It’s on: Video game voice actors begin strike against major developers

Gabe Gurwin
It’s on: Video game voice actors begin strike against major developers
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists begin a strike on Friday morning affecting several game publishers. Demands include "contingent compensation" and safer working conditions.

Updated on 10-21-16 by Gabe Gurwin: As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, the strike has officially begun. Union members are planning to picket publisher Electronic Arts on Monday, October 24, and refused an earlier offer by the game companies for failing to share profits on extremely successful titles.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will begin a strike this Friday, October 21, that could affect the development process at several major game publishers.

Citing several issues related to both safety and monetary compensation, the organization more commonly known as the SAG-AFTRA will be preventing its members from performing in any video game that started its production after February 17, 2015, for a number of major developers and publishers, including Activision, Electronic Arts, Disney, Insomniac, Take-Two, and Warner Bros.

“Video game have grown into a multibillion-dollar industry where the top titles earn more than even the highest-grossing blockbuster movies, yet the Interactive Media Agreement, uniquely among our contracts, does not provide for a residual or any other form of back-end compensation,” the strike notice states.

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The notice also lists “transparency” as an issue, with companies “routinely” hiring actors “without identifying the role or even the game that the performer is being engaged to work on and refusing to provide basic information about the nature of the performance that will be expected of them.”

Actors’ health concerns, as it relates to their voices and otherwise, have also been placed on the table. The strike demands that “vocally stressful sessions” — specifically where actors are screaming, simulating deaths, or grunting — be limited to two hours and paid at a four-hour rate. Though the Interactive Media Agreement already requires a stunt coordinator be present as dangerous shoots, this is also reiterated in the notice.

“The video game employers we are striking continue to operate under the terms of an agreement structured more than twenty years ago for an industry that was only beginning to utilize professional performance,” the strike notice states. “Since then, games have evolved to provide increasingly immersive and cinematic experiences that compete with television and theatrical motion pictures for consumer dollars.”

Games that went into production before the aforementioned date will not be struck, and voice actors, singers, and motion-capture performers are free to work on them. Given the long development time associated with contemporary AAA games, this could mean that consumers wouldn’t see the effects of the strike for a considerable period of time. A vote to authorize the guild to strike was held last September, with more than 96 percent of its members agreeing to strike.

On Thursday, October 20, a day before the strike was scheduled to begin, the video game publishers and developers, acting under “Interactive Video Game Companies,” made what they call their “final offer” to SAG-AFTRA. This would give union members an “immediate” 9 percent wage hike should it be ratified by December 1. The offer also includes up to $950 in extra wages per game “based upon the number of sessions a performer works on a particular game.” The contract would last for three years, and includes no payment based on a game’s performance.