Video game voice actors set to go on strike

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VoiceOne of the first games that I can remember playing that utilised digitised voice samples was Gauntlet; the co-operative arcade hack and slasher. “Warrior Needs Food!” I remember the game shouting at me. According to Wikipedia, the first game to use computerised human speech was something called Space Spartans. Since then though, voice in video games has progressed from being a neat bit of synthesis, to something that’s become a fundamental part of many video games.

It’s vital. The right sort of voice acting helps drive a story, and develop the characters in games – while poor voice acting makes the whole experience resonate less. Voice acting is demanding work too – requiring hours and hours of recording the same damned lines over and over again. Finding the right voice actor (who’s not Nolan North or Troy Baker) for a game role is hard enough as it is. From later this week, it may be even harder.

Much like they did last year, the Screen Actors Guild?American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) voice actors union is contemplating going on strike.

“Despite years of concerted effort and negotiating sessions, video game employers have steadfastly refused to reach a fair deal during our contract negotiations,” the member message says.

“The videogame 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 performances,” the union says in its official strike notice. “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.”

Here’s something I’m throwing in just for fun

The companies being targeted here include:

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 2Interactive Software? ?
VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.?
?WB Games, Inc.

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These are the issues they’re looking to have resolved:

  • Contingent Compensation: Videogames have grown into a multi-billion 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. We are demanding a simple back-end payment that would be capped and apply only to successful games.
  • Vocal Stress: Videogame voice actors are routinely required to simulate painful deaths, creature voices, grunts, barks and other stressful vocalizations that can strain and damage their voices, sometimes permanently. To minimize the risk and strain on performers’ voices, we are demanding that vocally stressful sessions be limited to two hours but paid at the four hour session rate.
  • Transparency: Videogame employers routinely engage performers without identifying the role or even the game that the performer is being engaged to work on and refuse to provide basic information about the nature of the performance that will be expected of them. This deprives the performer of the ability to make a meaningful decision about whether to accept a role or to negotiate appropriate compensation if they do. We are demanding that employers provide performers or their agents with basic information at the time of engagement, including the game, the role and essential information about the nature of the performance.
  • Stunt Coordinators: Videogame employers frequently fail to have a stunt coordinator present when stunt work or other dangerous activity takes place. We want to clarify that the Interactive Media Agreement requires that stunt coordinators be present whenever stunt or other dangerous work is performed.

That all seems pretty reasonable to me. Should the strike go ahead, it’ll kick off this Friday. While it shouldn’t affect any of the games already due this year, it could delay a few of the ones you’re hoping to play early next year.

Last Updated: October 18, 2016

Geoffrey Tim

Editor. I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

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