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Artist RightsDisneyVideogamesVoice Acting

BREAKING: Voice Actors Go On Strike Against Disney, WB, EA, Take 2, Activision and Other Game Makers

SAG-AFTRA, the powerful union representing over 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, singers, stunt performers, and voiceover artists, has called a labor strike, effective immediately, against certain video game producers.

The strike, announced tonight, comes after a 19-month attempt to negotiate a new deal with employers in the video game industry. Currently, voice actors who perform in video games are governed by an outdated contract from 1994 that has left voice actors, according to SAG-AFTRA, “without the protections necessary to work in the modern video game industry.”

“SAG-AFTRA has gone to the negotiations table with serious concerns affecting voiceover and stunt performers,” said SAG-AFTRA chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez. “It’s time for video game employers to take our concerns seriously and negotiate a modern contract based on actor safety, industry precedent and best practices.”

The companies who are targeted in the strike include some of the biggest names in games, as well as subsidiaries of entertainment conglomerates like Disney and Warner Bros. They are:

  • Activision Publishing Inc.
  • Blindlight, LLC
  • Corps of Discovery Films
  • Disney Character Voices, Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.
  • Formosa Interactive, LLC
  • Insomniac Games, Inc.
  • Interactive Associates, Inc.
  • Take 2 Interactive Software
  • VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.
  • WB Games, Inc.

SAG is asking performers and voiceover artists, both union and non-union, to honor the strike and not work for these companies until a satisfactory deal is reached. The strike is largely supported by SAG’s own membership; in a strike authorization vote held last October, over 96% of SAG members voted yes to strike against the game companies.

Here are the key issues, from SAG’s perspective, that need to be addressed in a new contract:

Secondary Compensation

Unlike many other SAG-AFTRA contracts, there is currently NOT a secondary compensation structure on any
video games.

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 session payments per principal performer for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.

Producers Hide Important Information

Transparency is lacking in the video game industry.
Actors need to know more about the projects that they are working on. SAG-AFTRA has proposed that the actual title of the project and the role being hired for should be made available before signing a contract. Video game employers routinely engage performers without identifying the role or even the game that the performer is being engaged to work on. Moreover, they refuse to provide basic information about the nature of the performance that will be expected of them. This deprives the performer of the ability to make a meaningful decision about whether to accept a role or to negotiate appropriate compensation, if they do. 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.

Employers Are Not Taking You Seriously

The employers have said no to most of SAG-AFTRA’s proposals and haven’t taken these negotiations seriously.
For instance, in response to our concerns about vocal safety, they offered to put more tea and water in the booths for the actors — something they already do and this doesn’t resolve the issue or protect the actors.

Now is the Time To Act

The SAG-AFTRA Interactive Contract was originally written in 1994.
Now, over 20 years later, the video game industry has evolved to the point where successful video games generate more revenue than the biggest blockbuster, yet, the same contract that was negotiated in 1994 hasn’t changed to reflect the industry today. SAG-AFTRA is committed to bringing the Interactive contract into the 21st Century with the protections and compensation that our members deserve. We wish our partners across the table felt the same way, but they seem more interested in “winning” this round of negotiations than cooperating with our members to create a contract based on precedent and best practices.

The first picket will be this Monday, October 24, at Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, CA at 10:30am PT.

  • Wish you all the best. You spend long hours in the booths, doing your best to bring our favourite characters to life, so you deserve to be treated with respect from your employers.

  • Animation_Director

    Good on them! If they’re successful maybe this will inspire artists and animators who work in the game industry to do the same thing.

  • BurntToShreds

    If the demands of SAG-AFTRA are met, I’m worried that the additional costs will be foisted upon consumers in the form of more aggressive post-launch monetization, things like more aggressive pushing of downloadable content and microtransactions. At a time when a lot of game publishers and developers are experimenting with ways in which they can recoup the ever-increasing costs of creating AAA games and providing continuing support for the ones with a focus on multiplayer, the last thing that the industry needs is another spike in costs that could push them in the wrong direction.

    • Shiro Misha

      That’s a tired excuse you hear every time a worker demands fair play from their employee; “but it will cost the customer more!” So the employee charging the customer more so they can buy a yatch is ok, but a worker asking for basic human rights is not?

      • Fried

        “but a worker asking for basic human rights is not?”
        They have basic human rights. They’re asking for better compensation to keep up with the fact that studios are pumping out blockbusters but not getting paid as much as they should. These types of strikes are not the same as employees who work on tips because the federal law says their boss can pay them $2 an hour.

        I’m not saying voice actors should not be compensated appropriately, but let’s not act as cases like these are voice actors getting screwed hard time by companies.

      • Auric035

        Bonuses based on the number of copies sold is not a basic human right… Don’t get me wrong, good voice acting can really bring a game to life, but does voice acting really drive sales? Does it make or break whether you buy or enjoy a game? People go see movies to see Di Caprio, Depp, etc, but do people really buy or play games for Nolan North (Drake, Uncharted) or Rob Wiethoff (Marston, Red Dead Redemption)? Maybe some do, but I would say the vast majority buys games for the gameplay.

        That said, I do think all of the demands of the union are reasonable, including the bonuses, only as long as it applies to all of the creators that worked on a game; programmers, designers, artists, composers, musicians, and voice actors. If a game sells well, I think the publisher should certainly reward the people that laid their golden egg.

      • BurntToShreds

        Post-launch monetization systems have effects that last long after the initial purchase of a game and may impact a player’s overall enjoyment. It’s something that a lot of developers have been trying to get right for quite a while. Some have gotten it right and some haven’t, which is why there needs to be more room for experimentation. For example, one game in one genre may not have a model that fits well in another genre. My worry is that if these demands are met and the developers and publishers have to comply with the various accommodations and secondary compensation structures that SAG-AFTRA is arguing for, it may push publishers to make future post-launch monetization look and feel more like something that belongs in free-to-play mobile game than in a big-name AAA title.

    • Glue

      We’re talking about AAA game companies that behave like corporations dodging the very taxes that could benefit taxpayers worldwide with public healthcare and education to increase bonuses for management and shareholders, but hey it’s the free market, right ?
      Why care about working people and their families ?

      Until salaries aren’t fairly balanced, the problem will always remain, we’re tired of that trickle down economics and Ayn Rand rhetoric.

    • secretgoldfish

      If you want to avoid the above happening or prevent it once it did/does occur, there is a much simpler/better way of handling it than putting this back on the workers……..
      Simply vote with your wallet and don’t buy the product, the big bad commercial world tends to change their ways pretty quickly when they see a drop in sales and revenue.
      Sadly, nowadays the vote you make with your wallet probably has more impact on things than your electoral vote.

  • Mr. Wilson

    Maybe I’m just a jerk but the secondary compensation seems unreasonable. Every other artist working on the project wouldn’t get that kind of deal.

    And if the game tanks does the actor pay money back? If you want the rewards you need to be part of the risk. That’s what game companies are working with, they’re taking the risk.

    • secretgoldfish

      Yeah WHO should get paid in regards to secondary compensation is a really good and important question to ask because right now it seems as though only the best represented people are compensated but not necessarily the most deserving.

      I’ve never had a problem with non residual payment when employed full time and having an employer covering equipment, health insurance, superannuation, office etc but when working on contract work where I’m expected to cover ALL those things myself I think I should be better compensated, not necessarily residuals but maybe a better upfront fee than a full time employee.

  • secretgoldfish

    How does asking non-union members to join the action actually end up panning out?

    I only ask as I’ve had awful experiences working as a non union contractor on union jobs and it has never had anything to do with the employer but rather the over empowered union reps who hold the attitude of “you’re either with us or against us” which for me at least resulted in them going out of their way (in really shitty ways) to make my job difficult. It was especially sad when you consider that I probably would have joined the union had they treated me decently and most importantly…simply asked me to join, which they ironically never did or tried to do because I was simply seen as the enemy the moment I walked through the door.

    I’d normally have a hard time supporting some of the above mentioned types but in this case I’d probably support the union simply by looking at the bigger picture, although it’s not necessarily something I’d do by default without first engaging in some extra inner self reflection.

    I hate employers who exploit their staff but an organised group who’d prevent someone from working simply because they aren’t in the club or don’t tow the line are just as bad in my opinion.
    Most folks who pretend to offer me a choice under the premise/guise of “you’re either with us or against” generally end up finding out that I’m against them.

    Unions do themselves and their causes a great disservice by making an enemy of non-union workers. I hope the union and non-union members work in unison on this, leading to a better situation for all, if they do I’d also hope the unions maybe learn that inclusiveness works far better than exclusiveness.

  • d. harry

    i could have retired by now on residuals if our wussass union had ever stood up against the producers. Good for these v/o guys.

  • James Madison

    Hoping that the workers get what they want.

  • angelpalm

    American voice actors are terrible though…….BUT the whole going into a project without getting to know basic info does explain a lot. Perhaps it’s the casting people that are to blame for the many audio atrocities we have to bare witness to.

    • HaloEliteLegend

      American voice actors are some of the best in the world. That doesn’t mean companies necessarily will shill out the money to hire the good ones :P

  • GOATmaybe

    Listen I also wish Game Developers were getting the same kind of treatment but right now we can’t ignore the gross misconduct of the game industry. This is only one facet of it but hopefully it will lead to more ethical practices. From what I understand it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for an extra days worth of pay if a game sells over 2 million copies.