SAG-AFTRA headquarters in LA. Photo by Amid Amidi. SAG-AFTRA headquarters in LA. Photo by Amid Amidi.

SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union which has been striking film and tv productions since July 14, is now looking at a second strike against video game companies.

Its national board has voted unanimously to send a strike authorization vote to its 160,000-person membership in preparation of the union’s forthcoming bargaining dates with signatory video game companies.

The video game companies that face a strike are:

  • Activision Productions Inc.
  • Blindlight LLC
  • Disney Character Voices Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Productions Inc.
  • Epic Games, Inc.
  • Formosa Interactive LLC
  • Insomniac Games Inc.
  • Take 2 Productions Inc.
  • VoiceWorks Productions Inc.
  • WB Games Inc.

The current Interactive Media Agreement which represents game performers, expired in November 2022. Actors have been working under the old agreement while the two sides negotiated a new deal, however, SAG-AFTRA says that companies have failed to address key demands of performers. Bargaining between the two sides will resume on September 26.

A key sticking point in the negotiation is the unregulated use of AI, which poses a threat to game performers, especially those who do performance capture. “Voice and performance capture AI are already among the most advanced uses of AI: the threat is here and it is real,” said SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods.”

Added SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, “Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work. And once again, SAG-AFTRA is standing up to tyranny on behalf of its members. … The disease of greed is spreading like wildfire ready to burn workers out of their livelihoods and humans out of their usefulness. We at SAG-AFTRA say NO! Not on our watch!”

Beyond AI protections, SAG-AFTRA seeks the same wage increases for video game performers as for those who work under the film and television contracts: 11% retroactive to expiration and 4% increases in the second and third years of the agreement, which it says are necessary for members’ wages to keep up with inflation.

The union is also asking for on-camera performers to have the same five-minutes-per-hour rest period that off-camera performers are entitled to. Other demands include a set medic present when stunts or hazardous work is performed (which already exists on film and tv sets), prohibitions against stunts on self-taped auditions, and vocal stress protections.

Audrey Cooling, a spokesperson for the video game companies, said in a statement that, “We all want a fair contract,” and that the game companies are “negotiating in good faith and hope to reach a mutually beneficial deal as soon as possible.”

SAG-AFTRA previously struck against video game companies in October 2016. That strike lasted 11 months and was the longest strike in the union’s history.

The strike authorization vote will take place from September 5-25. A strike authorization vote doesn’t initiate a strike but rather “permits the [SAG-AFTRA] National Board to declare a strike if the video game companies fail to negotiate fairly with SAG-AFTRA for the benefit of its members.”

Amid’s Take: The entirety of the video game industry doesn’t have union protections, though there are baby steps being made in that direction. But the fact remains that the artists and technical workers who make video games have zero labor protections, stressful work environments, no job security, and don’t participate in the financial success of the work they create, while the people at the top of the game industry routinely receive bonuses and gifts worth tens of millions of dollars. It’s great that game performers have a union that looks after them, but all workers in the industry deserve the same because game artists and technical workers cannot currently enjoy a healthy and sustainable career in the industry.

Photo at top: SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles. Photo © 2023 by Amid Amidi.