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All creative staff should support the actors

Actors haven't jumped an imaginary queue by demanding better treatment, but their stand might improve conditions for all creatives

It's not often that the spectre of union action comes to haunt the games industry; in fact, I think that in well over a decade of writing weekly columns for this site, this may be the first time that I've ever had to address such an issue. It's perhaps that very scarcity that makes the proposed strike by SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors (both voice actors and performance capture actors), into such a controversial matter. We don't see this kind of thing very often; we're not sure how to react to it. It seems to make a lot of people angry, though many of those angered seem unable to articulate why this particular case upsets them so; social media around the potential strike has been largely full of regurgitated anti-union rhetoric which really doesn't apply in this instance, and broadly offensive swipes at the relative importance of actors to the process of game creation.

"Without some form of collective bargaining, workers find themselves unable to effectively exercise their rights and powers in a free market economy"

I'm not about to address the enormous philosophical and economic questions of the role of unions in the space of a short topical column. Suffice it to say my view is pretty uncontroversial in modern economics and political science - that the organisation of labour is not only legal, but necessary; that without some form of collective bargaining, workers find themselves unable to effectively exercise their rights and powers in a free market economy. Some people of course are vehemently opposed to the very notion of unions, but usually on a more visceral level (UK readers of a certain age, for example, may find themselves having a gut reaction based in the supposed union overreach of the 1970s or in dislike of public figures like Bob Crow) than on a logical, economic or philosophically grounded level; I'd encourage those people to read up on what SAG-AFTRA are actually asking before mentally lumping them in with the RMT or the Teamsters.

I say that because what SAG-AFTRA is asking for is, for the most part, pretty straightforward. Much has been made of their demand for residual payments for actors who work on games that exceed certain sales thresholds, but that's a single request - and we'll come back to it in a moment. The vast majority of the rest of the list is an entirely reasonable set of requests related to working environment, and largely designed to ensure that actors can choose their work freely and in an informed way, and to subsequently protect them from problems in the working environment which could result in damage to the very tools of their trade - their bodies and their voices.

Those things ought to be entirely uncontroversial. People whose work requires the use of their physical bodies face a constant risk that the very organs upon which they rely will be damaged by that work, leaving them unable to make a living. As any professional singer can tell you, damage to vocal cords caused by stress, exhaustion, or regular abuse can mount up and leave someone with irreparable damage; there are safe amounts of strenuous vocal work you can do in a day, and actors have an absolute right to request not being pushed past those safe limits. Similarly, all actors have a right to insist upon the presence of a trained professional stunt coordinator if they're going to be doing something physically demanding and strenuous enough to involve risk of injury. Denying those rights isn't the act of a responsible employer, it's the act of a penny-pinching sociopath.

"People are entitled to have preferences in their work; to pick and choose their projects based upon what they involve, who they'll be working with, how their work will be presented and so on"

Meanwhile, the right to know what you're auditioning for and to freely choose your auditions is also one that it's entirely unfair to deny to a class of employees. People are entitled to have preferences in their work; to pick and choose their projects based upon what they involve, who they'll be working with, how their work will be presented and so on. Concerned about loose lips? NDAs are damned good at buttoning them up, without trampling upon anyone's right to freely choose (or decline) their employment in an informed manner.

I'm not sure anyone has any serious arguments to make against those points; I've certainly yet to hear any, even from the strenuously anti-union side of things. "Don't make people work in ways that might injure them; let people freely choose what things they apply to work on"; if you've got a reasonable counter-argument to either of those positions, please, I'd love to hear it. Apparently quite a few companies in our industry think those are outrageous propositions, so presumably some of you reading this might be able to explain to the world what, exactly, is so insidious and terrible about being obliged not to physically harm people who are working for you, and not to obfuscate the nature of the work to be undertaken before someone signs a contract?

This leaves us with the really big point - the one everyone really wants to talk about - the money. SAG-AFTRA wants its actors to be paid a residual, essentially a bonus payout, if the games they work on exceed certain sales thresholds. They argue that, just as in many other creative industries, it's fair for the performers to enjoy some benefit if the game they've worked on becomes a serious hit.

This part of the union's demands (which, it should be noted, are basically an opening bargaining position; it accuses the industry of thus far failing miserably to actually negotiate, so what we're seeing here is presumably as much a wishlist as anything else) has set a large number of people absolutely climbing the walls. Actors! Being paid bonuses! For a game's success! Bloody actors, no less! Bonuses for bloody actors! Loads of people are throwing around the big G word, because apparently Greed is only okay when it's companies making huge profits, not creative staff requesting a share of those profits from projects they've worked on. Others are huffing and puffing and declaiming the entire residual model as a relic of an earlier era, outdated and useless - rendered obsolete, one assumes, by the neo-liberal utopia in which we now reside, and in which only capital - not talent, hard work or creativity - deserves a share of anything at all.

"The core creative staff on games don't get a share of the success, by and large, because they've never put themselves into a position to demand it"

Most commonly of all, though, there's the strand of thought that says - "Actors? Really, actors?"

Programmers, after all, don't get residuals. Designers and artists and animators and writers and all of the other creative, talented staff involved in making a videogame don't get a residual payment if it succeeds. Actors, whom it would appear from this week's discourse are held to be somewhat low down the creative pecking order (which is damned unfair given the life breathed into characters by some of the better voice acting in games of recent years), are stepping ahead of all of those groups, those essential creative labourers in the dark and satanic mills of game development, and demanding a share of the success that nobody else gets. It's a bloody liberty, grumble the coders, the artists, the designers; why should actors get something like that before all the other creatives, the much more directly involved creatives, get a share?

With all due respect to those making that argument; there isn't a damned queue, and let's be blunt here - the programmers, and the artists, and the designers, and so on, have thus far failed miserably to organise into anything that even remotely resembles a union, or a decent system for collective bargaining. The core creative staff on games don't get a share of the success, by and large, because they've never put themselves into a position to demand it. This is not least because a reasonably sizeable minority have swallowed the propaganda of their employers hook, line and sinker, and find themselves vocally opposed to any notion of collective bargaining; like turkeys obediently lining up to vote for Christmas, they shoot down any upstart notion that might actually give videogame creatives a chance of successfully demanding better conditions, better representation, and more respect.

"The games industry has all too often enjoyed a degree of loyalty and dedication from its staff which, frankly, it has not earned by its actions towards those staff"

Even if we accept the notion of a pecking order or a "queue," then, the reality is that the people notionally at the front of this queue - the coders, designers, artists and so on - have been stood there motionless for the best part of the last few decades with their thumbs stuck up their backsides. What small successes there have been in improving working conditions and recognition have largely come from public shaming of individual corporations, because actual organisation and campaigning among creative staff has been non-existent for the most part. Now, having stood there doing nothing at the "head of the queue," people want to complain about queue-jumping? Get real. Would it be weird if actors got residuals from games before coders and designers and artists? Yes, it would be a bit weird - but the reality is that they should all be getting some share in the success of the best-selling games on which they work, and by far the weirdest thing in the whole scenario is the status quo, in which the people whose creative energies and talents are poured into a game's development can enrich investors to a ludicrous degree without ever seeing so much as a pat on the back in return for themselves.

As you can probably gather from my tone; I really want the actors to get a good settlement from this mess, and I'm deeply frustrated that the industry has allowed it to come to the point where strike action is even being considered. I don't want the actors to succeed just because "Performance Matters," as their chosen hashtag states; I want them to succeed because Creativity Matters. Great code matters, great art matters, great design matters, great writing and animation and music and sound effects and a whole host of other creative factors that would be impossible without the input of supremely talented people; these matter too. The games industry has all too often enjoyed a degree of loyalty and dedication from its staff which, frankly, it has not earned by its actions towards those staff. Perhaps it's strange that the actors should be the first to break ranks, but if their success can push us even fractionally towards an industry where poor compensation and working conditions can no longer be excused by "but hey, you get to make games!", then every creative person working in games should be wishing them godspeed.

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Latest comments (25)

Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments3 years ago
The bit that seems to be missing from the coverage of this is the scope aspect: sag-aftra is an american organisation, so how does this affect non-us devs and performers?
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Alan Blighe Research Associate 3 years ago
Good article Rob. I've found it very strange to see people complaining about queue-jumping when they've never done anything to improve their own positions. If anything, a successful action by this union could be a useful precedent for other professions.
Game development is so cut-throat (short contracts, lots of competition for jobs, long hours) that its absolutely crying out for unionisation, much like other creative disciplines (e.g. contemporary dance, with which I have a good bit of experience).
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve3 years ago
I absolutely agree with the points about working conditions, but don't know quite how to feel about royalties. If these people sign contracts to do work for an employer for a fixed fee, why are they also entitled to royalties from the success if they have taken on none of the risk? I have always seen royalties as a way of rewarding risk taking, perhaps if the fixed fee was not enough to begin with, but they accept some form of profit share on their belief that the project will succeed to make back that money to the same or greater level. Surely royalties are something that are agreed pragmatically and not expected as default? Where else does this happen?

Just to play devil's advocate, say you came up with a grand plan to get investment to build a glorious building. You hire architects for a fixed fee, you hire contractors to carry out all the construction and you oversee it all to bring the idea to reality. Perhaps you then manage to sell this building and make back your money ten-fold. What would happen if the contractors you hired said that next time you do another project like this, they would want a share in the profits you make on top of their fixed fees. What would your response be?

I'm not saying these things because I feel strongly either way, but just as a counter-argument. I'm interested to hear some points from either side, so long as they don't include accusations of greed.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Thomas Dolby on 25th September 2015 12:55pm

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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
The concept of royalties can be seen as money taken for ongoing added value to a project. In this sense, giving a VO actor X cents per copy sold makes sense. Whilst the performance is a one-time event, it adds value to the work, and this value is heard every time someone plays the game/hears the performance. Now, you can argue that not every voice-actor adds value (even good actors phone-in their work sometimes), but I would counter with saying that that should be an issue for legal departments, and even before then it becomes muddled. Did Peter Dinklage's Destiny VO add value, or help make the game a mockery? Or, perhaps, the mockery is due to the writers, and there was literally no way to say those lines well? A legal matter for sure, I think. :)

The building analogy is... imperfect. The contractors are workmen, hired to do a job, and do it to a quality standard, but that only fits voice-acting if you think there isn't any subtlety to the work. More appropriate in your example would be the architects themselves taking a cut - some of the most famous buildings in the world have helped tourism and business in many ways, which is "ongoing added value". For example, if I say Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, New York, what do you think? Chances are good it's the name of a building, followed by "I'd love to see it in-person". :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 25th September 2015 1:50pm

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises3 years ago
I think royalties are better left to the voice actors agent to negotiate. If their union requires it for all the jobs they take, then won't the larger game projects just hire voice actors who aren't in the union?
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Jordan Lund Columnist 3 years ago
@Neil Young - If the developers outside the US are using local talent then it shouldn't impact them at all.

However, if they're looking to hire, say, Nolan North to do a voice then it's very much part of the equation.

Which raises a good point as well... One of the main complaints about Destiny was the understated performance by Peter Dinklage who now, in the latest expansion, has been completely replaced by Nolan North.

That goes to show how important voice talent is for a complex production.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises3 years ago
Oh you're right, I just Googled Kevin Spacey (he did voice work in a recent Call of Duty), he's in the union too.

I still doubt that lesser known voiceover actors will ever get royalties. I'm reading Blockbusters by Anita Elberse, a few of her chapters are about movie blockbusters, and it seems like the Hollywood studios have talented contract lawyers that are very good at reducing royalty costs. I'm sure the larger game publishers also have great lawyers.
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Nic Wechter Senior Designer, Black Tusk (MGS Vancouver)3 years ago
I think its pretty easy to empathize with the people upset about the royalties thing and saying developers need to pull their finger out of their arse to demand similar shows a distinct lack of understand as to how the industry works for the overwhelming majority of games industry creatives (coder/artist/designer).

For starters, as opposed to big name actors, most of us are largely invisible to the game buying public. Nobody outside of our friends and the people that depend on us will care if we get laid off. Famous actors are in the fortunate position that they have a visible public image and that people care about their involvement, this gives them a great deal more bargaining power for their demands than the vast majority of developers get.

Secondly, there are few big name VO actors working on games where doing VO work is their only source of income. For most of them its a side gig that they can do to earn something in addition to their main focus (performing for film/TV usually). Its rarely full time work, usually a couple of days here and there over the course of a project. I don't think it would be unreasonable to say that even providing the VO for a main character on a big 3 year AAA project that the actor would be required for a month at most. There is nothing wrong with this but the fact is that VO work for these actors is not essential for them to keep food on the table, its an extra part time job on top of their main gig and if it suddenly went away, they wouldn't really suffer any significant financial hardship as a result. This again puts them in a far stronger bargaining position than the vast majority of games creatives who depend on their work as their main source of income.

On top of this many of these popular unionised actors are already extremely wealthy, giving them yet another advantage to their bargaining position that the general developers don't have.


So yes ideally VO actors could get royalties on successful titles, but I don't think actors getting them is going to help the general development community to start getting royalties well as it won't make any difference to the fact that your average developer simply isn't in the position to be able to make such demands.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Nic Wechter on 25th September 2015 6:59pm

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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
I agree and I support them. I don't necessarily expect to benefit in my area from doing so but this shouldn't be the only reason to support an affected group and their specific campaign for a better situation.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 3 years ago
Game designers are fools. You need a guild.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
because as others have said without the visible star power developer unions wouldn't work unless there was almost total membership.
Wouldn't the bolded be the best situation, though? But it's one of the issues with gaming, maybe, that's is so easy (for a given value of easy) to get into the industry. Other professions (say, teaching) have a very specific route into them, and when you get to a certain stage, you are essentially forced into joining a union. But gaming? How would you enforce union membership? Solve that question, and you would have a very swift change in working conditions, for everyone.
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Thomas Kennedy Unemployed (Seeking work) 3 years ago
The idea of royalties for VA is a giant minefield, lets take Mass effect for example, in that game we have over 70 different VAs voicing characters to various levels, so right there you have 70 people who you need to debate how much each would get in the royalties have it so all parties agree ensure that even with that you still make a profit (Remember, end of the day the goal is to make a profit as with every business) so right there it would be a giant problem which would take a VERY long time to sort out, Don't get me wrong I would LOVE for voice actors to have better pay and work conditions buuuuttt Royalties? I don't think we should even remotely think of giving them that yet till we sort the mountain of problems just sorting better work and pay and such.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee3 years ago
The reason why you shouldn't support them is because it sucks money out of the industry which ultimately will effect developers. If they want to group together with developers then I would support them otherwise no because as others have said without the visible star power developer unions wouldn't work unless there was almost total membership.
No, I disagree with you and I will support them. This doesn't however stop me from believing we need to continue looking into unions for other parts of the business and to get as many people as possible involved, high profile and not.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
So I suppose we should expect an industry-wide video game union any day now covering all job titles and descriptions.
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James Barnard Founder / Developer, Springloaded3 years ago
Royalties are an interesting topic, I used to get paid mechanical royalties on the records I made, this money came to me regardless of whether the record and started making money for the label or not. I own a development studio, and our money is very tight, how does the "royalties after 2 million sales" actually work, a small game might be making money after a hundred sales, a big one after a 4 million, how does "free to play" fit in? I personally think royalties should be negotiated on a case by case basis.
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Andrzej Wroblewski Localization Generalist, Albion Localisations3 years ago
Creative people have the weakest negotiating position of all people involved in game development, while it is their image and talent that brings key value to the product. It's our creativity that mesmerizes the player so of course one can pay pennies or peanuts to actors (and translators btw)... but the only outcome you can expect is that you won't have actors and translators to add up to the value of the game in the foreseeable future.

This strike is actually the voice of reason which should be carefully listened not discarded with typical marketing offhand manner.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
Apropos of nothing in particular...

I think it would be very interesting to see a compromise that was essentially "No royalties, but the talent (be it Wil Wheaton or Nolan North) gets their name on the promo posters and box-art". People have said "VO doesn't sell games", but what would happen if the voice talent were put front-and-centre now, and this issue were revisited 5 or 6 years down the line? Make it retroactive where it isn't prohibitively expensive (website adverts and digital box-art, but not physical retail art), and you'd maybe have a lot more consumer awareness of how much VO actors put into games.

*shrugs* :)

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 26th September 2015 7:39am

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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
@John--I imagine the creation of an industry wide video game union would quickly take priority over the actors union and would probably require all voice actors to join in order to obtain any future benefits. But that's merely speculation. But hopefully one of the many good things that would come from a video game union would be the end to mandatory unpaid crunch time.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes3 years ago
Morville - you want to put voice talent on the box cover ahead of the hundreds of people that actually made the game??? Oy vey. I do wonder reading the article how many VO sessions Rob has actually been a part of, or how much he actually understands the art of it. If the actors are getting a piece of the pie what about the casting director and the voiceover director? They are equally important to the process. The Dinklage example has been used above, Peter Dinklage didn't turn into a lousy actor overnight, there are a number of reasons why the VO could have gone wrong - he phoned it in, wouldn't take direction, had a bad day, didn't understand the role - most of that lies outside of Dinklage himself. Good VO is only achieved with strong direction. So why stop at actors receiving royalties?

I also don't think Rob has looked into the history of this at all. The residuals thing has been put on the table at every single contract renewal as far as I can recall. It's not a new thing. The reason for it being there is simply because it's what actors have negotiated in other media formats for years, obviously starting with film and television. It's not going to happen because at the end of the day there's too much of an option to go non-union or use actors on exemptions. Most game VO work is non-union. It will not massively affect the quality of VO work you hear in games if SAG/Aftra simply refused to let its members perform in games forever more. It also won't be done not because of any slippery slope (plenty of studios and publishers have bonus schemes without unionization) but because the value simply isn't there, not to mention the accounting nightmare it would cause.

Voice over talent union or non-union is highly respected. The other demands look sensible on paper, are mostly sensible on paper and are pretty much adhered to already. Again I don't think Rob's ever been to a VO session because I can tell you right now nobody goes into a session minute one and does "all the shouty bits" ; it makes ZERO sense. The voiceover director is trying to get the best performance over a range of work in a limited time. You start with the easy stuff, if there's any shouting or strenuous work you leave it till last and make sure the actor is OK with doing it then. Doing it any other way will result in a lousy performance at the end of the limited time session you have.

That we've got to a strike is merely a position of posturing. SAG/Aftra have put on the table for the umpteenth time something they know they won't get. Everyone does in contract talk in order to win other points. That's the way business works.

Oh and as an aside - if there ARE roles that are vitally important for VO/likeness, where you are actually using the actor for more than just a voice ; you want appearances, you want footage filmed, you want above an beyond PR or indeed are selling the game on that person (e.g. Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in 24) then the agent and the Company involved will negotiate an appropriate deal which may contain residual/royalty payments. Not having it as a standard part of the SAG/AFTRA deal doesn't mean it doesn't or can't happen, it just means it happens when it's actually enhancing the product and that person is being used as the sales pitch for the game.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
Morville - you want to put voice talent on the box cover ahead of the hundreds of people that actually made the game???
I'll answer that with a question to you (if you don't mind :) ): Do you have a problem with Vin Diesel and Paul Walker having their names on the Fast and Furious blu-ray art, when all the crew who actually made it aren't mentioned?

It's the same principle.

Edit: Bear in mind, my wondering-aloud was based on the lack of "box office draw" that VO talent currently has in the games industry. Jennifer Hale is never going to be "starry" enough to be a draw if the only people who know her name are the people who were going to buy your game anyways.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 29th September 2015 5:24pm

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Mark Neil Character Rigger 3 years ago
Ultimately, I actually agree with the issues surrounding vocally stressful work and stunt co-ordinators in physically risky performances... the desire to know what you're applying for I'm on the fence about, depending just how much information you seek to know and at what point (NDA's do absolutely no good if you're expecting all the relevant details to be out in the open in the initial advert (so to speak)), but getting a short overview isn't out of line. The royalties, well, lots of people have been making arguments about that on both sides, and I'm undecided over. My issue though isn't really about the demands being asked, but the attitude of entitlement being pushed. Particularly surrounding the royalties... and this article is very much guilty of the very attitude that pushes potential supporters away.

"Even if we accept the notion of a pecking order or a "queue," then, the reality is that the people notionally at the front of this queue - the coders, designers, artists and so on - have been stood there motionless for the best part of the last few decades with their thumbs stuck up their backsides."

This kind of assertion comes off both incredibly ignorant and incredibly hostile to the very people you're asking for support from. It shows a very "not my job, not my problem" attitude, and ignores the realities of the relationship, or lack there of, between actors (and their unions) and developers. For example, the Film/VFX industry has been trying for a very long time to improve their lot.... and it's not just the artists, but the studios as well. Rhythm and Hues went bankrupt weeks before earning an Oscar for their part in life of pi, and when they tried to discuss their plight, the plight of all artists and studios, they got their mic shut off. Where was the support from the actors guild then? Seems as long as the actors are getting their millions and royalties, the studios that make these pictures come alive don't matter... not their job, not their problem. Where is the support from the actors guild in the efforts to address sending work offshore, a very real obstacle in addressing any issues, and something unionising couldn't do a thing about, certainly not without additional support, say from the actors guild... support they have clearly been unwilling to show.

"Perhaps it's strange that the actors should be the first to break ranks, but if their success can push us even fractionally towards an industry where poor compensation and working conditions can no longer be excused by "but hey, you get to make games!", then every creative person working in games should be wishing them godspeed."

Except there is no precedent for this, and in fact, the film industry tends to show such action could actually create an even greater divide between actors and visual artists/devs. The fact is, the actors guild hasn't been willing to show support in film/television for the artists and studios that make the movies that earn them their pay, why exactly is it you think we should believe, if we support you now getting royalties in video games, it will lead to better things for devs and artists in the future? Precedent certainly doesn't play in your favour. Maybe if we saw the actors guild backing artists in the film/TV industry, we might believe they could lead the way in gaming too. But we don't... we just seeing you mocking and deriding us, telling us it's not your problem, but then you seem confused when we don't back you up on your concerns. Well, good luck with that. I won't stand in your way, and I wish you the best in getting the safety issues addressed. but you won't get my support. After all... not my job, not my problem (now where did I get that idea from?)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Mark Neil on 29th September 2015 6:06pm

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@Morville It's not the same principle. People who like Vin Diesel pay to see his movies and the studios who make Vin Diesel movies know it. He'll be involved in the script & production, it's his vehicle. Games are nowhere near this. We don't even take writing a story seriously, kindergarten stuff compared to what Hollywood does. That's not because we're idiots but because we don't have to. Games are straight up an entirely different medium with a unique method of creation, experienced in an entirely different way by its patrons, for entirely different entertainment reasons. At the moment of consumption videogames are as near to crossword puzzles and board games as they are Tom Cruise films. There's really zero logic to pushing actors and performance as the reason for people to play games, though I agree it would be harmless to slap a name on the box. Other than that it's annoying to see games people drop their pants at the first whiff of famous types involving themselves in the medium. Would that we could stand up for ourselves and our tiny, feeble, $100bn medium so well.
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Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 3 years ago
@ Barry

See, the majority of your post, I agree with...
Games are straight up an entirely different medium with a unique method of creation, experienced in an entirely different way by its patrons, for entirely different entertainment reasons
There's really zero logic to pushing actors and performance as the reason for people to play games
are both statements I can entirely get behind.

Where I think we differ is that I don't think this has to be, and, in addition, that to assume that it is this way and can be nothing more does not help voice-actors in the industry, now or in the future. Regardless of if a SAG-AFTRA member has shaped a game, there's a definite value to good voice-acting in games. From the Dungeon Keeper narrator to the cast of Life Is Strange - value is added, and as I said in my first comment, I think royalties based on that alone are worthwhile.
People who like Vin Diesel pay to see his movies and the studios who make Vin Diesel movies know it. He'll be involved in the script & production, it's his vehicle.
I see your point... But it's also a little specious, if I may? Not every actor "sells" a movie. Not every actor has a hand in the writing or production. Yet on mostly every film, there's at least one "star actor" named on the box/poster, regardless of if its a Hollywood blockbuster or a direct-to-video title.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 29th September 2015 6:52pm

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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes3 years ago
It's absolutely NOT the same principal Morville. Fast & the Furious is sold as much on the Vin Diesel brand, that movie doesn't get made without Vin Diesel. Nobody would go and see Fast and the Furious without Vin Diesel, or certainly fewer people which is why they brought him back to the franchise. The man has more followers than any other talent in Hollywood. But still the comparison is a terrible one which shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how Hollywood works.

Voice over is voice over, it keeps actors busy and paid. Nobody buys a game for the voiceover, they never will. There is ample non-union and exempt union talent available that SAG/Aftra can be made irrelevant to the games industry, it largely is now, they do not do anything like the majority of VO work in our industry.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Richard Browne on 29th September 2015 8:29pm

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Jeff Kleist Writer, Marketing, Licensing 3 years ago
@Morville

Voice actors are infinitely replaceable, because no one knows who you are. If I went up to the average schmo and played them Troy Baker's inferior Joker vs older animation they aren't going to be able to tell me which one is Mark Hamill without foreknowledge. The fact that you appear on the screen, and are a physical presence people can latch onto gives you ungodly more leverage,

A star irrefutably sells a movie, particularly overseas. Eastern Europe and Asia will still pay to see a Stallone/Segal/VanDamme/Schwartzenegger/Willis movie. On name alone. In fact many movies are sold before they even have a script based on a poster and a star. I was Doing a post morgen for a client that made a reasonably budgeted film based on an internationally recognizable franchise. They couldn't understand why no one wanted it. The answer? They dropped their money on a domestic star, and failed to grab the cameo perfect for someone who was international. That leaves you with a movie that while good wasn't appreciably better than other similar offerings and a high price was stuck to international rights. The producing company lost their shirt on the movie.

There is a cult of voice actors, and many of the most famous ones aren't very good, but they've managed to get themselves a cult by appearing at conventions and rubbing elbows with kids. I remember the days where a company that will remain nameless had the people answering phones and working in the shipping department when they weren't in the booth. They worked cheap, and when your competition is the local community theatre, it's a lot easier to get work.

This helps them in certain areas where you can be made part of the marketing. The value of a voiceover artist is in how well they work and play with others. If you show up, bang out your lines, and do a great job, you're going to get work. Nolan North can act, but the man is a machine. He's in everything because he's easy and efficient to work with FIRST, a good actor SECOND. His marquee value is next to zero, but he helps, as all great character actors do, to elevate the final product. And those people deserve a small piece of the pie. Hell, my high school drama teacher put his kids through college after he got a super bowl commercial. Today it's usually a couple grand buyout. It's only when you achieve mascot status do you see the big money.

That doesn't mean that game companies won't chase AAA talent they do feel will make them more money. Kiefer Surherland replaced David Hayter in MGS5 because, among other things, he brought marquee value to up the profile of a game Konami saw as a runaway train that David didn't. In the reverse, Michael Ironside got dumped because the money he wanted wasn't equal to the value he brought to Splinter Cell. Was Spacey worth $5-6 million is he probably got for a week or less of work on COD? Only Activision knows for sure. But none of these people are getting their name on the box either
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