In the video-game industry coding and beta-tests are usually the root cause of delays, but a new strike with SAG-AFTRA might be the newest wrench in the works for many publishers. The union represents many voice-actors across different industries, and video-games have become the newest battleground. Unlike television and film, video-games have generally been a wild-west in the voice-acting industry, still regulated and negotiated, but with fewer benefits and stipulations than an industry like television has at this time.
As video-games have grown to become a billion-dollar business, you would think that working with publishers would also have become more standardized for voice-actors, but it has failed to meet the same standards as other outlets. As of right now voice-actors don’t receive residuals on their work, something that television has done for decades. The union is hoping to create a bonus-system for actors in the new deal, giving them more money for every 2 million copies or downloads sold. A bonus system can also be created for every 2 million unique subscribers for games like MMOs. There would be a cap to this, set at 8M sales or subscribers. The union also wants a stunt coordinator on set when motion capture is used and stunts are performed, something that film and television has already in place.
Another unique situation in video-games is secrecy, which players may have become accustomed to while awaiting new announcements, but the practice is strange when compared to other industries. Right now publishers can hire new voice-actors without even telling them the title of the project, or the role that they are playing. This might help the publisher keep a new IP or sequel a secret, but it presents challenges for the actor when negotiating a contract. The union would like the publisher to be more transparent when signing actors to a role.
Safety is another big-issue for the union. Video-games, like horror-movies, can be extremely rough on your throat. Just think of all the screaming, dying, crying and creatures that you fight against or meet in most games nowadays, then imagine doing those screams over and over again. The union wants these difficult games to reduce four-hour session to a two-hour session without a pay-loss.
The two sides have been negotiating for some time now, and today Scott J. Witlin of the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg LLP released a statement from their side of the strike. If you have been following along, Barnes & Thornburg LLP represents a coalition of Interactive Video Game Publishing Companies, who have been in negotiations with SAG-AFTRA for a video game contract for voice actors.
The statement in full reads:
“We have negotiated in good faith for the past 18 months with SAG-AFTRA union leaders, and are making progress toward a new contract. We are deeply disappointed to learn today of the Union’s threatened strike and its unilateral violation of the mutually agreed upon ‘news black-out’ on negotiation discussions.
“We consider the Union’s threatened labor action to call a strike precipitous, unnecessary and an action that will only harm their membership. SAG-AFTRA represents performers in less than 25% of the video games on the market. Any strike would not only deny SAG-AFTRA’s membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place.
“The Video Game Companies had already scheduled bargaining sessions this week with SAG-AFTRA union leaders to attempt to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. We expect these negotiations to remain in place, and will continue to attempt to reach a fair and equitable contract despite the Union leadership’s most recent threatened labor action.
“The existing contract between Video Game Companies and SAG-AFTRA pays all performers more than $100 an hour plus benefits and most performers many times that. The Companies’ current proposals on the negotiation table includes wage increases for most performers and additional avenues for compensation that could yield many hundreds of dollars more in payments for limited integration and ratification bonuses. Although the Companies have had only one report of workplace injury due to vocal stress, the Companies have continued to look to ways to reduce the burdens on performers in this area through the more flexible work scheduling and other innovative work arrangements.
“We want to draw attention to the increased economic benefits and working condition improvements being offered because SAG-AFTRA’s website is inaccurate and out of date and does not reflect offers some of which have been on the table for more than a year.
“It is important to note that the Video Game Companies’ upcoming games are already in production and the majority will be unaffected by any SAG-AFTRA strike due to the nature of the ‘no strike provisions’ of the collective bargaining agreement. We anticipate minimal impact on current and near-future game releases.
“We produce Interactive Video Games for the enjoyment of people around the world and as a result we provide excellent jobs for many SAG-AFTRA members. Reaching a reasonable agreement is in the best interest of all parties, as well as the many fans of our games.”
This statement comes just after SAG-AFTRA’s board of directors voted unanimously to set a strike date, which was set for Friday, October. 21, at 12:01 a.m. according to the union. The union doesn’t represent a large work-force in the video-game industry, but Activision Publishing Inc.; Disney Character Voices Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions Inc.; Insomniac Games Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; and WB Games Inc are among the largest publishers listed in the strike that would be affected. This would effect games that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015.