Video Game Voice Actors Now on Strike After Negotiations Fail

Nearly two years of negotiations failed.

162 Comments

[UPDATE] Representatives for the video game industry have now released a statement in the wake of the strike that began at 12:01 AM PT this morning.

"The Video Game Companies did everything in their power to reach agreement with union leaders, offering a money package almost identical to SAG-AFTRA's last demand," chief negotiator for the publishers, Scott Witlin, said. "We are greatly disappointed that SAG-AFTRA refuses to allow its members to have a democratic vote on our proposal and decide if the significant money on the table is acceptable to them. The strike is going to hurt the SAG-AFTRA performers that these Companies value."

"The strike will have little to no immediate impact on the ability of fans to buy and play the video games they love as the majority of upcoming games already are in production--and the union is not permitted to strike most of the games due to the nature of the 'No Strike Provisions' of the interactive media agreement," he added. "The sad part is that the very performers who these Companies value--and who are impacted by the union decision to strike--never got a chance to vote on the Companies' proposal."

The final offer from the video game industry was an immediate 9 percent wage hike and "additional compensation" of up to $950 per game depending on the number of sessions a performer worked on a game.

"We value our performers and their dedication," Witlin said. "Many of the Companies and people on our committee are the best evangelists for the use of SAG-AFTRA members in this industry. It is unfortunate that SAG-AFTRA rushed into a strike that will immediately and directly take money out of their members' pockets."

The original story is below.

Some video game voice actors are now on strike, after nearly two years of negotiations between the SAG-AFTRA union and publishers failed. The strike took effect today at 12:01 AM PT.

As announced previously, the SAG-AFTRA union has asked its members to strike some of the biggest publishers in gaming, including Activision, EA, Take-Two, Insomniac Games, and WB Games (see a full list here). According to the union, the strike covers all games from these companies that went into production after February 17, 2015.

No Caption Provided

Additionally, SAG-AFTRA said some of its members will picket EA's Playa Visa, California office at 10:30 AM PT this coming Monday, October 24.

SAG-AFTRA says that its package of proposals is "not loaded with any crazy demands." Several prominent voice actors have spoken out in support of authorizing a strike, including Roger Craig Smith (Batman, Assassin's Creed), Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect, Guild Wars), and actor Wil Wheaton. According to Deadline, only about 25 percent of video games use union voice actors. This is the first strike in the history of video game performers.

According to the union, the gaming industry refuses to offer residual payment bonuses and other profit-sharing opportunities. Specifically, SAG-AFTRA asked that its performers receive an additional "full-scale payment" for every 500,000 units sold, for a maximum of four secondary payments if a game sells 2 million copies, Deadline reported. Additionally, the union claims that the industry has denied a proposal that would reduce the recording time for "vocally stressful" sessions to two hours to help prevent an actor from damaging their voice.

In a statement Thursday evening, SAG-AFTRA didn't mince words when talking about the negotiations and the residuals in particular.

"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," it said.

"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," it added. "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.

"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."

According to the video game publishers, it offered a 9 percent wage hike as part of the negotiations. Additionally, they offered additional compensation of up to $950 per game based on the number of voice acting sessions an actor did on a particular game. With the wage hike, this package could apparently lead to a 23 percent increase in pay for some actors.

As it stands, video game voice actors represented by SAG-AFTRA are paid at least $100/hour, plus benefits. Another proposal put forth in the negotiations would allow publishers to fine SAG-AFTRA "tens of thousands of dollars" if an approved agent is not involved with every audition for their client. The industry also reportedly wants a provision that would allow them to fine actors $1,000 or more if they show up late to work or are deemed to be not fully participating in a recording session.

According to SAG-AFTRA, the union would also like to see the gaming industry loosen up on some of its secrecy rules. As it stands, according to SAG-AFTRA, an actor sometimes does not even know the game he or she is auditioning for, which it argues is not fair.

"We had hoped this would be successful, but union leadership left mediation without providing a counteroffer," the lawyer representing the video game industry, Scott Witlin, said in a statement. "We urged union leaders to put the package to a vote of their membership, but union leaders refused."

"We value our performers and their dedication," he added. "The union has demanded a contingency fee based upon number of games sold or subscribers. Instead of that, we are offering to immediately reward the hard work of performers through this accelerated raise and additional compensation package."

Another thing to note that is the "majority" of upcoming games already in production will not be affected by the SAG-AFTRA strike, according to the industry, because of an existing "No Strike Provision" of the collective bargaining agreement.

Keep checking back with GameSpot for more.

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Avatar image for ryanvandam
ryanvandam

Vocally stressful sessions...?

Primadonnas...

Avatar image for deactivated-5ad5af79a96e8

Couldn't care less. Go back to text based dialogue, get rid of the voice actors and we can all utilise our imaginations. Very rarely is voice acting in video games done well. And in games like Fallout 4 having voice actors for the main protagonists even limited the options available within the game. They start demanding more money etc, that is only going to be put back on the consumer and video game prices will increase. Developers/Studios etc will not absorb the cost.

Avatar image for Stedmister
Stedmister

I meet alot of VA actors, and it's not all puppies and rainbows, work can go on for months, and then abruptly stop. I work in film myself, and it's super hard for anyone to get in, I worked on 4 productions since I first started in the industry 4 years ago, so unless your in high demand, making a decent living is almost impossible, alot of actors take second jobs, just to make ends meet, which are mostly minimum wage, sad but true.

Avatar image for Shantmaster_K
Shantmaster_K

I'll take their spot.

Avatar image for frank_castle
Frank_Castle

LOL

The vast majority of voice acting in videogames is fucking dreadful.

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@frank_castle: Really? The majority of major releases have voice acting that's perfectly on par with what would pass for acceptable by the standards of film. Take a recent game release, chances are it meets that standard.

And that's been true for almost 10 years now (poor voice acting in natively English-written games hasn't been a trend since the late PS2 era).

Avatar image for nintendians
nintendians

i could only see this happening on company that use voice actor alot on the game for characters that speaks often.

Avatar image for Sushiglutton
Sushiglutton

I guess with the voiceactors gone companies gonna have to focus on gameplay. Such a shame.

Avatar image for hystavito
hystavito

@Sushiglutton: :)

Avatar image for PrpleTrtleBuBum
PrpleTrtleBuBum

Good, they need new voice actors. The biggest immersion killer of games in this era is that in a new game entry all the characters sound like Shepard, Wolverine, Kain, Nathan, Ezio, Harley... The world might look outstanding and the characters fresh, but then they open their mouth and all memories flow right back.

The same is sort of true in movies, but managing physical and vocal acting in front of a camera is a different thing, plus those people certainly have a real status. World would be weird if Clooney or Damon were allowed to star only in a movie or two and their other star roles would have been given to some random rookies. Like said many times before, potentialwise movies and tv shows are much more limited than games so we kinda have to accept that not just anyone can put himself in front of camera and make the movie watchable. When you see Aniston you expect her to sound like Aniston, but when I see the new star of a new game he/she usually looks totally different and it's jarring to hear she is voiced by "Femshep"

The other option is that voice actors actually learn to voice act. Hamill is one of the few who was able to change his voice to make characters different. Or look at The Muppets or The Simpsons, where about 5 people voice dozens of characters. That's the sort of skill and devotion that game voice actors in general need

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: The range evidenced by the actors is clear to see when examining their portfolios: they are perfectly capable of range. Listen to Charlie from Binary Domain and Joel in The Last of Us and tell me they sound even remotely similar.

The reason, I suspect, that many characters sound the same is because so many characters are written generically, and expected to be voiced generically as a result, leaving most actors just using their regular voice, or something close to it. But that's on the publisher and developer (for going out of their way to target the mass market with mass marketable generic characters), not the actors.

Videogame voice actors do have the skills and devotion you claim they don't: not least because many of them also double as actors for commercials, animated features and cartoon series too. But not all voice actors are able to work within the restrictions specific to videogames.

Avatar image for skrilla99
skrilla99

@PrpleTrtleBuBum: JD in Gears 4 sounds exactly like Nathan Drake. Go figure.

Avatar image for PS2fweak
PS2fweak

This is a strange aspect of the video game industry. I love good acting/voice acting in games, but as a gamer, it's never been at the same level as my love of good acting in film. I simply don't care enough about that aspect when I'm playing a game. I cared more when I played games like GTA III - SA, but those were bigger Hollywood actors who I already loved for roles they've done elsewhere.

What I'm getting at is Rockstar Games stopped using actors at that level for many reasons, like pay, scheduling, "fame", etc. Bigger actors mean bigger headaches. We love certain video game actors who do a great job. The problem is if they start acting like they're at a higher level than they are, what would stop developers/publishers from just going with the bigger Hollywood actors? Being honest, I would rather have more seasoned actors doing roles in games. I just don't know what leverage video game actors currently have. I hate to say it, but the ONLY reason they're getting the amount of work they're getting is because they're easier to work with than actors who require more pay and more consideration of their schedules.

If everything balances out more, many video game actors will just be considered as lesser actors who expect just as much as better actors. I always thought they were in a really good place right now, but I guess I never considered how little impact the success of a game has on the actors who voiced the characters. It's just a fucked up situation, because I think the video game industry basically opened up a door for actors who couldn't get much quality work elsewhere. It just seems like they're overestimating their value and that's something that seems to happen all the time at different positions in the industry. There is always someone who can take your place. It's just the reality of the video game industry. If you're not the mind behind the game, everybody else can be replaced with someone else who can fill whatever role is required.

Avatar image for musalala
musalala

lol Voice actors smoking crack , they think they are on par with Hollywood actors. Not many people buy a game because a voice actor, is in it, they have next to no leverage.

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

These guys have no idea how lucky they are to even have their jobs. Before CD Roms took off, games had significantly less storage space. As a result, audio took a back seat to actual game play. Games can be made without them. If CD Roms didn't take off, we might still be playing on cartridges with less storage space for a while.

Avatar image for Stinger78
Stinger78

I'll be a voice actor for half the cost. Save some money.

Avatar image for DesertLynx83
DesertLynx83

It isn't going to impact anything I'm getting in the near future and likely won't last long enough to cause an issue...so not bothered. Still, fighting over money always sucks.

Avatar image for gamingdevil800
gamingdevil800

Way I see it those who are currently under contract will have to finish their VA work unless they want to be sued. And the gaming industry will hire more people from outside this organisation.

Avatar image for Khasym
Khasym

@gamingdevil800: Easier said than done. A lot of the voice actors that went on strike, are the ones the gaming industry repeatedly calls up in place of other talent. It's part of the problem. Some talent is worked over and over, while people trying to get in, are shut out because they don't have the experience.

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@Khasym: Actually this can be good for new comers. If the old timers aren't going to work, newer folks can finally get the chance to step up to the plate and maybe even replace them. Option B would be to eliminate voice acting from games for a while and go old school so these people can see they aren't needed for games.

Avatar image for TexasStuBaby
TexasStuBaby

A lot of people here are saying it doesn't matter, just hire other actors. You may not think now that voice acting is that big of a deal in games, but wait until a game is released with horrible voice acting. It really does make a difference.

Avatar image for deactivated-5ad5af79a96e8

@TexasStuBaby: Majority of games have horrible voice acting. Even games that I liked, Metal Gear for example, it was cheesy and pathetic. But suited the game. Hence when they changed the voice actor for the last game, it came across as they were just trying too hard and would have been better staying cheesy and pathetic.

Not many games have good voice acting and even less have excellent examples overall. One or two actors might stand out in a game, and they are the normally more experienced actors who tend to do more acting than just voice acting. The only game I can think of where everybody I thought gave a solid performance was The Last of Us. But in a lot of games the script sucks anyway because the writers are useless. Go back to text based dialogue we wouldn't really miss voice acting. Let the developers concentrate of the games.

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@TexasStuBaby: I've played a number of games with minimal voice acting. Some of them were actually pretty good. Example, Earthbound for SNES.

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@Jinzo_111887: That game is really old. Voice acting wasn't really an option back then, nor is going full text for many modern games.

Voice actors are important because without a consistent actor playing a role you can't build a convincing franchise that's built to last. This is something Japan understands (and Japan had good voice acting well before western games did because of the shared talent with the anime industry), which is why its actors play the roles of characters for life.

People won't come to like characters and buy into the fandom of the game (which extends to merchandise) if the voice actors keep shuffling. Heck, even games like MGS only got away with it because they replaced the actor once... at the end. It would have been a different story if the actor was replaced with every single game.

Avatar image for starjay009
starjay009

I think Naughty Dog should make LAST OF US based on the current plight and agony of the VAs lol.

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@starjay009: eww i provide a integral service to games......you must strike with us.....why??? cus we said so.....okay sir......*strikes*

*the last free voice actor* this is stupid.....look at these morons, more money for me I guess *rolls around on his giant stack of cash*

moral? don't shoot yourself in the foot.......

Avatar image for deactivated-5ab3d29749ec4

You can make a case for both sides whether or not good voice acting is important to video games i honestly can't think of a game where despite it being good the voice acting was just so bad it made me hate it

Animation very different i can think of a lot of DC animated movies with somewhat decent stories that just are completely ruined by awful voice acting

There's really not a whole lot of key VA who should get paid more not entirely sure if the big guys like Troy Baker Nolan North and so on are in this union or not or what they get paid but if it's only this 100 dollars an hour yes those big guys should get paid big pucks and they probably do but to say every voice actor in this union should get paid more that's a big hell no from me because after the main character and maybe 3-4 others you could probably cast the rest of the voices with people off the street

Maybe this explains the remaster excess we have had the last few years hope this gets figured out eventually

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@ratchet989: 'you could probably cast the rest of the voices with people off the street'

No, you can't. And you shouldn't. That kind of cost cutting measure gets busted immediately, not least because the contrast with the talented actors is immediately obvious. Any publisher doing that clearly doesn't care about their game as a quality piece of work.

If you look at the voice actors for supporting characters you'll notice they are always familiar, big names in the industry, not random nobodies -- and what I said above is the reason for that.

Avatar image for RossRichard
RossRichard

They are going to end up screwing themselves out of their jobs. This isn't like animation, where VAs are necessary. Or like when actors go on strike, cause you can't make a movie without actors. Voice Acting in videogames is not a necessity.

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@RossRichard: Movie-like presentation is necessity of modern AAA games. There's barely a major game that comes out that isn't trying to imitate a summer blockbuster. And you need voice actors for that. You can't sell COD with a trailer that has text boxes popping up on it.

And yes, people don't buy COD because of the story, but they sure as heck do buy it because of the impressive trailers.

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@RossRichard: True, and it's also possible these companies might look for youtubers who are interested as possible replacements.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@RossRichard: Theyve been on strike for 2 years now. Im sure they have plenty of time.

Avatar image for RossRichard
RossRichard

@iandizion713: No, they were in negotiations for 2 years. They just went on strike this morning.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@RossRichard: O thats right.

Avatar image for quintex96
quintex96

This is gonna bite those VAs in the ass hard, this isn't going to cripple the industry like the WGA strike did, as SAGAFTRA does not have the same near monopoly, there's plenty of talented VAs who are not members of that union who will be more then happy to take their place.

Avatar image for Khasym
Khasym

@quintex96: Except, those VA's are going to end up WANTING SAG-AFTRA support, when the gaming industry works them like they do coders. Make no mistake; the big budget gaming industry has for a very long time, had a sweat-shop approach to everything. As few people as possible, working as long as possible, for as little as possible. The VA's are just the second group to finally cry enough.

Avatar image for quintex96
quintex96

@Khasym: Not really no, VAs love to exaggerate, but so far there's only ONE recorded incident of a VAs voice getting stressed out by a vocal session, believe it or not, some VAs want nothing to do with the union.

Avatar image for valtair
Valtair

They get paid over $100/hr + benefits? Uhhh, what the hell is wrong with that union. This is corporate greed or shall I say union board of directors greed as they just want more money off union dues. I doubt the voice actors themselves have a problem with what they're getting paid.

Avatar image for Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

All it means is that we might hear some new voices in games, which is good.

Avatar image for louixiii
LouiXIII

STRIKE!!!

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@louixiii: swing batter swing batter STRIKE!!! eh, wrong industry I know......pfft....kinda......

Avatar image for louixiii
LouiXIII

@darthrevenx: lol

Avatar image for Archangel3371
Archangel3371

Extremely unfortunate and I really hope they can come to an agreement much sooner rather then later. Quality voice acting matters greatly in the overall quality of a game in my opinion.

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@Archangel3371: I disagree with you about how important voice acting is. To me, it's a nice extra, but there have been good games with minimal voice acting in the past.

Avatar image for Articuno76
Articuno76

@Jinzo_111887: Minimal, perhaps. But what of the quality? And if the quality was poor, did you enjoy it because of it? Or in spite of it? I think you know the answer: if an element exists in a game its quality matters.