In October of this year we witnessed yet another voice actors strike in the gaming industry, one that's still ongoing. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents voice actors, announced that they were striking against a number of video game publishers including Activision, Take Two, Warner Brother's Interactive and EA—some of the biggest names in the business.
Citing unfair payment opportunities and rather dangerous working conditions, SAG-AFTRA even stated that, in some cases, "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."
It was undoubtedly alarming to learn of these unregulated working conditions, and upsetting considering how voice actors have contributed to the industry, especially in recent years—what would #TheLastOfUs have been like without the talents of Ashely Johnson and Troy Baker?
Though many voice actors have vocalized their concerns throughout the strike, the latest to speak out has some rather striking insights. You may know him as, more recently, this guy:
Overwatch's Winston, Crispin Freeman, On Why Voice Acting Matters
In an interview with GameSpot, Freeman spoke freely about the situation himself and other voice actors find themselves in. This has been a surprisingly tough battle for SAG-AFTRA and they've been in talks with industry giants for a long time.
"We negotiated with them for 19 months in good faith," Freeman said. "It's the longest negotiation SAG-AFTRA has ever done. It was the last thing we wanted to do, but they left us with no choice."
In Freeman's mind, this battle is about a handful of important things, but namely "that voice actors are ensured safety, respect, a tiny bit of shared prosperity and that they and their contributions are treated as something valuable." Seems not only fair, but just! Where would the industry be without them?!
There's an additional problem that voice actors face in this business: secrecy. We all know how conservative the marketing for video games is. Developers and publishers love to keep things under wraps for years at a time. Sadly, this transfers over to the job of the voice actors, who are often left in the dark concerning the game or franchise they've being asked to participate in—which results in unfair pay.
I've been asked to work on games without knowing what the game was and then shown up and been told that I'm going to have to use the N word repeatedly as my character with no warning ahead of time," he said. "I've been asked to work on games without them saying that it's the same game again, and so they tried to undercut my salaries. It's a common drone with a lot of video game stuff."
I understand the video game industry is very secretive, and so we told them it doesn't have to be during auditions. During auditions, keep it all codenames and top secret. But when you decide you want to hire an actor, and you call up their agent and say, 'We want you for this game,' you have to tell them what the game is. I don't know anyone who would go to work not knowing what they're working on, and yet we're asked to do this continuously."
The #VideoGames industry, though it has exploded in recent years, is still very young. It's teething. The proper codes of conduct are still not in place and it seems that numerous companies throughout the world are taking advantage of the people that are central to the development of huge AAA titles.
Freeman feels as if some of these companies are "deathly afraid" of conceding to the voice actors' demands and ensuring that contracts are met, because they'll lose the power to exploit actors and developers.
"They have a culture of exploitation. And they don't want to give that up because they're making a lot of money, and they don't want anyone to impact their bottom line on that."
While disputes over contracts are still ongoing with Activision, EA and the like, Crispin Freeman had nothing but praise for Blizzard Entertainment, the creators of #Overwatch, #Diablo3 and #StarCraft2. He maintains that he's "always had wonderful relations with Blizzard." However, Blizzard is a member of the worker's union, something which other publishers have refused to take part in. Perhaps this union is what keeps the developer in check, but, at least in Freeman's eyes, they're what the rest of the industry should aspire to!
"We would be quite happy if the industry acted more like Blizzard."
I don't doubt it.
The way in which certain AAA developers are attempting to block the very simple, relatable and downright humane demands from SAG-AFTRA is indicative of corporate greed and disrespect. Voice actors are for video games what the stars of the silver screen are for cinema—it's time they start being treated with the same respect.
What do you make of the voice actors strike?
Because Blizzard rock, why not check out this awesome animated short?