Remember Tales From The Borderlands? Quite nice, that. Way back when, Telltale took Gearbox's blockbuster and ditched the rubbish bits (most of the memes, all of the shooting) and made quite a brilliant little story. Now, we all know what happened to Telltale - so it was refreshing news when it appeared at least one Tales character would be returning in Borderlands 3, Troy Baker's leading lad Rhys.
But while Rhys returned, Baker did not. Now the prolific voice actor claims Gearbox's anti-union policies were behind his failure to return to the Borderlands.
Update: In a more comprehensive statement to VG247, SAG-AFTRA challenged Gearbox' response to Baker's allegations. The union dismisses the developers' raising on legal concerns as "a non-sequitur", as other studios in the state have no trouble working under SAG-AFTRA requirements. Their statement also sheds doubt on Gearbox' claims that talent already benefits from excellent working conditions, given their apparent unwillingness to freely negotiate those conditions with a union.
Chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez told VG247: “Gearbox was unwilling to sign the contract and bind themselves to honoring those standards as reflected in a SAG-AFTRA contract. They claim to adhere to those standards anyway, but we have no way to verify that, and, in any event, a non-binding commitment to treat and pay workers fairly is not enough. Workers deserve the protection of an actual contract."
Rhys is quite a different fellow in Borklambs 3, with a new moustache and a new voice courtesy of Ray Chase (Final Fantasy XV's Noctis). Back in April, Baker's absence from Burgerlads 3 caused a bit of confusion.
On the one hand, you had Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford claiming Baker turned down the gig. On the other, Baker himself was telling fans at Supanova Comic-Con that Gearbox flatly said he wouldn't be returning.
But while it turns out both seemed eager to get Baker back on board, it appears the two parties may have come to a head over his membership in the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG-AFTRA). Speaking to VG247, Baker claimed he "absolutely" wanted to reprise the role of Rhys. Unfortunately for him, Gearbox did not cede to SAG-AFTRA's requirements for work - and union members can only accept union jobs.
"It was simply a matter of they wouldn't go union. And I can't do a non-union gig. And without getting too deep into the weeds of that, we had long conversations about this. We always knew going into it, that this was going to be the thing. They were going to take these characters, and put them from the Tales from the Borderlands series from Telltale, into Borderlands proper. I've been waiting for this call. They were like, 'Do you want to do this?' And I said, 'Yes.' They never, because they would never move from that position."
In a statement delivered to Kotaku, SAG-AFTRA backed up Baker's claim with their own. In their words, Gearbox "refused and disengaged" from union talks.
"The misguided decision by Gearbox to deny their performers the opportunity to have fair union wages, a safe workplace and the possibility of health care coverage for their families, is unfortunate."
Gearbox, meanwhile in their own statement to Kotaku, reassert Pitchord's line that it was Baker who spurned them. They say they were following local labour laws and it was unfortunate that Baker chose to disengage with negotiations. They also quietly assert that it was Gearbox who thrust Baker in the spotlight, long before these pesky unions got in the way.
More than defusing the argument, Gearbox's statement seems more concerned with scoring points by painting themselves as the wronged, if benevolent, party.
"Troy is an exceptional talent and we were disappointed that he declined to partner on Borderlands 3 after being offered the part. We wish him the best and hope he knows the offer to collaborate with him still stands. Gearbox is a Texas company and is bound by Texas law — which means that a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labour union or other labour organisation. As a talent-owned and talent-led organisation, Gearbox enthusiastically works to ensure our pay and working conditions meet or exceed union standards. We also believe strongly in hiring local voice actors whenever we can which is why we’re thrilled Troy’s career really took off after working with us."
Fortunately, Baker doesn't seem overly wounded by the Rhys recast, telling VG247: "I'm not mad. It's invariably a completely different character, but it still stings".
He's still got The Last Of Us 2, after all. I'm sure he'll do fine.