What follows are some questions we've received from fans, developers, fellow actors and other members of the interactive community.
GPM has pulled information from the SAG-AFTRA website and interviewed members of SAG-AFTRA staff and the Interactive Negotiating Committee to compile these answers. While we are confidant in the validity of our reporting, we encourage the press (and anyone desiring further clarification) to reach out to Pamela Green at SAG-AFTRA directly at firstname.lastname@example.org (323) 549-6872 for the most up-to-date information regarding the strike.
“Voice actors are the smallest element/least important parts of the production, why do they deserve royalties when no one else gets them? If anyone deserves them, shouldn’t devs get royalties first? Even the lowest level QA tester will log more hours than a voice actor.”
This is a good question, and a layered one, so let’s unpack this.
First some definitions.
-A royalty is a revenue share of sales, a percentage. Royalties start at the sale of unit one and continue in perpetuity of sales.
We’re not asking for that.
-A performance bonus is an agreed upon amount, triggered at levels of success and profitability. Bonuses are already a standard practice in the video game industry, so this is not a foreign idea.
Secondly, we know who wins in an argument between devs and actors: The Game Corps. Bickering over who should get what first only diverts our attention away from bringing an end to the continued culture of exploitation these corporations have perpetuated on all creatives.
We don’t disagree: developers SHOULD get bonuses. Bonuses that respect their contribution to a game’s creation and success. The reason we’re able to go after secondary payments for actors is because we have an established union. Eighty years ago, film corps were using a new technology and exploiting performers, so these actors formed a union, which has been negotiating for their fair treatment ever since. In order to fight for fair treatment, we feel developers need to organize as well. After all, LA is a union town, and a thriving one at that.
While we can’t personally represent developers in this fight, we stand with them on any actions they wish to take to end the exploitation of their talents, just as multiple other unions in and out of the entertainment industry have stood in solidarity with SAG-AFTRA during this strike.
“The secondary payment amount SAG-AFTRA is asking for and/or the formula they’re using to calculate it is completely off base. A $60 game is not $60 profit, only about $27 of that ends up going to the publisher, who then has to extract sales and marketing. Voice actor payments will cut into the profit margin (if there is any) at a much higher percentage than the union has calculated.”
This is a conversation we're eager to have, but the Game Corporations have repeatedly refused to engage us on the issue of secondary compensation for actors. The negotiating committee based their numbers on the limited figures these corporations release on their budgets and profits. They learned that most games turn a profit at two million units, and that games that sell at that level or above is where union actors work. If these figures are incorrect, we would be happy to negotiate on that point, but the corporations will not even engage the concept of secondary compensation, let alone discuss the math we’ve used. That said, they’ve never once questioned the negotiating committee’s numbers.
“Many developers are closing their doors, mass-layoffs are the norm in the video game industry, and most companies aren't rolling around in massive profits. How do you justify demanding more pay now?”
The pay structure that we put forward would only affect AAA, massively successful games. As far as we know (since numbers are hard to come by), less than ten games released from these companies in 2015 sold enough copies to trigger a secondary payment to actors. We’re not asking for money that isn’t there.
As far as what will affect smaller games and companies that are NOT making billions of dollars, our Union has developed contracts to make it easier for games of all budget levels to use union talent.
See https://www.sagaftra.org/files/2016_sag-aftra_low_budget_interactive_video_game_agreement.pdf for the first iteration of our low budget agreement. SAG-AFTRA welcomes developers to offer feedback on this contract as the union continues to adjust it to meet the needs of many titles.
“You say you’re on our side, and that this fight will in the long run help developers. But consumers are already complaining they think prices are too high for games while the cost of development rises every year. Prices of games haven't risen to account for inflation really in the past few decades (NES games were $50 in 1985). And these secondary payments will never come out of the pockets of the top execs. So they’ll have to come out of developer bonuses. How does that help us?”
This proves that we are in a culture of exploitation where execs take advantage of creatives. No creative should be satisfied with this trend. Further, no creative should take what is currently standard as the status quo we have to be stuck with. We should not infight over the scraps they leave behind for us. We all deserve a seat at this table.
"Voice actors seeking royalties is like automotive plant workers asking for royalties based on every car sold/wrench companies getting a percentage of a plumber’s work/paint manufacturer getting a percentage of a sold painting/etc."
If the Game Corps can keep putting Kevin Spacey or Kit Harrington in every commercial, if they can use Ellen Page’s face in “Last of Us,” all to sell a game, then performers are a creative partner in the process of making a game. Our intellectual property (voice and image) is used to market it, so we have an intrinsic value to the success of a game.
“Why is the union striking against only this small group of companies and not the whole interactive industry?”
Because this is a group of companies that collectively bargain together. We don’t feel they represent the entire interactive industry. It is this particular group that is refusing to address our proposals, and that’s why we’re striking against them. Several other companies are working with us, and have signed our new contracts.
“Voice actors are not the main reason people buy games. Not even close. People go to movies for certain actors, they don’t buy games for them. People buy games because of gameplay/design/graphics/etc. Not VO.”
You may very well be right. Actors’ performances aren’t usually the number one reason gamers buy a title. Many games don’t even use voices. But, while 20-25% of all video games use union actors, almost 100% of the top-grossing games have union talent. So there is some correlation between the games people want to buy and those games having compelling stories told through the voices and performance capture of union talent.
“The law firm representing the struck companies has responded to all three of the picket events by repeating that SAG-AFTRA leadership has refused to bring their proposed contract to the actors for a vote. What’s your response?”
Our four main issues were not addressed in the contract proposed by these corporations. Nevertheless, the membership has been well informed every step of the way and remain unified in support of the negotiating team’s efforts. The Game Corps do not get to dictate how we run our Union processes. When the committee feels that the contract we negotiate will be one that the membership will approve, the committee will present the contract for a vote.
“If secondary payments are the sticking point of this fight, are you willing to go back to the table for any offer that doesn't include a secondary payment structure?”
This is a hypothetical question in the midst of an ongoing negotiation, and therefore difficult to answer, but until The Game Corps are willing to negotiate in good faith on safety, industry standards and best practices that benefit all game performers, we will remain on strike.
“Is the treatment you’re describing typical at all studios or just the ones you’re striking against? And are smaller and independent game studios generally open to using SAG-AFTRA approved contracts?”
Not all games are exploitative, and most of the people we work with are fantastic and have performers’ best interest in mind, but the culture of exploitation exists on a corporate level. As for smaller and indie companies, we have a contract that is available for them to use, and we encourage them to contact SAG-AFTRA with any questions or specific needs to help make the contract better: (323) 549-6815 or email email@example.com.
“For indie studios, what happens to the companies who are not involved in this contract? Will they just have to sign the same contract as the larger companies? Is there room to negotiate? What is the low budget contract? And what if my budget is too high for it?”
SAG-AFTRA has reached out to multiple indie developers to create a contract that suits the needs of smaller and indie companies. That contract is available and ready to use right now. Any feedback developers have is welcomed by the union to help improve upon the contract, and adjustments can be made if the contract doesn’t fit the developers specific issues. SAG-AFTRA is eager to work with all developers at all budget levels. Call 323-549-6815.
“How do voice injuries happen? Can’t you just go back to work after your voice recovers? A few days after losing my voice yelling at a sporting event, my voice came back and was fine. And isn’t splitting your sessions in half, as the companies have suggested, solving the problem?”
To use an analogy, let’s talk exercise. You can be just as exhausted after four hours of walking as thirty minutes of running or as ten minutes of sprinting. That’s all you can do. Similarly, vocal stress is a vocal sprint. There’s a limited amount of time you can do it without hurting yourself. And vocal cord damage, much like a bad athletic injury, can be permanent. Even trained actors using proper technique can hurt themselves after many hours of screaming. Proper rest is required to not worsen strain that screaming can cause on the vocal cords. Additionally, resting the voice can mean time not taking other work. Splitting a four-hour vocally stressful session into two two-hour sessions is asking an actor to exhaust herself twice for one session fee. It also ignores the need for vocal rest, and the work actors miss during these rests.
“You’re asking for transparency, but there are documented cases of actors leaking details of games way too early. Even SAG-AFTRA, by publishing the list of struck games, leaked release info. Why should actors be trusted with this info?”
For the same reason that every other employee on the game is. The information helps them do their jobs better, and if they leak it, there are real consequences. Likely that actor, will never work on that game or any game again. In the commercial industry, actors do voice over for billion dollar products shrouded in mystery, and yet, they are trusted with that knowledge long before a product’s release date. And they sign the same kind of NDAs that video game companies provide.
Currently, The Game Corps typically give different code names to each agent, and a different code name to the union. Since the Union doesn't have the real title of the game, it makes it more difficult to identify which games are actually on strike. The Union has asked the employers for a list of their code names and real titles used, so they can decipher through all the different code names to identify which actual titles are on strike, but the video game corps have refused. Thus, this has forced the Union’s hand to post whatever information they have about a game to help actors and agents identify which titles are being struck.
“Why is it important for non-union actors to support the strike? What about actors (union and non) who don't work in the LA/NY metro areas?”
Union contracts set the tone for the culture of how the industry treats talent. All actors, union and non, should have basic safety and fairness in their employment. We have seen throughout the industry, union and non-union, in LA and beyond, that what gets negotiated in the Union contract dictates the minimum standards for all performers. If a union or nonunion performer work a struck project, they are undermining the efforts of the negotiating committee to negotiate a fair contract, while, also undermining themselves. They are not only lowering the standards for themselves, but everyone around them.
“How can fans be supportive?”
Visit SAG-AFTRA’s website (sagaftra.org/interactive). Get informed.
Vote with your dollars. Be aware of what games the corporate 11 are releasing. Look at games put out by other publishers.
Dispel misinformation with facts. For example, we’re not asking for royalties, they’re bonuses, which is an important distinction.
On social media, talk about the performances you love in games, and use hashtag #PerformanceMatters.