Voice actor strike suspended as tentative agreement reached

The video game voice actor strike has been suspended after Screen Actors Guild and American Foundation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) reached a tentative agreement with the companies they were striking against. The strike started in October 2016, seeking better working conditions as well as better pay and more awareness of roles they were accepting. Perhaps the most visible consequence of the strike has been Life Is Strange’s prequel Before The Storm switching voice actor for its protagonist, but the strike has affected eleven companies and many more games.

Targets of the strike included Electronic Arts, Warner Bros. Games, Activision, and several voiceover production companies who are used by other studios. SAG-AFTRA members went on strike against all games the companies had entered production on since February 2015. Not all games companies were struck against, mind, and not all voice actors are unionised. Before The Storm’s use of strikebreakers was obvious due to replacing a known actor who voiced a main character (Chloe’s original actor, Ashly Burch, did still legitimately work on the game as a script consultant), but we don’t know quite how many games also did before the companies capitulated.

SAG-AFTRA’s proposals include pay increases, royalty payments, and shorter sessions when recording vocally stressful parts to reduce damage. Their demands are not met in full but the new agreement they’ll run under has been tentatively accepted, and will be reviewed by the SAG-AFTRA National Board at its October meeting.

Along with new bonus payments and a loose plan for employers to “to continue working with SAG-AFTRA on the issue of vocal stress”, part of the new agreement is giving actors a better idea of what the roles they’re taking even involve.

“The new transparency provisions will enhance the bargaining power of our members’ representatives by requiring the companies to disclose the code name of project, its genre, whether the game is based on previously published intellectual property and whether the performer is reprising a prior role,” chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez said in yesterday’s announcement. “Members are also protected by the disclosure of whether they will be required to use unusual terminology, profanity or racial slurs, whether there will be content of a sexual or violent nature and whether stunts will be required.”

It is wild that previously actors might not know those details in advance.

While the deal is not fully settled, SAG-AFTRA members are again able to work for companies they had been striking against.

27 Comments

  1. GenialityOfEvil says:

    Congratulations game industry, you’ve finally joined the 20th century.

    • Premium User Badge

      Drib says:

      Pretty sure the videogame industry didn’t exist before the 20th century.

    • Cederic says:

      For the record, if I ever make a computer game I will refuse to agree to union terms.

      Actors can be in a union if they want. I’ll employ the actor though, whether they’re in one or not, and I’ll employ them on fair and reasonable terms.

      The world is too large to allow unions to block your business these days. The computer game industry should join the 21st century and just employ people in a different country if unions are being stupid.

      • Emeraude says:

        I really wish as a customer I was allowed to export my spending elsewhere the way companies do to avoid taxes and expanses. But then protectionism, or market gaming, is only good when they protect companies, not consumers – or god forbid workers – it seems.

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        Cederic I really hope you never make a computer game, your comment is vile.

        • Cederic says:

          What’s vile about treating employees as individuals with their own strengths and needs, and refusing to subsidise corrupt extortionists?

          • Ashabel says:

            I imagine it’s the part where you claim you respect voice actors as individuals, but then call them corrupt extortionists and reject their idea of what constitutes a fair contract within the same comment.

            I also hope you never make a computer game because your idea of respecting others is grotesquely self-serving.

          • GenialityOfEvil says:

            What makes you think you, or those who run these publishing companies, know what’s fair and reasonable? Besides, a company’s goal is to make money at any cost, not to be fair and reasonable. Unions exist to counteract that.

          • Cederic says:

            Answering two people here:

            Fair and reasonable means the same underlying terms I’d offer to any contractor or employee, paid at a rate that will get me the talent I’m after.

            That’s a negotiation between the actor and myself, not between a union and myself.

            That’s also the answer to the treating people as individuals. I’ll make sure the actor is happy with their rate and conditions, not the union. I can’t trust the union to act with integrity and my experience is that they behave atrociously.

            I’m confused that people are frightened of me actually engaging with employees and working with them to make sure they enjoy the work they’re doing and get appropriately rewarded for it.

            Also, directly: Ashabel, I did not accuse the individuals of being corrupt extortionists. Re-read my words.
            Geniality, not all companies’ goal is to make money at any cost. Certainly none of the ones I’ve worked for, which includes the UK’s second largest (at the time) clearing bank, a NASDAQ quoted company, a FTSE50 company, a couple of small businesses and my own enterprises.

            Also, an employer with happy staff is invariably better at negotiating a fair and reasonable contract with its employees than a union that represents its own overpaid political leaders.

      • Pinga says:

        You never really negotiated with an employer did you?

  2. GardenOfSun says:

    Indeed, excellent news. And it’s generally heartwarming, in this age of isolation and demagogy, to still see some unionising promoting some civil discourse and healthy society-building.

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    Aerothorn says:

    Depressingly, reading the details, it seems like the Union lost. They didn’t get residuals (their #1 demand) or even the lesser demand of worker protections. The bonuses are nice, but nothing close to residuals, and promises to “keep talking” are pretty worthless (if they didn’t agree when they were striking, they sure aren’t going to agree when they aren’t striking).

    The increased transparency is good, and a good illustration of why the union is necessary, but that was a pretty easy chip to give away from the side of the publishers.

    • cpt_freakout says:

      They probably didn’t have much room to negotiate. If even smaller endeavors like Before the Storm used strikebreakers, I imagine all the massive studios didn’t even stop schedules for more than a weekend.

      At least some gains were made, but it is, indeed, still a sad state of affairs.

      • GenialityOfEvil says:

        Square Enix weren’t under the strike. Ashley Burch turned down the role because she wanted to spend time on the picket line. The strike would not have prevented her from taking the role if she wanted to.

        • phuzz says:

          Ahhh, that explains something I’d been wondering about for ages. I couldn’t find anywhere that the developers of LiS were being striked (struck) against, but everyone was reporting that it was due to the strike that Ashley Burch wasn’t working as a voice actor.
          So, Squenix weren’t employing scabs after all.

    • KenTWOu says:

      They didn’t get residuals (their #1 demand)

      IMO they shouldn’t get residuals. Video games are not character or voice over driven as opposed to movies, where lead actor’s work could literally be in every second of a movie, so voice actors and their creative input isn’t essential to most of the games.

      • somnolentsurfer says:

        I can’t think of any good reason to be against residuals in principle, but it does seem a bit absurd that it’d be granted to the voice actors and none of the technical team. Perhaps if the technical teams were unionised?

  4. TotallyUseless says:

    Whoa that was a long strike. Even more impressive was that RPS kept track.

    Well it’s good to hear that some of the concerns were met with good news, but these actors deserves more.

    • GenialityOfEvil says:

      I’d be surprised if many gamers even knew a strike was happening. Hardly any sites covered it until the Life is Strange story came up, and then never mentioned it again.

      • Strazyplus says:

        I heard about it as it happened, are peoples memories are so horrible? its only been a year, come on.

        RPS reported it when it started, when the voice actor for Life is strange had changed and its ending of protest. over its course was three front page articles.

        Disapointing that these publishers treat these voice actors so poorly.

  5. InfamousPotato says:

    I’m really glad RPS covers this- working conditions and the folks fighting to improve them are an incredibly important topic that I hope to see more of. I just wish more of their demands had been met.

  6. felis says:

    Demanding royalties seems utterly unreasonable to me. I am however in favour of more transparancy to the actors and worker protection.

  7. wombat191 says:

    I’m glad the companies have reached an agreement finally. hey you just give Commander Shepard what ever the hell she wants!

  8. NeuroNiky says:

    I’d add among the biggest impact this has had on the videogaming industry the decision of Capcom of going non-Union with the remake of RE2, meaning the original actors were left in the cold and we will get different voiceovers in the RE2make.

  9. frymaster says:

    I think the information is the better win anyway. It’s a lot harder to negotiate your pay when you don’t have a freaking clue of your own value.

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