SAG-AFTRA Voice Actors Go On Strike

The gaming industry has called SAG-AFTRA‘s bluff and now the Interactive Video Game Strike has begun.  For months, SAG-AFTRA has been desperately trying to renegotiate the terms of a contract set forth in 1994.  However, the companies involved in the strike are not budging.  Before you start vilifying the companies, let’s remind you of everything SAG-AFTRA is fighting for.

Here are the issues directly from the SAG-AFTRA memo:

Contingent Compensation

Unlike many other SAG-AFTRA contracts, there is currently NOT a contingent compensation structure on any video games. 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. That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR session payments per principal performer for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies. 

Safety on the Set

Unlike other entertainment industry employers, video game employers often do not hire the required stunt coordinator on set, which puts performance capture and stunt performers at safety risks. Many actors feel unsafe without a stunt coordinator because they are often asked to do things that could potentially be dangerous to themselves or others. For example, once, without a stunt coordinator on set, a video game developer tried to do a wire pull — which means he basically made himself jerk really hard and fast across a room — without someone on set to monitor his safety. He, of course, got hurt and couldn’t go back to work for a long while. This is just one instance among many. 

Producers Hide Important Information

Transparency is lacking in the video game industry. Actors need to know more about the projects that they are working on. SAG-AFTRA has proposed that the actual title of the project and the role being hired for should be made available before signing a contract. Video game employers routinely engage performers without identifying the role or even the game that the performer is being engaged to work on. Moreover, they 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 have also heard stories of actors coming into a session and being asked, without prior consent, to do content such as simulated sex scenes and racial slurs. Precedent is on our side here. You wouldn’t work on a TV show, commercial or film without knowing what part you’re playing and how it fits into the story, yet we are asked over and over again to do just that in interactive media. 

Voice Actors Face Debilitating Injury

Vocal safety is a growing concern. An increasing number of SAG-AFTRA voiceover artists report experiencing medical disorders of the vocal cords resulting from their work in video games due to the intensity of the vocal demands. 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, et cetera. Our proposal is that vocally stressful sessions be reduced from the current four-hour session to a two-hour session without a loss of pay. 

The companies currently involved in the strike are as follows:

  • Activision Productions, Inc.
  • Blindlight, LLC
  • Corps of Discovery Films, Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.
  • Disney Character Voices, Inc.
  • Formosa Interactive LLC
  • Insomniac Games, Inc.
  • Interactive Associates, Inc.
  • Take 2 Productions, Inc.
  • VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.
  • WB Games, Inc.

SAG-AFTRA’s strike against these companies are for games that went into production after February 17, 2015.  To see the full list, click here.  There are still some games codenamed but it does give a good idea as to what is being boycotted.

SAG-AFTRA members are even planning to picket Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, CA at 10:30 a.m. PTMonday, Oct. 24.

My first reaction to all of this was that this was classic negotiation strategy.  Aim for the moon but settle for the things you actually wanted resolved, all along.  However, sources have claimed that SAG-AFTRA is indeed aiming for the moon but not settling for anything less.  Understand that we care about the rights and safety of every talent involved in the video game process.  That being said, they really are asking for more than they should. 

I’m all for talent getting more money.  Even in sports, I want players to chase that money because you only get a few contracts.  I don’t think renegotiating for more money is asking for much.  Even concerns about safety are warranted.  The biggest issue I have, though, is that you’re asking for companies to disclose their games to the talent.  Secrecy is huge in every aspect of creation, at this point in time.  The world became public the moment cameras and the internet were included in cellulor devices.  NDA’s can only go so far.  If a leak occurs, it can be detrimental to creative process.  In fact, that’s why directors are there.  They will guide you for what they want, without spilling the beans about what is going on.  It’s the right of the Game company and those involved to disclose secrets or not.

SAG-AFTRA represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other entertainment and media professionals. SAG-AFTRA members are the faces and voices that entertain and inform America and the world. A proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO, SAG-AFTRA has national offices in Los Angeles and New York and local offices nationwide representing members working together to secure the strongest protections for entertainment and media artists into the 21st century and beyond. 

What do you think about these issues?  Are you concerned about how it could effect certain games?  Weigh in below!