Major VIdeogame Voice Actors Union Considers Strike With #PreformanceMatters Campaign

Jan 5, 2012
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The #PerformanceMatters hashtag has been gaining steam on Twitter today, with several prominent voice over actors (belonging to SGA-AFTRA, a division of the Screen Actor's Guild) in the gaming industry voting to initiate a potential strike. This is in the effort of contract negotiations, where many VO artists are looking to earn more compensation for their craft.

@KenLally
Game industry makes 3 TIMES as much annual $ as the Hollywood film industry. Actors don't :( #PerformanceMatters
@GreyDeLisle
Just voted YES on an Interactive Strike Authorization!!!! #PERFORMANCEMATTERS
#iamonboard2015
@DavidBHayter
Dear actors & gamers,

Please retweet if you agree that #PerformanceMatters in video games.

#IAmOnBoard2015
Here's a quick rundown of what SGA-AFTRA is looking for, from the guild's website.


What We Stand For
SAG-AFTRAʼs package of proposals has been crafted with input from interactive performers every step of the way. We started with one-on-one meetings with the top performers in the industry. Then we held dozens of small in-home gatherings, organized three big social events and had a Wages and Working Conditions caucus. Below are the issues that came up time and time again. These are the four issues that make up the bulk of our proposal package.
Performance Bonuses

You might call them residuals, secondary payments, royalties, pay bumps or whatever suits your fancy. It is simply the idea that, if a video game is wildly successful, actors should share in its financial success. There is ample precedent for residual income for actors, yet they’ve historically been extremely difficult to achieve in this contract. The formula we propose is as follows:
We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/ subscribers. That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR bonus payments for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.
Vocal Stress

We believe actors should get stunt pay for vocally stressful recording sessions the same way they get stunt pay for physically demanding roles. That’s why we’re proposing to limit “vocally stressful” recording sessions to two hours at the same union minimums.
Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume

Many actors feel unsafe without a stunt coordinator because they are often asked to do things that could potentially be dangerous to themselves or others. For example, once, without a stunt coordinator on set, a video game developer tried to do a wire pull - which means he basically made himself jerk really hard and fast across a room - without someone on set to monitor his safety. He, of course, got hurt and couldn’t go back to work for a long while. This is just one instance among many.
Transparency

Our proposal is that we need to know more about the projects that we’re working on. We propose that the actual title of the project should be made available to at least our representatives before we are asked to audition. Again, precedent is on our side here. You wouldn’t work on a TV show, commercial or film without knowing what part you’re playing and how it fits into the story, yet we are asked over and over again to do just that in interactive media. Our proposal also asks for the following information whenever reasonably possible: How many sessions are you expecting to book? What rating are you planning to get? Why? Is there offensive content? Will the sessions be vocally stressful? Transparency is key. We deserve to clearly know what we’re getting into before we commit to a role in a game.
Your Interactive Committee has worked hard to bring the concerns of working video game performers to the negotiating table.
On Feb. 2, a group of video game performers and video game producers met to renegotiate the Interactive Media Agreement.
Some of the folks in the room were big hitters and signatories to the existing contract, including EA Games, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros., as well as smaller recording studios like Blindlight and Formosa. We put our proposals on the table, they put their proposals on the table, there was some polite and spirited back and forth, but no agreement was reached.
Both sides met again on June 23. Still, no agreement was reached.
According to SAG-AFTRA, here are some of the proposals that their employers have put forward that they find "reckless and ill-advised"

  • Our employers propose 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 propose to fine your agent $50,000-100,000 if they don't send you out on certain auditions (like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour One Voice sessions). And if your agent chooses not to submit you for certain auditions, the employers want it put into contract language that SAG-AFTRA will revoke the agent’s union franchise. This would mean your agency would not be able to send you or anyone else they represent out on any union jobs, including those in animation, TV/Film, Commercials, etc.
  • Our employers don’t believe that Motion and Performance Capture work is covered under this contract. The companies also proposed they be allowed to hire their own employees to play characters in video games without having to join the union.
  • There are other proposals that reduce integration/reuse fees and allow the sunset of Cloud Gaming provisions that rollback the gains we’ve made in previous contracts.
SAG-AFTRA has also posted an FAQ detailing the potential strike.

HAVEN'T WE PUT OURSELVES IN THIS POSITION BY ASKING FOR BACKEND BONUS?

Over and over, interactive performers have identified of a backend bonus as a top concern. There is ample precedent for secondary payments across the media landscape. You get secondary payments when you perform in feature films, animation, episodic TV, commercials and the like. But that wasn't always the case. Performers who came before you had the courage to fight for the residual payments you enjoy today, and, because they stood together, they won them.
The top games make money. This industry has grown, boomed and morphed into something bigger and lucrative than any other segment of the entertainment industry, and it continues to do so. The truth is, back end bonuses are not uncommon in the video game industry. Last year, Activision's COO took home a bonus of $3,970,862. EA paid their executive chairman a bonus of $1.5 million. We applaud their success, and we believe our talent and contributions are worth a bonus payment, too.
AREN’T THEY JUST TRYING TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR BUDGETS?

Sure. Most of the smaller and less popular games won’t be affected by the residuals payment. We structured our proposal to trigger at 2 million units, the point we would regard a game as a blockbuster. We want the video game industry to keep growing. Growth = More work for us! As for the big games, we know the companies already budget for sales-based bonuses for many of their employees. So maybe the companies are trying to protect the budgets for their top executive bonuses, but is it not reasonable to suggest that performers should also share in these successes?
CAN I WORK ON A VIDEO GAME DURING THE STRIKE?

No. You will not be able to work under the interactive contract while the strike is in effect. But please know, the community would only decide to strike if the short-term risk of loss-of-work is outweighed by the long-term gain of a better contract in a growing industry.


It's a very interesting issue. The contract being negotiated was initially drafted in 1990, and hasn't seen major revision since then. The union is clearly under the impression that they're being under-compensated for their work, as gaming as extended into a major industry. A strike is entirely possible, and the ripple effects could bleed into the consumer perspective. The votes won't be tallied until October 5th, so there's some time before we know the outcome of this campaign.




TL;DR - Division of the Screen Actors Guild that represents Gaming VO actors wants a new contract, some major publishers disagree, a strike could be imminent as soon as next month.
 
May 4, 2014
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Support unions.

Good luck to them. The games industry needs more unionization for all walks of employees, especially code monkeys and "expendable" studio employees. Hopefully this will be a good push for better benefits and regulation for the ethical treatment of talent.
 
Nov 4, 2012
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Using a variation of the Black Lives Matters slogan seems... awkward.
First thing I noticed, too. Maybe it's accidental? I hope it is.

Will this pave way for a return of shitty, yet hilariously charming bad voice acting?


Starting to feel nostalgic for the video game voice acting from the '90s. ;)
Not going to lie, I'd probably be happy if that happened.
 
J

Jotamide

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Get Troy Baker on board and you can put on hold the work of 50% of all AAA games
 
Jan 19, 2013
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Some part of me wants to make a joke about this union's only two members being Tara Strong, and Troy Baker... but I have too much respect for SAG, SWG, etc... :p

However, unlike film, the video-game industry is so much more of a collaborative one. Yes we have an absolutely tiny selection of "name brand" game directors, but both internally and externally it is an industry far more mindful of a game being the sum-total of many different people with very diverse, but equally valuable skill-sets.

A game will rarely sell any better because a "name brand" VA is cast, or if they slapped their names on the cover, and as such, I don't see why selectively they would want to be paid that much more than Coder #2, Scripter #7, or QA guy #15, whose contributions all mattered as much to the end experience.
 
Mar 21, 2005
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After what happened to Guy Cihi I'm surprised it took this long for a voice actor's union to start banging the drum on the generally poor treatment of contracted talent.
I still remember the people shamelessly defending Konami on that and claiming Cihi was just being greedy. As he wasn't well known (nor a 'career' video game VA), he took a ton of shit for his stand.
 
Mar 12, 2015
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I hope they get what they're asking for. It all seems perfectly reasonable, as opposed to what the publishers were trying to do ($2500 fines and other messed up shit).
 
Sep 26, 2014
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Well, this sucks. Hopefully both sides work it out. But... hopefully this means new talent steps forward to make good use of this strike.

Personally I think actors get paid too much, but I understand their needs. Some of the fines they can get are disgusting, but that's gonna happen if you are workin on AAA, deadlines MUST be met. It can be a ball ache to have an actor moaning at you when you are stripped for deadline on more important matters, especially when you've shed a bucket load for them and that you've had to work around their schedule. When ever I need voice talent, I always look for new talent before I even consider high price people.

What I do agree on is the need for Stunt Supervisors and the like. I've seen so many questionably safe things happen on a mo-cap set.
 
Jun 10, 2012
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Will this pave way for a return of shitty, yet hilariously charming bad voice acting?


Starting to feel nostalgic for the video game voice acting from the '90s. ;)
Honestly...I hope so.

I understand and respect their plight, but to be honest I don't really give a shit who voices my videogames. A classic game can still be a classic game with a bad vocal performance. A classic film cannot be a classic film with a bad actors performance.

They cite Activision and EA figureheads in their argument, which is interesting because in their biggest franchises you could get a badger on LSD to do the voice performance and no-one would care.

Still, godspeed I guess. Fight the power. They want a fair share so go for it
 

Pie and Beans

Look for me on the local news, I'll be the guy arrested for trying to burn down a Nintendo exec's house.
Apr 23, 2010
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Some part of me wants to make a joke about this union's only two members being Tara Strong, and Troy Baker... but I have too much respect for SAG, SWG, etc... :p

However, unlike film, the video-game industry is so much more of a collaborative one. Yes we have an absolutely tiny selection of "name brand" game directors, but both internally and externally it is an industry far more mindful of a game being the sum-total of many different people with very diverse, but equally valuable skill-sets.

A game will rarely sell any better because a "name brand" VA is cast, or if they slapped their names on the cover, and as such, I don't see why selectively they would want to be paid that much more than Coder #2, Scripter #7, or QA guy #15, whose contributions all mattered as much to the end experience.
Yeah, this seems to really skew what VA's think their importance level is when compared to TV and film. I guess because likenesses have started to be copied more they feel their faces are more present as "selling points", but people aren't buying games because of the 'actors' yet. Gameplay, graphics and more are still king, and the guys and gals behind that are in on that production train for 3-4 years and not exactly becoming jewel encrusted goldbeasts and copping royalties (which is why I'm always fuzzy on 15 years later re-releases and remasters of stuff from publishers as I know the original team aint seeing a cent).

I have more respect for the Japanese VA industry where it is much more of a widespread craft due to the anime bleed-in. Very rarely am I wowed by a western cast other than perhaps Naughty Dog efforts.
 
Sep 15, 2009
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Some part of me wants to make a joke about this union's only two members being Tara Strong, and Troy Baker... but I have too much respect for SAG, SWG, etc... :p

However, unlike film, the video-game industry is so much more of a collaborative one. Yes we have an absolutely tiny selection of "name brand" game directors, but both internally and externally it is an industry far more mindful of a game being the sum-total of many different people with very diverse, but equally valuable skill-sets.

A game will rarely sell any better because a "name brand" VA is cast, or if they slapped their names on the cover, and as such, I don't see why selectively they would want to be paid that much more than Coder #2, Scripter #7, or QA guy #15, whose contributions all mattered as much to the end experience.
While I'm sort of with you, if you look at the film industry it's apparent why the voice actors would be the one to get union action going; they work on tons of projects a year while anyone else working at a single big studio is on a single project for years at a time. Those unfortunate souls are much less likely to going to be wanting to rattle the cage.
 
Oct 11, 2013
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So are they assuming that their voice acting is the difference between a game selling 1 million and 4 million copies? Arguing that the game industry makes more money than the film idustry is bullshit as movies often use their A-List talent to sell tickets, I don't think anyone has ever said "Oh, Troy Baker voices the lead? I'll give this a shot then."

Destiny The Taken King would have sold like hotcakes, yet North's ghost seems worse than the laughable dinklebot, he should get 4 bonuses for that?
 
Mar 17, 2013
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If anything I feel like videogames are one of the industries where performers are paid realistically.

Comparing your shit to Hollywood is a scarier concept to me. Why the hell these actors get paid such insane money is kind of a problem, in my opinion.
 
Sep 14, 2010
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It's actually ridiculous the VOs have a union, but the people making the games aren't allowed to make one.
So the VOs want bigger pay for a few hours work, while the guys actually making the games will be on the same shitty salary?
 
Feb 18, 2013
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idk man... this might be an unpopular opinion but I'm not really sure how much performance matters. Now of course I think that for some games (Uncharted, The Last of Us) performance matters greatly but how do you determine something like that excluding the obvious. I mean how much should the VOs of MGS5 get paid? I personally thought the gameplay was much more important than the VOs performances. Now they did well for sure but nothing compared to a naughty dog game... Point is how do you decide how much to pay someone? It's not as obvious as movies where a bad actor can completely ruin movie. idk, I feel bad cause I think VOs are definitely important
 
Feb 25, 2010
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Developers will move to cheaper amateur voices , we will return to the 3D0 /sega CD/ PC era where voice acting was lame.

That or games will cost $70.00 U.S. to cover new voice cost.
 
Mar 12, 2015
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Maybe this will lead to less voiced dialogue in games, and a return of more written text?
Impossible. Games are becoming more and more realistic, and proper acting/facial capture/motion capture is becoming more and more important. This union is standing on pretty solid ground. It's the publishers that are at a disadvantage, imo.