Why The Video Game Voice Actor Strike Is Utterly Silly

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.


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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.

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