In March 2015 I tweeted two responses to the hashtag I am on Board 2015 which I saw as a way to show appreciation for voice talent in video games. However afterwards I learnt that, along with the replacement hashtag Performance Matters, that it was being used to build support for workers in a dispute with the video games industry. I ceased further interactions knowing that I had to remain an objective observer of the story as I would likely have to write about this in the future but since I maintain my support for news transparency, I felt you should know about this.
Industrial action in the entertainment sector is not unheard of but for the first time in the near 40 year history of the video games industry, a section of its workforce is hours away from going on strike over a dispute on residual pay and worker’s well being.
Voice actors and other performers who are members of US unions The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) will walk out on midnight, Friday 21st October on any game development project that started after February 17th 2015, as a result of no agreement being made between SAG-AFTRA and representatives of some of the video gaming industries biggest publishers during meetings held on Monday 17th October and ending Wednesday 19th.
Negotiations for a new deal following the 2014 expiry of the original 1994 Interactive Media Agreement between the gaming industry and SAG-AFTRA began back on February 4th 2015 with four other meetings over the course of 19 months leading to strike action beginning this week.
SAG-AFTRA’s core demand is seeking Contingent Compensation for their members which is commonly known as residual pay. Members have an existing agreement with Movie and Television producers that they receive bonus pay based on ether as an example a successful gate at cinemas or T.V. shows getting reruns on syndication. SAG-AFTRA is seeking the same deal for performers working on video games with members receiving bonuses if game sales reach 2 Million, with additional bonuses as 4 and 6 Million before capping at 8 Million.
This would also extend to Downloadable Content sales and unique subscribers for subscription based online games. Representatives of the Gaming Industry argue that voice actor’s are overstating their position as their performance makes up only 20% at most in the overall production of video games and that actors are very rarely the focus in the promotion of video games unlike in movies and television. Reports suggest the industry offered a 9% increase in pay from the current open agreement but SAG-AFTRA have remained determined to acquire residual pay for their members.
The dispute does not just cover financial compensation. Concerns over performer’s safety is also under contention. SAG-AFTRA claims that more needs to be done by the video games industry to protect its members from physical harm as they allege that some voice actors have had undue strain placed on them during sessions which led to vocal cords becoming temporally damaged causing loss of work and motion capture artists physically injured at shoots. SAG-AFTRA suggests that most video game productions that have motion capture rarely use stunt coordinators in comparison to movie and television productions which would reduce risks of injuries during shoots.
Lawyers representing the games industry say that SAG-AFTRA is misleading its members by not updating their website to mention increased working benefits and working condition improvements that have been offered in negotiation meetings for over a year.
The strike will only be limited to work for certain companies and listed projects from said companies that began after February 17th 2015. The companies that have been struck are:
- Activision Publishing Inc
- Blindlight, LLC
- Corps of Discovery Films
- Disney Character Voices, Inc.
- Electronic Arts Productions, Inc
- Formosa Interactive, LLC
- Insomniac Games, Inc.
- Interactive Associates, Inc.
- Take 2 Interactive Software
- VoiceWorks Productions, Inc
- WB Games
Members of the Union will be allowed to work on video game projects from other companies not involved in the dispute and continue to work on projects from the listed companies that started before the February 2015 cut off date.
While other North American actor unions have voiced support of SAG-AFTRA’s proposed strike they are not joining in with any solidarity strikes themselves. Here in the UK the biggest actors union is aware of the strike but are not taking any action other than offering advice to members that may have taken contracts in the US to respect the strike.
Martin Brown, the Assistant General Secretary for Communications and Member Support for Equity contacted me and said quote:
“The SAG-AFTRA strike is about contractual conditions for video games contracted in the United States. It will not impact on work taking place in the United Kingdom unless that work has been contracted in the United States under the jurisdiction of SAG-AFTRA.
Equity members will continue to work normally in UK contracted video games. However if any Equity member in the USA or elsewhere in the world that has been contracted under the SAG-AFTRA video game contract we would urge them to get in touch with SAG-AFTRA as soon as possible for advice and to support SAG-AFTRA’s dispute.“
Both parties appear to be resolute in their demands and arguments so it is unlikely baring any surprising and sudden concessions, that this dispute will be resolved quickly. We will have to wait to see which side blinks first.