Some of our favorite game franchises could be in some hot water.
After a lengthy negotiation processes, SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents voice actors, announced that they were striking against a number of video game publishers including:
- 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 2 Interactive Software
- VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.
- WB Games, Inc.
These publishers are responsible for numerous fan favorites such as Grand Theft Auto, Borderlands, Bio Shock, Call of Duty, Batman Arkham, Ratchet and Clank, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Titanfall and many others.
How did things get this far, and what is all the fuss about?
Show Me The Money
Like many strikes, a lot of this is rooted in money. While game publishers argue that they've presented a fair offer, voice actors believe that they deserve to share more in a game's success:
"...if a video game is wildly successful, actors should share in its financial success. There is ample precedent for residual income for actors, yet they’ve historically been extremely difficult to achieve in this contract."
SAG-AFTRA has outlined a pay schedule that they believe is fair, but of course the studios and union have yet to agree to terms. Few would argue that the union's stance is controversial. By this point its fairly normal for actors to share the success of the films they work on, whether that comes in the form of royalties, or a percentage of merchandise sales.
One of the most famous examples of this comes from Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original #StarWars trilogy. He was promised a percentage of the films profits for his great contributions to Episode IV—you can imagine how well that turned out for him.
While this practice is standard for regular acting work, voice acting in video games has yet to reach the same status.
Unsafe Work Conditions
The other aspect is a bit scary for the industry as a whole.
Voice actors are reportedly undergoing some pretty extreme stress to complete their work. The statement continues:
"As the video game industry continues to incorporate more dialogue into their titles, voiceover actors are being asked to perform many challenging vocal tasks, such as simulating painful deaths, creature voices, battle sounds, and screams and shrieks, with significant force and explosive vibration. Actors are reporting that they are fainting in sessions, tasting blood, vomiting, losing their voice for a day up to several weeks, permanently losing their vocal range, etc."
Given that an actor's voice is their lifeline, it's understandable that they would want to safe guard it. Part of the great concern is voice actors not having transparency about what projects will entail and the ways in which they'll be forced to strain their voices (or for how long).
No End In Sight
So what are the publishers saying about this? One representative responded earlier today when news of the strike broke:
"The Video Game Companies did everything in their power to reach agreement with union leaders, offering a money package almost identical to SAG-AFTRA's last demand. We are greatly disappointed that SAG-AFTRA refuses to allow its members to have a democratic vote on our proposal and decide if the significant money on the table is acceptable to them. The strike is going to hurt the SAG-AFTRA performers that these Companies value."
So are our favorite games in trouble? Not exactly. According to the same rep, things should be okay at least temporarily:
"The strike will have little to no immediate impact on the ability of fans to buy and play the video games they love as the majority of upcoming games already are in production--and the union is not permitted to strike most of the games due to the nature of the 'No Strike Provisions' of the interactive media agreement."
Even though representatives of game studios are trying to downplay the strike, it's hard to imagine a world where video games can function without voice actors in 2016.
There was a very long time where in depth voice work was the exception and not the rule in video games, but in today's gaming world, entire games being voiced is the norm; even sometimes with MMO games such as Bioware's #TheOldRepublic.
So while our favorite franchises may not be in immediate trouble, it's unclear what effect this will have long term. Many voice actors including Wil Wheaton (GTA5) and Jennifer Hale (KOTOR) have publicly spoken out in support of the strike. And with neither side caving, it could be a while before the strike ends.