A video game voice actor strike began on October 21–and it does not appear an end is coming soon. The union that represents some voice actors, SAG-AFTRA, has asked its members to picket Ratchet & Clank developer Insomniac Games this week at its Burbank, California office. The two-hour picket is slated for Thursday, November 17, beginning at 11:30 AM PT.
There have already been pickets at Electronic Arts and Warner Bros. In a statement to media, SAG-AFTRA said these pickets have been “successful.” In the case of EA, more than 300 SAG-AFTRA and allied union members attended.
Following almost two years of unsuccessful negotiations between SAG-AFTA and the video game industry, a strike began on October 21.
The strike also applies to Activision, Take-Two, and Disney Character Voices, among others. SAG-AFTRA has published lists of games that its members should strike and another list of non-struck games. The list of games to strike includes the upcoming Crash Bandicoot remaster and new entries in EA’s sports franchise, among many others.
As for the non-struck games, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Destiny, and Dishonored 2 are on the list. Interestingly, something called Call of Duty: Stronghold & Lethal Combat and Warner Bros. games codenamed “Metallica,” “Sabbath,” and “Kraken” are mentioned. A Guardians of the Galaxy game is also mentioned on the list–it’s believed that this is Telltale’s unannounced Marvel game.
Bear in mind that many of the names featured on the lists are codenames. Also, without knowing any dates, it’s possible these games already came out.
As for the negotiations, SAG-AFTRA says that its package of proposals is “not loaded with any crazy demands.” Several prominent voice actors have spoken out in support of the strike, including Roger Craig Smith (Batman, Assassin’s Creed), Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect, Guild Wars), and actor Wil Wheaton. According to Deadline, only about 25 percent of video games use union voice actors. This is the first strike in the history of video game performers.
The gaming industry refuses to offer residual payment bonuses and other profit-sharing opportunities, according to the union. Specifically, SAG-AFTRA asked that its performers receive an additional “full-scale payment” for every 500,000 units sold, for a maximum of four secondary payments if a game sells 2 million copies, Deadline reported. Additionally, the union claims that the industry has denied a proposal that would reduce the recording time for “vocally stressful” sessions to two hours to help prevent an actor from damaging their voice. For its part, the industry came back to the bargaining table with an offer for helping to ease the stress of voice recording.
According to the video game publishers, it offered a 9 percent wage hike as part of the negotiations. Additionally, it offered additional compensation of up to $950 per game based on the number of voice acting sessions an actor did on a particular game.
With the wage hike, this package could apparently lead to a 23 percent increase in pay for some actors, the publishers said. As it stands, video game voice actors represented by SAG-AFTRA are paid at least $100/hour, plus benefits, though working hours are not “normal” by the conventional standard.
According to SAG-AFTRA, the union would also like to see the gaming industry loosen up on some of its secrecy rules. As it stands, an actor sometimes does not even know the game he or she is auditioning for, which it argues is not fair.
“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.”
Asked what the ideal outcome of the strike would be, Freeman said he wants to see voice actors be ensured safety, respect, “a tiny bit of shared prosperity,” and that they and their contributions are treated as something valuable. “Because right now they treat us like we don’t matter,” he said.
You can read the full interview here; we’ll report back with more details on the strike in the days and weeks ahead.