SAG AFTRA has threatened to strike. The guild, which includes and represents performers of all kinds, has been renegotiating contracts with major video game companies on the treatment and payment of voice actors. These negotiations have gone on for months now, but have reached a point where SAG AFTRA members are voting to strike. The vote will require seventy five percent majority to pass, and from the support given by prominent voice actors it seems that it could very well pass.
SAG AFTRA members argue that the video game companies have been unwilling to negotiate upon various issues of work conditions and residual bonuses. The proposal has two parts which has caused such a standstill. Firstly is the issue of back-end bonuses. The proposal would have voice actors receiving bonuses based upon the sales or subscriptions to any video game they participate it, beginning when a game reaches two million sales and extending in two million increments until it reaches eight million sales.
The union argues that various other employees of major video game companies receive these bonuses. Activision’s COO received a bonus of around $4 million, and the executive chairman of EA Games took home around half that.
SAGR AFTRA has made the following statement on the issue of back-end payments:
“There is ample precedent for secondary payments across the media landscape. You get secondary payments when you perform in feature films, animation, episodic TV, commercials and the like. But that wasn’t always the case. Performers who came before you had the courage to fight for the residual payments you enjoy today, and, because they stood together, they won them.”
Secondly is the issue of working conditions. SAG AFTRA complains that the working conditions are inhospitable, demanding a change to the average work day of a voice actor, which at the moment can extend up to seven hours. They are requesting this is shortened to three hours at a time. Additionally, SAF AFTRA members desire accommodations for stunt scenes, in which they must use motion capture technology. They bring up the fact that stunt coordinators are required at movie studios, yet the video game takes no precautions during some of the more risky stunts voice actors may be forced to participate in.
Various other topics issues are brought up. Major game companies have made a statement that they want to be able to fine SAG AFTRA members up to $2,500 if they show up late, or are not “attentive to the services for which [they] have been engaged”. Companies are also asking to be able to fine the union up to $100,000 if their agents do not send them out to certain auditions.
This attitude from video game companies is the primary contributor to the strike, an unmoving position that they ‘own’ the voice actors.
Officially SAG AFTRA is on media blackout regarding the issue, however certain prominent members, including Will Wheaton from Firefly Online, Female Sheperd’s Jennifer Hale, Arkham City’s Tara Strong, and former Solid Snake voice actor David Hayter have spoken up on social media, voicing their support. Will Wheaton’s personal website argues for the strike, stating:
“I love the work that I do. I’m grateful for the work that I have, and I’ve been lucky to work with some incredibly talented people on both sides of the recording studio glass. This isn’t about making enemies of the other creative people in the business, be they directors, studio engineers, artists, programmers, sound designers, writers, etc. This is about a handful of extremely wealthy, extremely powerful people trying to take away our ability to make a living, to take care of our voices, and to be safe on the set.”
Arguments have arose online, under the hastags #PerformanceMatters and #IAmOnBoard2015.
Once again referring to Will Wheaton’s post, he has made a statement about the work conditions and the aftermath of voice acting.
“Don’t talk at all for the rest of the day, and don’t make any plans to go audition for any other voice work for the rest of the week, because your voice is wrecked. Don’t go to any kind of day job that requires you to talk with anyone, either, because you’re not going to be able to do that. Oh, and over years and years of this, it’s going to build up into serious and permanent damage … and then you’re not going to be able to work with your voice anymore.”
If the vote passes, it could mean delays in games released by major video game companies until the contract agreements are resolved. The union says they will only strike “if the short-term risk of loss-of-work is outweighed by the long-term gain of a better contract in a growing industry.” Any strike could delay games that are set to come out soon, either around the Christmas rush or the summer releases.
This strike is also notable in its capacity to extend beyond the video game industry and to other industries which utilize voice acting, including cartoons and radio, or set a precedent for those industries. Voting ends October 5th, 2015, at which point the votes of the affected members will be counted and the union will have its decision. It hopes the strike, if it takes place, will force major companies back into negotiations. When faced with the possibility of major delays it is unlikely major game companies will hold out long if such a strike occurs.