Great videogames are made even greater by expressive voice work and motion capture. We've seen it in games like Dragon Age, Portal, Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed, and we've seen how it can detract from things when done wrong, a la Destiny. But the actors are having a say in how they’re treated by the videogame companies. And they may choose to go silent.
The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) may go on strike over the rights of actors on videogame sets.
According to GamePolitics, “SAG-AFTRA has been in negotiations with major video game companies [since December 2014] over its contract for voice and motion captor actors employed by the industry. It recently published an update on those negotiations in which it rejects proposals by the games industry and discusses a potential strike.”
The union wants basic protections for videogame actors, including a stunt coordinator on set, to help when motion-captured stunts are required, and limiting “vocally stressful” performances (such as screaming and shouting) to two hours each day.
SAG-AFTRA also wants a bonus for performers if the game sells more than 2 million copies. The union notes, “Most of the smaller and less popular games won’t be affected by the residuals payment. We structured our proposal to trigger at 2 million units, the point we would regard a game as a blockbuster.”
SAG-AFTRA notes that in the most recent proposal with companies such as Activision, Electronic Arts, Disney, Warner Bros. and others, motion and performance capture will not be covered, which means videogame companies can hire non-union labor. In addition, videogame companies can fine actors $2500 for being “inattentive.” “[C]hecking an incoming text, posting to your Twitter feed, even zoning out for a second” could cost actors dearly.
Members of SAG-AFTRA are currently voting by mail on this issue. If 75 percent of them agree to strike, videogame companies will lose their union talent. And since most voiceover actors are also professional actors (many of whom rely on SAG-AFTRA for health insurance and pensions), it’s likely that they will adhere to the union’s decision on whether to strike.
Videogame actors who side with SAG-AFTRA include Wil Wheaton (Firefly MMO), Jennifer Hale (Mass Effect) and Tara Strong (Batman: Arkham). You can watch the story unfold on Twitter via hashtags #iAmOnBoard2015 and #PerformanceMatters.