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This past Friday, the SAG-AFTRA union, representing nearly a quarter of all voice actors working within the gaming industry, declared a strike on gaming companies. Ray Rodriguez, the chief contracts officer for the SAG-AFTRA, said in a press release that it was time for several companies within the gaming industry to start giving voice actors a serious pay raise and start taking their concerns seriously. According to Polygon, the two sides (the union and gaming companies) have been in close discussion for the past two years, but the union representing the voice actors decided on Friday that enough was enough. But gaming studios and developers did not immediately respond to the strike – until today.
A group representing big name publishers like Activision, EA and Take-Two Interactive have responded to their actions, calling out their undemocratic approach to their two-year long discussion. They stated that they did everything in their power to reach an agreement with the union representing the voice actors before the strike took place, but their efforts lead them nowhere. According to their statement, the gaming companies offered “money package almost identical to SAG-AFTRA’s last demand.” The union reject the offer, and the group representing the gaming companies argue that SAG-AFTRA should just let the actors decide if that new offer met their demands.
A member of the companies’ legal team at Barnes & Thornburg, Scott J. Witlin, stated:
We believe SAG-AFTRA performers should be allowed to look at what we offered and compare it to the union’s last demand – and see that the terminology and other minimal differences are not worth striking over. The strike is going to hurt the SAG-AFTRA performers that these companies value.
So what will happen with this strike and how will affect game companies? Well, it’ll affect those gaming companies that hired SAG-AFTRA-represented actors from February 2015 until now. The union does represent a quarter of all voice actors working in the gaming industry, but there are many top-selling games that won’t be affect, however. A report published by the union found that nearly 40 percent of the top-selling titles don’t use any voice actors signed onto the SAG-AFTRA union. There are some notable actors who are signed to the union though, including Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard in Mass Effect) and David Hayter (Snake in Metal Gear Solid).
Former Infinity Ward Creative Strategist, Robert Bowling, noted in an essay he wrote that there is an inherent problem with the way gaming companies financially compensate not only their voice actors but in how they financially compensate the whole team behind a game. Bowling wants transparency and secondary compensation. He points out that sometimes a gaming company might link a game’s critical review when compensating their team, without taking into account the financial success of a game. This means that a game can sell extremely well, often times generating hundreds of million and if not billions of dollars, but if critics give it a bad review and if the game doesn’t score into the top 10 percent of all games that are out, then those who signed the companies discretionary pay won’t be financially compensated in proportion to the financial success of the game.
In his essay, Bowling argues that
The problem with this is, that despite the game being an undisputed financial success and generating amazing revenue and profits, you are now entitled to none of it because a series of subjective opinions about the game concluded it wasn’t within the top 10% of video games,” Bowling wrote. “If they’re making money off your work, so should you.
In negotiation, the union offered to pay for every two million copies of a game sold, along with an immediate 9 percent increase in wage. The offer was rejected by SAG-AFTRA. The actors within the union will be holding a strike outside EA’s offices in Playa Vista, California on Monday, October 24th.