Many of the biggest video games currently in development could soon be facing a mess of trouble. That’s because of the ongoing contract negotiations between the major game publishers and SAG-AFTRA, the union that covers many of the voice actors in the business.
The previous contract expired on December 31, 2014. Negotiations to agree on a new contract have failed twice so far this year. To speed the negotiations along and try to force the hand of the publishers, SAG-AFTRA is having its affected members vote on a strike. Votes will be tallied in early October, and if 75% of the voters authorize a strike, no unionized voice actors will be allowed to work until a new contract is negotiated.
This could cause major delays on all voice-acted video games in development from publishers like Activision, Disney, Electronic Arts, and Warner Bros. Not only would game delays affect customers, who wouldn’t get to play their most anticipated games on the announced release dates, but delays would also affect the publishers’ bottom lines. All kinds of things depend on release dates, including marketing plans, cash flow, the schedules of upcoming games, and company financial estimates. Game delays aren’t something anyone wants.
Why is SAG-AFTRA putting so much at risk? On its website, the union has a list of demands for the contract negotiations. One is performance bonuses. The union wants voice actors to receive bonuses for every 2 million units a game sells, up to 8 million units. According to the site, “There is ample precedent for secondary payments across the media landscape. You get secondary payments when you perform in feature films, animation, episodic TV, commercials and the like.”
The union also wants stunt pay for actors who record “vocally stressful” roles, and stunt coordinators on set when the actors have to do potentially dangerous motion capture scenes.
According to the site, “the Interactive Media Agreement was first negotiated by SAG and AFTRA in the mid–1990s, and this agreement is still the template we use today despite radical changes in what we are required to do on set and in the recording studio. We’re looking to bring this long-standing agreement into the 21st Century…”
It’s certainly true that game development have changed greatly over the past 20 years. Voice actors only entered the scene once CD-ROM games started to take off in mid-‘90s. Even then, it was several years before voice acting became a fundamental part of AAA video games. Now, most major games have full casts of voice actors, and development studios use high-tech sound stages to capture vocal and physical performances. For an idea of what these actors do, take a look at the making of The Last of Us.
It will be interesting to see if the vote to strike goes through, or if publishers and the union can come to terms before that happens. Both sides of the table have agreed to a media blackout until the voting is finished, so we may not hear any more news until either an agreement is reached or a strike begins.
As gamers who like having our games come out on time, let’s hope for an amicable resolution.