Voice Actor Union Pickets Ratchet & Clank Dev, as Strike Continues

[UPDATE] 400+ people picketed at Insomniac Games today.

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[UPDATE] Deadline attended the strike event today at Insomniac's HQ in Burbank, reporting that more than 400 SAG-AFTRA members and supporters showed up for the picket.

"We're staying out as long as it takes until the game producers decide to come back to the bargaining table and be reasonable," actor Phil LaMarr, who is a member of the union's negotiating committee, told the site.

LaMarr, who appeared in Pulp Fiction, is a veteran video game voice actor. Some of his credits include Mortal Kombat X, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Injustice 2.

The original story is below.

A video game voice actor strike began on October 21--and it does not appear an end is coming soon. The union that represents some voice actors, SAG-AFTRA, has asked its members to picket Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games this week at its Burbank, California office. The two-hour picket is slated for Thursday, November 17, beginning at 11:30 AM PT.

There have already been pickets at Electronic Arts and Warner Bros. In a statement to media, SAG-AFTRA said these pickets have been "successful." In the case of EA, more than 300 SAG-AFTRA and allied union members attended.

No Caption Provided

Following almost two years of unsuccessful negotiations between SAG-AFTA and the video game industry, a strike began on October 21.

The strike also applies to Activision, Take-Two, and Disney Character Voices, among others. SAG-AFTRA has published lists of games that its members should strike and another list of non-struck games. The list of games to strike includes the upcoming Crash Bandicoot remaster and new entries in EA's sports franchise, among many others.

As for the non-struck games, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Destiny, and Dishonored 2 are on the list. Interestingly, something called Call of Duty: Stronghold & Lethal Combat and Warner Bros. games codenamed "Metallica," "Sabbath," and "Kraken" are mentioned. A Guardians of the Galaxy game is also mentioned on the list--it's believed that this is Telltale's unannounced Marvel game.

Bear in mind that many of the names featured on the lists are codenames. Also, without knowing any dates, it's possible these games already came out.

As for the negotiations, 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 the 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.

The gaming industry refuses to offer residual payment bonuses and other profit-sharing opportunities, according to the union. 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. For its part, the industry came back to the bargaining table with an offer for helping to ease the stress of voice recording.

According to the video game publishers, it offered a 9 percent wage hike as part of the negotiations. Additionally, it 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, the publishers said. As it stands, video game voice actors represented by SAG-AFTRA are paid at least $100/hour, plus benefits, though working hours are not "normal" by the conventional standard.

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, an actor sometimes does not even know the game he or she is auditioning for, which it argues is not fair.

Overwatch voice actor Crispin Freeman, who voices Winston, spoke to GameSpot recently about the strike and why voice actors matter.

"We negotiated with them for 19 months in good faith," Freeman said. "It's the longest negotiation SAG-AFTRA has ever done. It was the last thing we wanted to do, but they left us with no choice."

Asked what the ideal outcome of the strike would be, Freeman said he wants to see voice actors be ensured safety, respect, "a tiny bit of shared prosperity," and that they and their contributions are treated as something valuable. "Because right now they treat us like we don't matter," he said.

You can read the full interview here; we'll report back with more details on the strike in the days and weeks ahead.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Avatar image for quintex96
quintex96

Too bad nobody is paying any attention to these strikes with all the protests from Trump being elected going on.

Avatar image for lostn
lostn

If you're easily replaceable, this isn't going to go anywhere. Only 25% of games use union actors. That means there are plenty of other actors willing to take up the roles you are declining to accept. Do you really think the industry is going to cave in when you hold this little power?

Now if every garbage collector belonged to the same union and the union decided to go on strike.. we'd all be screwed. No one would collect the trash. This will be resolved very quickly. Whatever demands they made will be met pronto.

If the police went on strike, the nation would plunge into lawless chaos. Again, their demands will be met.

Paramedics? The same.

Voice actors. More specifically, voice actors of one particular union who only voice 25% of the games being made. Sorry, but you don't have the clout to get what you want. As long as there are alternative actors out there who will do the job, you're going to be unemployed until you accept the counter offer and end the strike. Unlike the garbage collector scenario, you are replaceable. SAG AFTRA do not have a monopoly on acting.

Having said that, I do not know if garbage collectors are unionized, or whether they are all from the same union. It was a hypothetical only.

I would advise the actors and union to accept a compromise. They need their employers more than their employers need them, since the employers have alternatives. That means the industry employing them are the one who hold the power. The strike will not matter much to them. To strike, you have to be the one holding the power or you're only screwing yourself out of jobs. And apparently they don't need money as much as they claim to if they can afford to go on indefinite strike.

You're barking up the wrong tree SAG. Get back to work.

"Because right now they treat us like we don't matter,"

I hate to say it Crispin, but they are right.

Avatar image for straightcur
straightcur

"400 SAG-AFTRA members and supporters showed up for the picket."

Likely more professional protesters and hardcore unionists than actual voice actors. Everyone else that works for a living would jump at the offer they received. nothing is good enough for the "entitled". Let them stay out of work, join the other 75% of game devs and stop hiring union actors.

Avatar image for michyeosseo
michyeosseo

Well, as an employee you sign a contract. If you don't like the amount they pay you, or any other content for that matter, you can always choose not to sign the contract, walk away and find a job somewhere else.

And not to dismiss the profession, but they are voice actors, people who use their... voice. You know, like 7 billion people in the world do every day. I can probably find a college student with an interesting voice who could use some spare cash to do so.

This kind of sounds like people who work at McDo and expect $15/hour for putting food on a tray and handling the register: bitter and unreasonable.

Avatar image for enewt
enewt

@michyeosseo: so true. I just read on another site that the same actors can be had for $5 a line through fiverr.com: https://www.fiverr.com/search/gigs?acmpl=1&utf8=✓&search_in=everywhere&query=voiceover&page=1

Avatar image for derceto
derceto

I'm sure I won't miss them. Go get a job at McDonald's if you think you have it too rough.

Avatar image for pj80
PJ80

they should work in retail and see how corporations care about their employees and how tight their wallets are, they would run back fast to their voice acting gigs.

Avatar image for Redsyrup
Redsyrup

Many of the comments below are out of touch. The original va for MGS is still the gold standard. Every publisher/developer should aim high and push their games as such. Attracting good translators and actors is key.

Avatar image for lostn
lostn

@Redsyrup: I don't agree. I thought Hayter lacked range and is very one dimensional. He also doesn't use natural intonations. I've never heard anyone who speaks like him in real life. He emphasizes weird syllables in his words. It could be the way the character was written and how he was directed to speak, but Keifer Sutherland did not do that.

I did not miss Hayter in MGS5. I never thought he was good. What I missed was a Snake that actually spoke. Liquid on the other hand, played by Cam Clarke, he was the gold standard.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

@Redsyrup: And yet, Konami up and switched the VA without a care in the world. Did review scores suffer? Did sales suffer? NOPE! So these VAs are about to find out just how little leverage they have. Publishers do not see them as moving the needle, so why give them anything more?

Avatar image for TashunkoSapa
TashunkoSapa

Remove/change voices that aren't Halo's master chief - I won't even notice.

Avatar image for Thanatos2k
Thanatos2k

The voice actors are going to soon learn a harsh lesson about how little AAA publishers care about their voice talent and care far more about development costs. Hell, they don't even care to keep the same people from game to game for established characters. They'd pick people up off the streets if it could cut costs.

Avatar image for Barighm
Barighm

@Thanatos2k: Actually, I think they have recruited people off the streets. My sister says Ubisoft likes to use a lot of people from her dinky little talent agency rather than use more established performers.

Avatar image for enewt
enewt

@Barighm: No wonder Ubisoft isn't one of the targets of the strike...they were smart enough not to get in bed with the union in the first place. So the companies that actually hired union actors are now the ones targeted by the union and the rest of the industry just continues to use voice over from Marge in Accounting...that makes a hell of a lot of sense.

In the end, I don't think it matters: to paraphrase A Few Good Men, "All you did was weaken a union today, Kaffee."

Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@Thanatos2k: I agree. These voice actors don't have to even be used. There are a number of games where voice acting was minimal, but were still good, so they aren't needed. There have been a number of times when a voice actor/actress has been changed (Carmelita from the Sly Cooper games is a good example of this). As for these developers, I could see them having Youtubers audition as a slap to the face for these voice actors.

Avatar image for RicanV
RicanV

Dangerous path the voice actors are taking. I'm not discrediting their work but it's a different animal than other forms of media.

Take movies or TV for example. I can immediately tell when Gilbert Gottfried voices an animated character. His work is just more readily available and widespread than say a video game voice actor who may do one game every 8 months and have maybe 5 or 6 lines. That doesn't give anyone enough time for him/her to imprint on the audience.

While voice acting is important, I'm not sure it's the selling point for games and unless someone told me directly that X actor was in this AND that game I honestly would not make the connection unless they were released near eachother. At the end of the day the voice acting won't bother many users unless it's terribly miscast. An Arnold Schwarzenegger for a young soft spoken role for example.

I just don't think the strike will end well for them and that is a shame.

Moderator
Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@RicanV:Gilbert's got a unique voice, so it's not hard to recognize him most of the time. There was one time on Are You Afraid of the Dark? where he was a D.J. and it was a bit hard to recognize it at first, though.

I disagree with you about the importance of voice acting in games. There have been a number of games with minimal voice acting over the years. Rocket League seems like the only voice acting is for the announcer. Because of that, I consider it a bonus feature.

I will agree with you about the strike ending badly, though. Aside from the voice actors getting cut out of the deal, it's possible they could be replaced by youtubers:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtmbThooIII

Avatar image for RicanV
RicanV

@Jinzo_111887: Fair enough. To clairfy when I said voice acting is important I didn't mean for every game. I just think if you have a very story driven game that has a ton of lines it's important to have the right sound for the right part.

I started playing text based games so any voice is a +. I wouldn't even consider RL as voice acting more than it's a sound effect.

Moderator
Avatar image for Jinzo_111887
Jinzo_111887

@RicanV: Having played Earthbound and many Legend of Zelda games growing up, I don't consider it needed in story based games either. Messages in boxes were used, which are similar to subtitles in modern games. Fun games, even without voice acting. Actually, I think Earthbound put a huge focus on music. That game has a big soundtrack.

Avatar image for darthrevenx
DarthRevenX

@RicanV: I can tell when Kieth David is talking.....or Jennifer Hale or Courtney Taylor or Laura Bailey or Brandon Keener and Nolan North just to name a few.....

I can't say Phil La Marr cus he's done so many voices all very different......but Mark Hamill I can instantly tell......but Frank Welker not 100% of the time cus he also did animal sounds as well....so some roles he did was just barking or growling the whole time while others were more.....MEGATRON, i realy wish Chris Lata had lived, he played Starscream and Cobra Commander in the 80's but didn't survive the 90's sadly but imagine that as some iconic villains nowadays LMAO imagine Illusive Man sounding like Cobra Commander....pure gold man.....way off topic now lol

Avatar image for RicanV
RicanV

@darthrevenx: Some great mentions! You have a very keen ear. Mark Hamill was great as the joker. Of all those I think the replacement of Nolan North would probably raise the most eyebrows and commotion if he was replaced. That being said, I don't think Nolan, Keith David, or Mark Hamill are having the same pay problems as most of the strikers.

Moderator
Avatar image for straightcur
straightcur

@RicanV: Those voice actors let their talent get them work and higher pay. No union needed or wanted.

Avatar image for ballashotcaller
ballaShotCaller

bad voice acting can ruin a game.

Avatar image for Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@ballashotcaller: And good voice actor replacements would be shockingly easy to find.

All the pubs need to do is host an American Idol-like street casting call in 10 cities, and pick the best 100 in each city. Get each of them signed as independent contractors under newly-formed strictly non-union agencies. Solved -- and there are a LOT of people with undiscovered talent that need the work.

Avatar image for straightcur
straightcur

@ballashotcaller: good thing they are a dime a dozen and easily replaceable.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@computernoises: lol get a job on big bang theory , that is the definition of idiocy to pay those fools that much.

The show stopped being funny some time ago yet they are raking in money for lousy acting.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

Everyone feels so entitled these days, all they do is stand in a room and talk into a microphone. Just another case of only in America infecting the rest of the world with their bs.

Avatar image for ballashotcaller
ballaShotCaller

@deviltaz35: You feel so entitled to diminish the hardship of a job by saying 'all they do is stand in a room and talk into a microphone'. Like programming and designing is so easy because you just sit and type stuff, or draw stuff. Or writing is so easy because you just sit and write words. It's all draining work (mentally, physically, and emotionally) especially when you work with producers breathing down your neck, making you work long hours, squeezing your life out of you and taking more than what they are paying and are indifferent to your health. Try working at least 60-80hr weeks for half a year straight and no downtime with those types of people.

Avatar image for itswinter
itswinter

@ballashotcaller: Holy shit, I've found some sanity is this cancerous thread.. Thanks for that, I was starting to lose hope.

Avatar image for deviltaz35
DEVILTAZ35

@ballashotcaller

My point is they sign up knowing full well what the commitment is and then have a big old whine about it later. It's the same as everyone that complains about unions don't get a job where you have to be in one if you don't want to put up with it. Simple. I am not in a union and nor would i ever want anything to do with them . Not mega rich either , as long as i have a spare 100k or so to buy whatever i want when i want i am happy. Never wanted to be rich like them and certainly wouldn't whine about it if i was getting paid like they do.

Avatar image for Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@ballashotcaller: You ever actually WORK in software development? I have. 60-80hr work weeks are COMMON, for years at a time, and there are rarely substantial bonuses. This serves a greater purpose now, though: Prepares a constant supply of hardened developers for better-paying startups & dev teams.

But for actors, voice actors, sound people, musicians, set designers, their agencies, and every other industry enslaved by SAG-AFTRA, they can never simply walk out and choose to work somewhere non-union. They are trapped by their union contracts.

It's time to eliminate SAG-AFTRA and their racketeering.

Avatar image for straightcur
straightcur

@ballashotcaller: tell that to the voice actors. i doubt any of them have ever worked 60-80hrs a week. their contributions to a game are a couple weeks at most. while everyone else making the game dedicates years.

Avatar image for cornbredx
cornbredx

Phil Lamarr had a more significant role in Mad TV as far as his onscreen roles go, but sure he was legitimately in Pulp Fiction as well.

As far as this whole picket they're doing. I'm still not sure how to feel about it. I mean, ya they deserve to get paid, but I'm not convinced that the developers they are picketting can pay them what they think they can, or that they do not make enough in the first place.

Video games are expensive to make. But then again I don't know how much voice actors make per game, or enough about their work conditions to know if it's fair.

It's seems like a bit much to picket Insomniac, but I only have an outsiders opinion on that. They seem like cool developers, but I don't know what they're like internally because I've never worked there.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

Hell yeah, strike them greedy companies.

Avatar image for Pyrosa
Pyrosa

@iandizion713: Only ones greedy here are SAG-AFTRA -- for ongoing power & control. The actors get a few tiny morsels, while the union contract gains the union even more power, money, and control each tim it's expanded.

Avatar image for enewt
enewt

@Pyrosa: Agreed. I am willing to bet the union leadership isn't foregoing their salary during this strike. Also willing to bet that the lead union negotiator is paid a salary as opposed to "per gig"...any bets on whether his salary is in the 3XX,XXX.00 ballpark? The rank and file actors are getting screwed.

Avatar image for iandizion713
iandizion713

@Pyrosa: The union protects them. Its unites them. Same way it protects and unites the NFL and NBA Unions. These people dont get paid good mate, trust me, if they did, they wouldnt be fighting for money so much.