Having failed to renegotiate contract terms last laid down in 1994, the actors' union is taking industrial action
The computer game industry has arguably been the biggest success story of the recent global financial crisis, seeing sales in every region going up. Total revenues in the US reached $23.5bn in 2015, with a lot of the credit going to game developers for coming up with brilliantly cinematic releases that put the player right at the centre of the story. But the actors who lend their voices to video games are going on strike, after demands for a new contract could not get passed the final boss.
Backed by the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA union, voice actors and motion-capture performers are campaigning for increased compensation and safety agreements, saying that the industry has become so sophisticated that it takes talented performers to fully realise the best of what modern gaming is. The agreement between the unions and game producers was signed in 1994, long before the gaming industry had developed to the technical and financial juggernaut it is today. With the 1994 contract having come to an end in 2014, both the unions and gaming companies have struggled to develop a new one ever since.
Writing about the experiences of a jobbing voiceover actor last year, Star Trek actor Wil Wheaton revealed that a recording session sat him screaming out lines over and over again in a booth. “[It] pretty much ended any chance of doing or auditioning for any other voiceover jobs for several days and could, over time, cause permanent damage to vocal cords.” At the currently agreed rates, actors are paid $825.50 (€760) for a four-hour recording session, with the unions battling to have the same pay offered for a two-hour session instead.
Motion-capture performers also find themselves in precarious situations on set, according to the union, as they can be asked to perform stunts without a proper safety co-ordinator to supervise. The unions want more stringent safety conditions in place, as well as for voice and motion capture actors to receive some kind of compensation tied to a game’s success; SAG-AFTRA is demanding a “performance bonus” that would see members receive additional payment for every 2m copies of the game sold or downloaded.
For their part, video game publishers recently made a final offer to the actors’ unions that amounted to a 9% pay rise, as well as a bonus for actors who work multiple sessions on the same project. But having failed to meet their demands, SAG-AFTRA members will now go on strike and refuse to work on any projects.
But given that the LA Times recently revealed that less than 25% of voiceover and motion-capture roles on the gaming market were union jobs, how long the strike can be carried out and what goals it will reach remains to be seen.