Just over twelve months ago, we had a story about unionized video game voice actors under the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) discussing strike action against video game publishers over what they claimed was inadequate compensation and unsafe working conditions. Now, SAG-AFTRA has announced that they are on strike against nearly a dozen game developers and publishers which might slow production on upcoming games.
Among the games that SAG-AFTRA is on strike against are Activision, EA, Take Two (Rockstar and 2K), WB Games, Disney and Insomniac. The union was quick to note that the strike will only impact games for these companies that started production after February 15, 2015. Which games may be affected by the strike isn’t known at the moment. Looking at upcoming games that could potentially be affected, the first one that comes to mind would be Mass Effect: Andromeda as it’s still five months from launch but it almost certainly begun production before February 2015 and therefore shouldn’t be affected by the strike. However, if it’s delayed beyond March 2016, perhaps the strike would be a cause.
In a release explaining the strike, SAG-AFTRA highlighted two issues that they are battling with the industry over. The first is bonus compensation for actors in games that sell at least two million copies with bonuses starting at two million with additional bonuses every two million units sold after that capped to a maximum bonus at 8 million units sold. They also want more information about the role and game that the actor is signing on for. They want their actors to know “the actual title of the project and the role” prior to signing any contracts.
For their part, the games publishers offered an immediate 9% wage increase while the union was looking for 3% annually over three years. The chief negotiator for the games industry representatives, Scott J. Witlin, implied that the compensation package is the sticking point at the moment. While the games companies say that the differences on compensations are semantics over additional compensation, the union says they are a lot farther apart than verbiage. What I haven’t been able to find is what the additional/residual compensation structure would be (is it a flat rate, based on the game’s price or is it a percentage of the game’s revenue) or who would get the bonus (lead actors or everyone all the way down to “additional voices” for nameless one-line NPCs). These could definitely be sticking points as you would have large variations in compensation costs depending on what’s negotiated.
The companies also tried to compromise on the game’s name negotiating point by offering to tell actors the game’s working title or internal code name when signing on. Considering that games are renamed all the time, this might be the one point I’ll never be able to back the actors on. After all, Jennifer Hale and Steven Blum are both front and centre in this matter. They both worked on an Insomniac and EA title that was released as Fuse but known as Overstrike long before that name change. Would the change from Overstrike to Fuse void or violate the contract? What about Final Fantasy Versus XIII becoming Final Fantasy XV?
Downplayed in current reports but previously reported as being proposals by the union included additional pay for actors in vocally stressful roles and the requirement for a stunt coordinator on the set of motion-captured games.
More on this story as it develops but if neither side can agree on how close are far apart they are, we might be in for an annoyingly long haul.