voice actors talk to a microphone, its a low training job not a specialized job. While experience affects quality, they can be replaced by anyone. They are not worth the same.”

        Uh, yeah. Except that’s not how voice-acting works. They *do* require training and experience to perfect their craft. As someone with some theatre training, on stage the tone and pitch and volume and inflection of your lines is very important. Those skills are even MORE important when you’re delivering lines into a microphone.

        There’s room for legitimate criticism of the union’s tactics here. But that isn’t accomplished by insulting the entire profession of voice-acting. Also: you should know at least a little about what you’re talking about, especially when offering criticism. It is glaringly evident that you know nothing about voice-acting or even acting in general.

        • LurkerJK

          So you are seriously comparing a stem career with voice actor training ? Those two did not invest the same amount of time and money to get there

      • Phasmatis75

        No games are not made by highly trained and specialized developers. I think you’re really deifying game developers here. A lot of them are not that great at what they do.

        Take Bethesda for instance. Just about everyone else is better at using their engine then they are. Modders are able to better patch their games, able to create better content that actually works, and able to write better lore. A lot of developers don’t even know how to optimize their code, while amateur developers are condensing their codes and getting it to work more efficiently.

        Some developers are really good, not all. Just like some artists are really good, or engineers or architects. Not everyone is exceptional. You also can take free courses online or buy a book on programming and learn how to do it yourself.

        • LurkerJK

          Lol, you can take courses online, this is the dunning Kruger effect talking, you know nothing about programming and you underestimate the difficulty and time required

          • Phasmatis75

            I actually know the basics of C#, know how to use Monodeveloper, ect.

            Also anyone that knows what they’re doing will tell you can buy a book on the subject and with practice be able to it within a month. It takes years of honing your craft to be come great.

          • FlamingoJet

            The only difference between a professional and an amateur is time, money, and knowledge available.

  • C G Saturation

    I don’t have much to say about this as I can’t stand most English-speaking voice actors/actresses. They tend to sound really annoying and melodramatic, emphasize the wrong words, etc. Almost like they think the character and story are nothing without being graced by their brilliant magnificence.

    Anyway, that’s just me.

    I know that voice acting is a big thing in Japan, but I’m not sure how their system handles it. The West should be doing whatever Japan’s doing because it seems to work well for them.

  • anopolis

    I just love unions and guilds…..they protect the weak, sorry, stupid, and lazy. how many businesses have gone under because of these things? look at detroit. yet we refuse to learn anything. without these games their particular skill set would mean shit,. a parasite shouldn’t kill its host

    • Phasmatis75

      Do you know why unions exist? Because businesses collude to maintain industry standards. In away so bad Theodore Roosevelt created the minimal wage to stop them from paying their workers nothing.

      If you want to know why they’re so scumming now, look into leftists infiltrating them, and the FBI infiltrating them. Collective bargaining is necessary against industries that have zero interest in treating any of their employees with dignity and respect.

      • anopolis

        I’m from coal mining town usa buddy…I know everything there is to know about unions. Those guys used to strike for YEARS at a time…and yes, at one point the unions were needed, no doubt of that. but not anymore. companies couldn’t get away with it..they do it now by having some poor kids across the pond make things for little to nothing. Were Ipads or whatever else made here in the USA..the cost might go up a schoosh…businesses are the bad guy/the government is the bad guy…nope…WE are the bad guy…both of them get turned into evil because of people..greedy stupid people.

        • Phasmatis75

          1) If an Ipad were made in America it would cost just over a hundred dollars more in manufacturing. About what they’d save on shipping costs. The price would remain the same.

          The reason they are not made in America is Apple doesn’t like paying taxes. Like the 58 Billion dollars they owe, but got out of by becoming an Irish Company. There are also a lot of anti competition regulations in America that make opening new factors a pain.

          2) Video game companies in America are getting away with practices that are technically felonies because they collude together in hiring. Anyone who rocks the boat will not be able to find another job in a top company. This is also illegal. You should also read the book: In Restraint of Trade, it details how corporations and businesses collude together to set practices and standards at the expense of the consumer and worker.

          3) I never said all unions were good. A lot of them are rotten anti business parasites. Those need to go.

  • Reaper of Salt

    As long as Ashley Burch doesn’t come back then I’m good.

  • Migi

    Only thing that might happen in the long run if this goes through more non-union english voice actors and then at a certain point the marekt get’s saturated and collapses in pay meaning barely anybody wants to do it cause there isen’t much profit with a small market with too many voice actors.

  • ScarredBushido

    i find the royalties part very scummy. this might lead to more VA breaking through and japanese dubs when it comes to JRPG’s. i guess this strike was the reason – thank fuck – that troy baker isn’t going to be in Persona 5.

    • Mr Snow

      I liked him until I met him in person. And then I read about the shit he did. Him and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn just shit on the original voice cast of Silent Hill 2 when they were attached to the rerelease.

      And honestly, tired of hearing him. Him and Steven J Blum are two VA’s that just jar me out of immersion because their voices are so recognizable.

      But his attitude is not great.

      • C G Saturation

        Yeah, I cannot ever forgive Troy Baker for that bullshit he pulled on Silent Hill 2. McGlynn is devilspawn, too.