Videogame voice actors go on strike; EA to get first picket line

Games in production after February 17, 2015 could be affected.

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It appears that negotiations between several videogame publishers and union SAG-AFTRA did not go well. As of now, the voice actors are on strike, with Electronic Arts being the first to get a picket line later today.

Negotiations have been under way for two years, with secondary compensation at the heart of the push for a new deal. Right now, voice-over actors get $825 for a four-hour session, but the union has been pushing for a percentage of game sales in addition to the base wage. 

“Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs,” said a spokeswoman for SAG-AFTRA in a prepared statement.

According to a report on Deadline, the union has wants performers to receive "an additional full-scale payment for each 500,000 units sold, up to a maximum of four secondary payments if the game sells 2 million units." The publishers countered with a proposal for additional compensatation in addition to the regular pay up to a max of $950 for eight sessions. The union came back with a final proposal that was apparently identical to that, but instead of additional compensation, the words "resdiuals buyout" were used. Publishers are balking at the term, as residuals are not paid to any member of a video game team.

“It would be unfortunate for SAG-AFTRA to take its members out on strike over terminology and not money,” said Scott Witlin, the chief negotiator for the coalition of publishers affected.

Right now, the strike affects all games that started production after February 17, 2015, made by the following companies:

  • 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.

The union has planned a picket line for Electronic Arts in Redwood Shores, Calif, today at 10:30 a.m. PT / 1:30 p.m. ET. A full description of why the union is striking is available on the official site.

Contributing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 21, 2016 7:49 AM

    John Keefer posted a new article, Videogame voice actors go on strike; EA to get first picket line

    • reply
      October 21, 2016 8:41 AM

      I feel I'm siding with the studios on this. From what I've gathered, most people working on a game don't make beyond salary. It's not justifiable to pay so much residual to a voice talent that is not usually considered critical to a game. Their argument that these additional payments are meant to help talent pay bills between games is laughable. What such measure do coders, artists, musicians, etc. what work in the game industry have to help them pay bills between projects? We've all heard stories of studio layoffs almost immediately after a game completes if there isn't another project already lined up. Publishers may be a little more insulated from this kind of high/low thing, but dev studios aren't. Size of the shop or success of the game certainly doesn't seem to affect it either. We've seen big name dev shops fold in the last several years. Where's the safety net for those talented people?

      No, this smells too much like SAG trying to be self-important. Do we need to adjust payment structures so the individuals that significantly contribute to a game can make some incremental income of successful games? Probably. I have no clue how to do that, and make it fair.

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        October 21, 2016 9:31 AM

        The residuals don't kick in until it's over 1 or 2 million copies sold and that compensation tops out in the low thousands. It doesn't sound so terrible for larger studios.

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        October 21, 2016 12:01 PM

        [deleted]

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          October 21, 2016 12:45 PM

          There's lots of VO work outside of video games. Can never have enough diversification in anime dubs for one. Plus, they don't all start as just doing VO work. I believe it's not uncommon for them to also have theater backgrounds.

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            October 21, 2016 2:14 PM

            Agree, I'm with Daggot, the biggest problem I have is SAG is trying to make it seems like they're helping the entire industry, when it's really only effecting the Top 10% of VO game actors, and no one else. They're trying to play it out in a way that claims once "this" happens, Artist and Coders can get there union and get great benefits, it could happen, it probably wont, but it could. This only helps well established VO actors, there are a ton of Non Union game projects, Freelancers, and At will Employee Rules that prevent everything they're trying to accomplish and many of these lesser know up and coming VO actors can't afford to go on a 12 month strike, they have families to feed as well. I've scabbed in Hollywood before, not proud of it, but i needed the money to pay rent, car, student loans, I had no choice. There are a lot of people with families that don't have this option and they shouldn't get yelled at or blacklisted for trying to feed there families.

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        October 21, 2016 4:09 PM

        So you'd rather everyone lose equally? You should be scolding the video game dev community for not organizing. If game devs/artists whatever had a union they'd be doing the exact same thing but they're too scattered and apathetic.

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      October 21, 2016 11:41 AM

      I wonder what the studios will do if they can't come to any kind of agreement with the guild. Maybe conduct acting classes for the full-time employees?

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        October 21, 2016 11:57 AM

        Use non-union labor, like back in the PSX era.

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          October 21, 2016 12:46 PM

          Pretty much this. But, I'm not sure what the full influence of the union is, so hard to really say how much that'll impact things. Other than not having A list talent I guess.

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        October 21, 2016 12:06 PM

        Plenty of game studios used voices of their own employees or family and friends.

        I really enjoyed the VO work of the characters in Jagged Alliance 2. Lots of it was developers mocking voices of Hollywood characters.

        "Damn it to hell!" (in stereotypical Schwarzenegger accent)

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        October 21, 2016 12:50 PM

        They will also just stop producing as much singleplayer content that requires lengthy voice work.

        Battleborn has been pretty amazing with its voice work. Each different hero has PVP lines, PVE, lines and context with combinations of heroes. The DLC that just came out has at least 5 completely voiced main plot variations in for replayability.

        If that becomes impossible to do with the $60 price point and DLC $10-15 price points we will see a lot less of that and a lot more multiplayer with more generic shouts. Or even something like Garden Warfare 2 with stylized mumbling rather than voice acting.

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      October 21, 2016 12:18 PM

      pity that's not EA to get the only picket line.

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      October 21, 2016 12:54 PM

      I cant even deal with this today. my blood is boiling. Expect to see this on STS next week. Voice actors are not above the Artist, Coders and Engineers, that make these games possible, you can claim you're more important; therefor you should get more. Everyone deserves residuals, not just the top 5%. GOD I'M REALLY MAD!

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        October 21, 2016 1:45 PM

        The best way to get residuals for everyone is definitely to deny it to the people that took the risks, organized themselves, formed a union, and weighed the benefits and drawbacks of a strike for 12 months.

        What a stupid argument.

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          October 21, 2016 1:49 PM

          No, your right it worked out great for animators. Oh wait it didn't and everything went to Korea.

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            October 21, 2016 1:50 PM

            I don't want to see this happen to the gaming industry.

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              October 21, 2016 2:11 PM

              I had a less confrontative post ready for your other reply, but the nuke ate it.

              First, sorry.

              Second, it's complicated. You know too well the industry is a cesspool of low wages and poor conditions.

              With SAG-AFTRA in the spotlight, programmers, animators et al could've used this as momentum to demand their own improvements. But they're not organized and most of them blindly rush to defend the hand that feeds doesn't give a shit about them.

              This "covet thy neighbor's" attitude is unproductive and dumb. The publishers only need to sit this out while the working professions keep each other down.

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                October 21, 2016 2:20 PM

                Right, I'm sorry, as well, I'm just really passionate about this. I get where you're coming from. I do. I just don't see how that can happen. SAG only cares about SAG, they don't care about anyone else in poor work conditions in the Game industry.

                Like you said the Industry, Hell, all industries are a mess, I fully support a safe, fair paid work environment, but i want it for everyone, not just a certain profession in the industry.

                Which begs the question, how can we fix it? Can it be fixed? Has is gotten to the point of no return?

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                  October 21, 2016 2:29 PM

                  SAG doesn't have to care about anyone else. That's the thing. Programmers et al don't pay to be in SAG.

                  The solution is to get organized. Get recognized. Improve the industry through friction and compromise.

                  But that's not gonna happen as long as a steady stream of kids from high-school happily agrees to these insane working conditions because "vidya gamez fuck yeah!!1!".

                  It's a monumental task, and it really may be too late for that. Keeping your fellow creators from advancing on the ladder because your own current situation doesn't allow for that is very dishonest but it's easier so hey, guess what happens.

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                    October 21, 2016 3:19 PM

                    Bingo. Developers get angry but they don't do anything to actually try to stop it. Here you have a group that actually formed to protect the group.

                    The gaming industry preys on people "making games". Sure that's great but I can get double the pay in business software and do just as rewarding of a challenge coding with far less hours because I can demand that.

                    Every random kid keeps trying to get into gaming only to get burned out.

                    Stop trying to keep other successful people down when you need to be more successful.

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                      October 21, 2016 4:44 PM

                      Isn't that capitalism at it's core though? Why would you pay someone 100 dollars an hour when someone wants to do the same job for 50? this is why Unions are put in place to stop businesses from taking advantage of people and doing bullshit like that. However The top 10% of VO actors are hardly struggling its the bottom 90% that need the help, if the SAG strike works out i don't really see it helping out the small up and comers, i just see the Top 10% or so getting more money and benefits, while the rest are forced working non union gigs to feed themselves.

                      Awhile back i looked into joining the Editors union (For Post Production) its was 1,500 dollars fee and you had to get union work, well, the problem was nothing was union work, which lead to me getting taking advantage off, being underpaid and sometimes, never getting paid for work i did. I couldn't find any "Union" work. That's my fear for the strike, its only going to help a select few BIG elitist voice actors and no one else.

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                        October 21, 2016 5:36 PM

                        The effectiveness of the union in helping all of its members is a separate issue from whether workers should be fairly compensated in the first place.

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                          October 21, 2016 5:53 PM

                          Just the 1% though.

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                            October 21, 2016 5:59 PM

                            You are conflating so many things here, it's hard to keep everything straight.

                            A) A failed union is a separate issue from a functioning one.

                            B) Skill sets and expertise that directly impact the quality of the product are worth more. That is how you rally against the capitalistic trend towards constantly reducing labor costs.

                            C) SAG succeeding or failing in their negations is a separate, though tangentially related, subject from whether or not programmers or artists are fairly compensated.

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                      October 22, 2016 6:26 PM

                      Where to begin...

                      1) Not all developers are coders. There are also animators, environmental artists, character artists, technical artists, visual effects artists, sound designers, gameplay designers, level designers, writers, etc. Designers have no options outside of the games industry.

                      2) I think you'll find that most game programmers stay in the industry because they enjoy the experience of making games. Coding for business software would be easier and pay more but the work itself would be less interesting and less rewarding. When you're working on something you care about, you feel invested and that's important to a lot of people.

                      3) According to this article, voice actors are already getting paid $200+/hour for their work. That's already extremely generous, especially considering how much their work actually contributes to the final product. In movies, actors have a significant impact on the success of the product. That's not the case with games. Nobody has ever said "Hey, Nolan North is providing the voice work for a character in that game! I'm definitely pre-ordering it now!"

                      4) The SAG demands don't take into account how much game development actually costs and how many units need to be sold before a game is even profitable. 500k for a AAA game is a failure. In most cases, a AAA game needs to sell at least 2 million just to break even.

                      Voice actors are already paid enough. If they want more stable work, they need to get a salaried job rather than contract work, with the understanding that they will get paid less per hour in exchange for more stability and benefits. If every developer was paid $200 an hour, there wouldn't be any games industry because every studio would go bankrupt.

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                        October 23, 2016 12:24 PM

                        You know what's even more fun? A lot of the developers that work like full-timers are actually contractors, getting paid as little as $15 an hour with no benefits whatsoever.

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                    October 21, 2016 3:43 PM

                    From my experience, what's generally happening is the workforce in the games industry is getting older and conditions are improving as a function of that. When I started in the industry almost 12 years ago the average age was probably 25 or so and people absolutely took advantage of the readily available new recruits. However, there was a gradual shift in mentality and more effort was made to keep people good at their jobs. So project management became better which led to more realistic scope which led to shorter crunch times and hardly any OT.

                    Of course, I'm just speaking to my situation and experience. I can't speak to how other companies are managed. My feelings on the matter is there's no need to organize because from my perspective the industry is already changing itself.

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                October 21, 2016 3:14 PM

                Totally this.

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        October 21, 2016 5:44 PM

        I agree with you on the value of the different parts of the game development machine, but that is an overly simplistic view of the whole situation.

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        October 22, 2016 6:36 AM

        That's pretty much it right there. Voice actors don't deserve it more than everyone else and it's only fair if everyone is getting them. Only thing is that the rest of the team isn't unionized and will never get them. They definitely should all get something if the game sells extremely well.

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      October 21, 2016 1:05 PM

      Think they'd be ok with autographing some of my games while they stand in the picket line?

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      October 21, 2016 1:52 PM

      While I'm cool with voice actors trying to make more money (who doesn't want to make more money), and I'll agree that they can make a game more immersive, they're really not needed for most games. To put it in perspective, without a programmer, there would be no game. Without an "artist" there would be no UI. Without a voice actor, you have text.

      I'm not trying marginalize their contributions, but games like stellaris and stardew are just fine w/o any voice acting.

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        October 21, 2016 1:56 PM

        Zelda games (link), even in 2016, barely has a voice -- so little that you could probably get your sound engineer to replicate all of link's voices.

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          October 21, 2016 2:34 PM

          Blizzard uses one of their VPs for a bunch of voices.

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            October 21, 2016 3:20 PM

            Well not anymore since he's gone but that always annoyed me. I don't need Chris Metzen voicing half the damn cast.

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              October 21, 2016 3:31 PM

              Voicing and writing the scripts

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              October 21, 2016 3:38 PM

              You generally end up with another voice actor doing the same thing. Look at Steve Blum in the Arkham games.

              It was more neat back when developers and their friends/family got to do some voices. Probably with a decent voice director and coach hired part time to get it it'll be indistinguishable from having a big name.

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      October 21, 2016 3:42 PM

      I'm not understanding the people hating on voice actors trying to get a better deal for themselves because X video game worker group is getting a shit deal.

      Maybe those other groups should organize. We had this conversation the other day here on the Shack and it still perplexes me. I honestly don't see any logic behind the bitching and moaning.

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        October 21, 2016 4:17 PM

        Because some people can't stand it when others are more successful than they are. They aspire to drag others down instead of lifting themselves up.

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        October 21, 2016 4:18 PM

        Unions R bad. Free market fixes everything!1!!

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          October 21, 2016 6:39 PM

          Medieval tactics of dealing with peasants still work to this day. Just make them fight over their share of the scraps and get too distracted to notice how fat you're getting.

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        October 21, 2016 5:00 PM

        The Voice afters have SAG-AFTRA to Rally and fight behind them, to support them. The coders and Artist have nothing to stand behind. To simply say "Just make your own union" is way over simplistic

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          October 21, 2016 5:01 PM

          I know they do, but honestly they have to start somewhere if they want improvement. Being jealous or resentful isn't helping anyone.

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            October 21, 2016 5:09 PM

            I don't think it's jealously. They just want protection too, everyone seems to be so replaceable in this generation. I should now. I was replaced 3 times,. kids that offered to do my job for less than me. My editors union did nothing for me then and probably wouldn't have if i paid dues anyway. Most people are Freelancers, or "At Will Employees" we have 0 protection. And the second we start to get vocal or do something about it a 22 year old will happily take our place at 10/hour. I've seen it happen, and it's only getting worse.

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              October 21, 2016 5:12 PM

              I am also in that position as a contract worker so I definitely get it, but that does not explain the hate on the voice actors to me in any way.

              How are things going to get better outside of some kind of collective bargaining? I suppose you could write your representatives, but it would be more effective if a lot of people did so, which makes me think folks should organize to make it happen.

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                October 21, 2016 5:22 PM

                Who is this Strike really going to help if it succeeds? Voice actors that are already established, make a good living, get them even more money, it's not going to help John Smith, 32, struggling voice actor, in fact, its probably going to hurt him more in the long run. I want it to actually help EVERYONE not just the 1% on the top, if that makes sense.

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                  October 21, 2016 5:30 PM

                  It's not clear to me that it would only benefit established voice actors but I haven't seen the contracts and I don't have a lot of info about the state of voice acting in the gaming industry.

                  But that really isn't answering my initial question because I keep seeing developers writing stuff like "why should they get xyz when devs have to do crazy sprints and work long hours and are treated like shit!"

                  That's not being worried about voice actors, that's something else. Jealousy? Misery loves company? I don't know.

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                  October 21, 2016 5:40 PM

                  Just know that this is exactly what wealthy elites want you to do and think.

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      October 21, 2016 6:34 PM

      I think the 'per unit sold' as opposed to 'per revenue sold' is gonna be a problem. Games get reduced in price as time goes along, or Steam/GoG sales.

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