SAG-AFTRA demands video-game industry end “Freeloader Model of Compensation”
After failing to strike a deal with video-game publishers this week, SAG-AFTRA has issued a statement condemning the industry for not meeting their expectations and failing to reach a deal with the union.
Talks picked up this week when a moderator was brought in to settle a deal between the union and a large group of video-game publishers, but both sides walked away unhappy. The talks surround voice-over work, often used in almost every video-game. The union is trying to standardize and improve the conditions that SAG-AFTRA members are faced with when working on games, and increase possible bonuses and benefits that these actors can receive on large titles.
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. They have tremendous bargaining power when working in other industries, but not so much in video-games. This is mostly because SAG-AFTRA represents a much smaller percentage of video-game voice-over actors, at least when compared to other industries like television or movies. That smaller percentage gives them less negotiating power at the table, and voice-over actors pay the price in the end.
A few of the key points that SAG-AFTRA is going after in the negotiations are residuals/bonuses for actors (who currently are not mandated to receive any residuals), having a stunt-coordinator on hand whenever motion-capture is used and stunts are performed (for safety) and transparency from the publisher when signing contracts for future games.
The union went after a few of the biggest names in the business, which have formed their own conglomerate to battle the union. A few of publishers mentioned are Activision, Disney and Warner Bros. Interactive. After talks failed this week SAG-AFTRA sent out the following statement:
“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.
“In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.
“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.
“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”
While television and films have had steady success over the past few years, many video-game publishers have flourished. The problems that publishers face is the same for movie-studios however, while one game may be a run-away hit, another could bomb.
Activision’s ‘Call of Duty’ franchise repeatedly breaks its own record as the most-selling media of all time, and many publishers have seen tremendous gains over the last few years as well. While indie-games and their developers are still hoping to make a foothold in the market, it will be interesting to see how these talks factor into the negotiations.
A few of the key-points mentioned above will factor-in the indie-developer dynamic. The residuals/bonuses that the union wants is based on sales or subscribers. So these bonuses would only have to be paid if the game does well, meaning more money for everyone