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Video Game Voice Actors Are Taking A Vote On Whether To Strike

by Mike Futter on Sep 22, 2015 at 12:39 PM

A long-running conversation between publishers and voice actors over contract terms may be coming to a head. SAG-AFTRA, the union representing actors (including voice actors) is currently considering a strike to push the matter to resolution.

Chief among the issues under discussion is the matter of “back end bonuses.” These are a trade-off, with lower fees for service, but a percentage of the gross. This is becoming more common in film, and now may become a piece of the gaming landscape.

According the FAQ found on the SAG-AFTRA website, the proposal suggests that residual payments not kick in until a game sells 2 million units. The union says that would protect smaller game developers, while allowing actors to earn a piece of what it labels as “blockbusters.”

“We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers,” the union writes. “That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR bonus payments for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.”

Additionally, SAG-AFTRA is looking for stunt pay for those actors put in vocally stressful situations. Additionally, with the increase in motion capture performance, the union wants to have stunt coordinators available.

According to the union (and not directly from the publisher representatives, to whom we’ve reached out), the employers have proposed fines for late arrivals on set and fines for agents that don’t send actors out for smaller roles (like ambient voices). SAG-AFTRA also objects to publishers potentially hiring their own employees for voice work without requiring those individuals join the union.

The matter has been under intense discussion since the beginning of the year. The two sides met in February and then again in June with no resolution.

Now, SAG-AFTRA is taking a vote on whether or not to strike. In order for that to happen, 75 percent of voting members would need to approve the action. If successful, members would be unable to work during the strike, and the union would ask that non-members abide by the action.

The group goes so far as to suggest that the proposal from publishers, including Activision, Disney, EA, and WB Games may not be legal. “Saying no will be much easier if the interactive community is on board,” the union indicates on its FAQ page. “It comes down to a question of power. The employers can dig in their heels indefinitely. A strong strike authorization vote is the best way to shift the power dynamic.”

So far, a number of notable voice actors have voiced their support of the strike. Included are Wil Wheaton, Phil LaMarr, Jennifer Hale, Ashly Burch, and Steve Blum, using two different hashtags (#PerformanceMatters and #IAmOnBoard2015). 

We’ve reached out to a number of voice actors and publishers for perspective on this developing story. We’ll update as more information and comments are available.

Update: A number of our contacts on both sides of this issue have responded to us. A number of publishers have declined to comment, and we have received official word from SAG-AFTRA that the two sides have agreed to a media blackout. Should that change and more information becomes available (most likely first in an announcement regarding the vote), we'll update.

[Source: SAG-AFTRA]


Our Take
It is far too early to form an opinion about this, as we’ve only seen one side’s perspective so far. As we have more information to share, we’ll update this story.