SAG-AFTRA announces deal with AI company to create and license ‘digital voice replicas’ for use in video games

 The SAG-AFTRA San-Fransisco-North California Local.
The SAG-AFTRA San-Fransisco-North California Local.

Update: This article has been updated with a statement sent to TRG from SAG-AFTRA.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), an American labor union which represents thousands of media professionals, has announced what it describes as a “groundbreaking AI voice agreement” with artificial intelligence voice technology company Replica Studios.

According to the announcement post published yesterday (January 9), the deal will allow voice actors to “create and license a digital replica of their voice,” which can then be used in video games. It claims that voice actors will be enabled to “safely explore new employment opportunities” while having “industry-leading protections tailored to AI technology.”

This latest news has come as a surprise to many, given SAG-AFTRA’s previous stance on the use of AI technology. Last September, when the union’s members voted unanimously to authorize strikes for people in the games industry (and then voted 98% in favor of authorizing a strike should negotiations call for it), president Fran Drescher said that “artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work.” The negotiations called for protections surrounding AI, especially in regards to transparency, consent, control and compensation.

Now, in her latest statement published alongside the announcement, Drescher said: “Artificial intelligence has dominated the headlines, and for most performers, the best protection against the unauthorized digital simulation of their voice, likeness and/or performance is a SAG-AFTRA contract. We are so happy to partner with Replica Studios, because this is a great example of AI being done right.”

SAG-AFTRA’s news piece states that the deal was “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community,” but many voice actors on Twitter / X have expressed discomfort over the decision. Yong Yea, the new English voice actor for Kazuma Kiryu in Like a Dragon Gaiden and Infinite Wealth, alleged: “Every voice actor I know not only didn't approve this, they pretty much heard about this for the first time today on Twitter.”

Xander Mobus, the voice actor for Joker in Persona 5 and the announcer in Super Smash Bros 4 and Ultimate, wrote: “F***ing...who?! Did any of y'all approve this? I didn't get told we were voting on this.

“SAG leadership, please, I'm begging you, stop showing your ass and do something to keep us working. Ya know? Your job? You ain't licensors, you are a labor union! The hell y'all doing!?”

Destiny 2’s Ana Bray voice actor, Erika Ishii, shared similar questions: “Approved by… WHO exactly? Was any one of the ‘affected members’ who signed off on this a working voice actor?”

Despite this response from voice actors, in a statement sent to TRG, SAG-AFTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that the AI deal builds "on the terms approved by 80% of our members just a month ago." He added that it's hoped other companies will adopt similar agreements.

"Our AI deal with Replica Studios is an important step in ensuring the ethical application of these technologies in a way that ensures the use of members’ voices occurs only with informed consent and fair compensation," he said. "This is a deal that covers one company, with regard to the development of video games.

"This deal does not impact our IMA [Interactive Media Agreement] negotiations. Rather, it sets a model for our industry, building on the terms approved by 80% of our members just a month ago, and we hope to see more companies adopting agreements like this one."

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