Voice actors within the Gaming community are uniting and taking a stand against at least 11 (if not more) video game publishers, with some heavy weights such as Electronic Arts Productions, Insomniac Games, Activision, Disney and more.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is the union representing or forcing voice actors into this strike until negotiations are met. The result of a merge of two organizations on March 30, 2012, SAG-AFTRA (claiming around 150,00 active members as of 2014) is fighting for a more updated contract for voice actors, a contract that was drafted in the mid 90’s. If you can remember, not many video games had extremely in-depth voice acting, and in many cases game producers or developers did the sound effects needed. So as you can imagine the rules and regulations may be a bit outdated considering the vocal ranges we hear within the thousands of games that have released. Before the merge, both the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists attempted something similar around 2005, but both negotiated separately to video game producers since they were different Unions at that time. Ultimately if one Union tried to negotiate anything outside of what the video game producer wanted, they could simply take their work to the other Union without question. Once they formed together, that became a different situation.
After 19 months of negotiations that have yielded no success, the strike was initated at 3:01 a.m. on October 21, 2016.
So why would Voice Actors go on strike? Well, there is a bit more than that meets the eye when it comes down to it. Key items being discussed are:
- Shared Prosperity – Typical voice actors receive around $800+ for a 4 hour vocal session. The negotiations are asking for performance bonuses after a game reaches 2 million units sold or reaches 2 million unique subscribers (with the levels reaching 4 million, 6 million and then capping at 8 million). Often misrepresented at residuals, the difference being that SAG-AFTRA isn’t seeking royalties or payments for every game sold, they are trying to iron out a plan that will offer a full day’s compensation and then a percentage of it once the total amount of sales reach more than 2 million units sold. This is the biggest issue of concern, triggering a response that if they warrant more pay, then why doesn’t the entire team such as the developers putting in weeks and months into a game?
- Transparency – A common issue among voice actors has been being kept in the dark about what parts they are voice acting for. Without knowledge of the role that they are playing, they could potentially represent or become the face of an image they may not want to be particularly, or be given an unrealistic idea of the vocal stress of the job. For instance you could be told it was an audition for X and you would imagine it wasn’t very stressful vocally, but at the time of recording you are told it’s mostly yelling roles. An artist that is difficult to work with in the recording booth is easily replaced, so it’s a bitter dog eat dog world. SAG-AFTRA is seeking to have broader explanations of the roles as well as knowledge of the role upon booking. While it is understandable that video game producers are weary of potential leaks, the voice actor already has to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (aka confidentiality agreement). So it would more or less just be a token of good gesture to allow the actor to know what role they are portraying. This also allows for better terms of negotiations for pay as well.
- Notification of Vocal Stress – Transparency actually goes hand in hand with Vocal Stress, as the voice actors are able to see what vocal ranges are needed and therefore, agents are able to negotiate accordingly. With many typical games having around 4 hour long vocal sessions, and saving the last 15 minutes of the session for the testing parts, the area for vocal injuries widens once that 15 minute threshold is crossed. By injuries we are talking vocal strain, bleeding from the throat and even vocal cord nodules. Voice actors are seeking a maximum of 2 hours long in the vocal booth with the pay of a full day’s work for any type of strenuous vocal strain such as battle screams, death grunts and more that fill the full-time frame. This may seem off the wall, but if you think about screaming lines for 4 hours straight, you could be causing some major damage and in that area of work, that can be bad news.
- Stunt Coordinators – With many action based games, voice actors are donning the motion capture suits and recording stunts without the proper coordinators in place to make sure it’s safe. With more calmer games, the need for coordinators obviously would be low or non existent. But for war games, action games and etc. SAG-AFTRA is asking to have stunt coordinators be present, which is common practice for other grounds of media such as movies and television shows.
Big titles and other games that went into production after February 17 could potentially be affected by this strike. Titles such as the long-awaited Crash Bandicoot Remaster, Injustice 2, several code-named projects that are hinted towards a new Spider-Man game and much more. To be a part of the union you must take several auditions that are union based and must sign a disclosure to say you understand they are union based. After a set amount of jobs (around 3) you are forced into the union and after that you are not allowed to take non-union jobs anymore called “off the card”.
The union also has come up with a low-budget contract to work with independent developers to work with union actors. With the gears turning, are we going to see big backlash from game publishers? Unfortunately many game developers do not have the power nor the capability to voice their opinions such as SAG-AFTRA has. The gaming industry, as mentioned before, is a dog-eat-dog world and until game developers can develop a union or alliance to stand together to make their voice more powerful, change will be hard. Shared prosperity should be considered for all entities of the game that went into creating it. With many developers sleeping under their desks in order to crunch to complete a game, I am sure there is anger within that community that their well-being isn’t being as strongly represented as the voice actors with SAG-AFTRA have been. Which is why many union members are hoping this will be the start of a wild-fire that helps everyone.
#PerformanceMatters is the hashtag representing this strike, if you are interested in the full list of game publishers and games on hold (what they will reveal at least) be sure to visit this link!