Voice actors' guild sets October 21 strike date

Should final attempt at a resolution fail, SAG-AFTRA members will stop work on all games that started production after Feb. 17, 2015

SAG-AFTRA, the guild representing voice actors, has set October 21 as the date for its first ever strike against the games industry.

After more than 18 months of negotiations, which are detailed in this document, SAG-AFTRA's representatives will make one final attempt to reach a compromise with major companies from the games industry. Those meetings will take place between October 17 and 19, but a post on the guild's website displays little confidence in a positive outcome.

"Video game employers have steadfastly refused to reach a fair deal during our contract negotiations"

"Despite years of concerted effort and negotiating sessions, video game employers have steadfastly refused to reach a fair deal during our contract negotiations... Based on past experience, we are not confident management is willing to make the changes necessary to bring this contract up to the standards of our other agreements.

"Unless you hear differently from us, effective Oct. 21 at 12:01 a.m., you should be prepared to strike the following video game employers with regard to all games that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015."

The contract in question is the "Interactive Media Agreement," the terms of which were structured over 20 years ago. SAG-AFTRA's negotiating position is based on the premise that the games industry "was only beginning to utilise professional performances" in its products at that time.

An official SAG-AFTRA Strike Notice said the following: "Since then, games have evolved to provide increasingly immersive and cinematic experiences that compete with television and theatrical motion pictures for consumer dollars. It is time for this now mature industry to pay and treat professional performers according to the standards and precedents that our union has established and defended for generations."

"We have consistently conveyed to management both how serious we are about achieving these important aims for our members and our willingness to come to a reasonable deal. While we are disappointed that management's intransigence has forced to make this difficult choice, we remain available to bargain and continue to seek a fair and reasonable conclusion to this negotiation."

"Make sure that every actor you know - whether they are in the union or not - understands the importance of the issues and honors the strike"

A key issue for SAG-AFTRA's members is the fact that the games industry is "unique among our contracts" in not offering actors residual compensation, with a capped "back-end payment" on successful games suggested. It also asks for sessions involving "stressful vocalisations" - painful deaths, creature voices, grunts, barks, etc. - to be limited to two hours but paid at a four hour session rate. Other key issues are greater transparency about what individual roles will require before any contract is signed, and that stunt co-ordinators be present during sessions that demand physical activity.

If the strike goes ahead, SAG-AFTRA's members will cease work on any game that started production after February 17, 2015. That includes voice acting, but also motion and performance capture, stunt work, the use of previously recorded work, performance in trailers, and a number of other services. SAG-AFTRA has asked all of its members to, "make sure that every actor you know - whether they are in the union or not - understands the importance of the issues and honors the strike." Indeed, some of the industry's most prominent voice talent has already expressed its support of a possible strike, including Jennifer Hale, David Hayter and Wil Wheaton.

The following companies were listed as targets of the strike:

  • 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.

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Latest comments (10)

Tom Pickard Founder and Creative Director, Knifey Spoonie Games2 years ago
Am I the only one that find's it weird that people expect to get paid residuals? When the people who make the games most often don't? Not sure if it's the same in TV and Film, But I always find it a strange concept that Actors and VO actors get paid a long tail after also being paid an upfront fee for the work whilst someone like a 3d Artist or a coder does not.

I mean fair play if that's the sort of deal you can get, but If this happens in games then I hope a Developer Union springs up and asks for similar residual payments, as It would be kind of unfair if one batch of people in the process get this special treatment, whilst others who have poured blood and sweat in don't...
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Hugo Trepanier Game Designer, Behaviour Interactive2 years ago
I echo your sentiments, Tom. I've always thought this had to do with actors being the "public face" when it comes to movies or television. People typically remember the stars of the show, not their sound tech or wardrobe designers.

Still don't know if that warrants additional pay or not though but these industries do tend to revolve around the stars more than in video games. No one buys a game because it is voiced by so and so but many go see a film just because they like the actor(s).

Another dubious claim is the one regarding previously recorded work, since the same reasoning could be applied to art assets or code packages that are constantly reused.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Hugo Trepanier on 17th October 2016 5:49pm

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Steve Ellis Managing Director / Programmer 2 years ago
@Tom - no, you're not. Perhaps the new arrangement should link their residuals to the residuals that are paid to the dev team. If they want fairness, that would be a huge step in the right direction. Any arrangement that pays them residuals regardless of whether the team gets anything would be the exact opposite of "a fair deal".

I wonder how many of them even know the amount of time and effort it takes to develop a AAA game these days (man-millennia, not man-years), and therefore how proportionally small their contribution actually is?
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Show all comments (10)
It's not the fault of voice actors that developers don't get residuals. If they want to organise for better pay and better treatment, more power to them. That's exactly what unions are for.

More game devs should unionise if we want to improve our pay and conditions, rather than sitting back and criticising those who are working at it for themselves.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jessica Hyland on 17th October 2016 10:42pm

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Shane Sweeney Academic 2 years ago
This exact conversation has been a problem for animators for decades.

While Writers, Actors, Musicians, Directors and even Extras can get residuals for film and television, animators (including those at Pixar) don't get residuals. The Animator Union's fought for it in the 1960s and it all culminated in what is referred to as the 'Runaway Wars' where animators across America went on strike for ten weeks and the Animation Studios pushed all the animation overseas. To this day (besides Voice Actors) almost no one in animation gets a residual including writers and directors.

I'm not sure if every VO should get a residual in game's but I do think games centred around performance like the Last of Us or the Stanley Parable are doing a disservice to voice actors if they don't get a residual.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Shane Sweeney on 18th October 2016 1:47am

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Rafa Ferrer Localisation Manager, Red Comet Media2 years ago
Since the article focuses just on royalties as the VA's main demand, I'll give a little more context on why they strike.
This is from a SAG-AFTRA member on reddit:

Very very very much FOR the strike. We needed a 75% vote to approve. We got almost 97%. These producers' demands are, quite frankly, fucking nuts. They want to be able to fine actors for checking their cell phones in a session, or for being distracted. They want to fine agents $150,000 and strip them of their union franchise if they pass on auditions (i.e., you and Kevin Spacey don't want to audition for a game...bam. $150,000 fine, union franchise gone).

We're looking for reasonable safety precautions regarding vocal stress (limiting stressful sessions to 2 hrs. instead of 4hrs.) and having a stunt coordinator on set for mocap. These producers don't even feel mocap should be included under a video game contract.

We're also asking for contingent pay. Basically, you get your session fee. If the game sells over 2 million units, you get another session fee. And another at 4 million, CAPPING at 8 million units. This would, in no way, damage independent game companies, as it only provides a "residual" when a game is successful.

Lastly, we're asking for transparency. We don't want members to show up at a session, not having seen a script, or even knowing what the game is, and realize they have to scream racial slurs or do awful things, or just anything they feel uncomfortable doing. We need to know upfront what we're getting into.

We are currently working the same contract that was negotiated in the mid- 1990s! I think it's fair to say that the industry has changed a bit since that time. And we need a contract that protects us in this new landscape.

EDIT: So sorry if the timing of this screws you over, but remember: THIS ISN'T A STRIKE AGAINST ALL VG COMPANIES. This is only against selected companies like EA, Activision, Disney and a handful more. So there's still plenty of work to be had out there!

And hopefully it'll be resolved in the next few days, anyway, and we won't have to strike.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up2 years ago
When the movie business started, specific screen actors were tied to specific studios, and the public looked forward to the films from that studio because of the actors themselves. As a result of the well known actors and faster production, the money naturally stared to flow. Although great voice acting is really important, that bond isn't so tight with voice actors and the gaming public however. The game studios tend to have that tight relationship with the public instead, in the games industry.

Some screen actors back then became unhappy and they sued for various reasons. Some of it money related, and some of it was a result of the effects of the money on the development process and work place. Bette Davis sued Warner Brothers studios for the right to chose her own roles. She failed with that. However, Olivia De Haviland then sued the studio and won. This resulted in the De_Havilland Law, and the creation of unions like the Screen Actor's Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Producers Guild.

The Voice Actors guild stance is the first of many to come to the games industry, IMO, and if they are successful, I would expect you will see a games producers guild, a programmers guild, an artists guild and so on, because they will also want to see royalties, artistic input and working conditions respected in the same way. Just the natural evolution of the big budget industry. It will have pros and cons.
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Adam Campbell Game Manager, Azoomee2 years ago
I find it a little strange too but I think its important and agree with Jessica's comment.

That said, I feel a lot of people wouldn't know the first place to start when it comes to setting up a union for the interests those in the wider industry.

I would like to know if a trade body such as UKIE or TIGA can give advice on this, it also has to be accessible in terms of cost/membership too.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 19th October 2016 7:57pm

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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises2 years ago
I think everyone will lose in this except SAG-AFTRA.

Game companies lose because their costs will go way up.

Most actors lose because their work will get outsourced to cheaper non-union studios.

A-list stars like Kevin Spacey will lose because they'll get the same deals as before, but now SAG-AFTRA will want a bigger percentage of what they make.

SAG-AFTRA is the only winner because they'll keep collecting their membership fees ($3000 to join, and $200 a year, and who knows what else - from 160,000 members). But now they have a new story to tell their members, that they fought for all these things, that their existence is still justified, and maybe even that their fees should go up.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 2 years ago
I can appreciate the points in Rafa's post and for the vocally demanding aspect of the job but considering that most industries don't give residuals to their workers why are 'artists' (speaking of actors and VAs here) so special? I'd be fine with it if the plumber who keeps the actor 'regular' a residual on all their future, non-tensed performances...

So what if the product goes on to make millions? That's beside the point for the worker. My products go on to save lives, my salary is commensurate with my skill, cost of living, experience and industry standard. Anything else is a bit much, IMO. Now, if they're arguing they're not paid enough - then that's more of a valid argument. But residuals are basically saying: 'If you're successful, I want a cut after the fact but if you're not I won't bother you for it.'

It comes across as a very cash-grabbing mentality. If we see the same thing in litigation terms (i.e. entity A has a patent but they don't sue until the product of entity B becomes successful) then we decry that very same behaviour.

Either we're paid a fair wage for the job or we're not. Otherwise let everyone get residuals for all work. That's the only fair way.
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