Video game voice actors unionized under SAG-AFTRA will likely go on strike this Friday barring a miracle (they’ve negotiated to death for 18 months), and it will probably backfire.
The strike will affect 11 major companies, including Activision, EA, and Disney. Their main demands can be broken down into compensation and safety.
Voice actors want royalties based on sales like their cousins in television and movies. This is unlikely to happen and kind of unreasonable as game developers rarely get royalties themselves, and they definitely put in far more blood, sweat and tears than the voice actors.
The other more reasonable requests involve safety. Voice actors complain about strenuous work conditions, which could permanently damage their vocal chords, like gross churgling of dying monsters repeated ad nauseam. The game companies threatened with a strike put out their own statement claiming there was only one report of workplace injury due to vocal stress.
The union also wants better safety requirements when filming motion capture which sometimes include fight scenes and wire work. Film and television studios often have a stunt coordinator on set, while game studios do not.
The most contentious point comes from a series of ridiculous rules game companies want leveraged on the union. One would fine actors $1,000 for coming late to work or showing a lack of enthusiasm. Another would fine the union if their agents were not sending clients to every solicited audition.
The game companies fired back revealing they most likely have the upper hand in negotiations. Less than 25% of video game voice actors are members of SAG-AFTA.
“Any strike would not only deny SAG-AFTRA’s membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place,” read their statement.
The strike only affects games that went into production after February 17, 2015. So it could affect the release of the yearly Call of Duty and Maddens but not the new Red Dead Redemption, which has been in production longer. So game publishers have the power to just replace the voice actors in these games with non-union talent.
Sure they may have to re-record some lines and motion capture but it is drops in the bucket compared to other development costs. If anything the strike will hurt the slated games with smaller budgets.
Unlike the 2007 writers’ strike which shut down major television series and talk shows, this strike won’t produce nearly as much of a shockwave.
On the plus side it might give some opportunities to little-known up-and-comers. The industry has a habit of using a smallish clique of well established VAs and a change could be refreshing.
The shortsightedness of the strike comes from the hashtag they use to market themselves, #performancematters. VAs are saying their performances are what makes games sell and that therefore they should share in the profits.
But voice acting performances in reality are a pretty minor part of what makes a game sell, unlike television and film. A great game will still be great with less than top-tier talent voicing the characters.
In a time when unions are becoming more and more of an anachronism, this strike is unlikely to tip the scales of power between big corporations and VAs, especially when the companies have almost all the leverage. Games will still be made, but with minor delays.