Around 11 months after it began in October 2016, it looks like the video game voice actor strike is finally coming to an end. SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents video game voice actors, announced today that it’s reached a “tentative agreement” to end the strike against 11 video game companies, including juggernauts like Activision, Electronic Arts, and Warner Bros. The strike was the longest in SAG history.
The deal was reached on Saturday morning, SAG-AFTRA said. The terms include the following:
- A new bonus structure that “provides an addition payment to performers.”
- This payment, which must be delivered no later than a game’s release date, is calculated by the number of recording sessions an actor worked on a title.
- It starts with a $75 payment for the first session and runs up to $2,100 after 10 sessions.
The union also sought a back-end payment program that sought to give performers an additional “full-scale payment” for every 500,000 units sold, for a maximum of four secondary payments if a game sells 2 million copies. But that isn’t happening, it seems.
Under the previous deal, video game voice actors represented by SAG-AFTRA are paid at least $100/hour, plus benefits.
“This is an important advance in this critical industry space. We secured a number of gains including for the first time, a secondary payment structure which was one of the members’ key concerns,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “The courage of our members and their fortitude these many months has been admirable and I salute them. We are always stronger together.”
SAG-AFTRA’s Keythe Farley said the the new structure provides voice actors with “significantly larger” bonus payments than under the terms of the previous agreement.
Keythe Farley, chair of the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Negotiating Committee, said the strike delivered key victories for member performers in the video game community.
Ray Rodriguez, the lead negotiator for this deal, said in a statement that another win is that it improves transparency, which in turn should help union members bargain. Under the terms of the new agreement, companies are required to disclose more details about a game a performing is recording lines for such as its genre, the codename, and whether or not it’s based on a existing franchise. Members will also be told–prior to signing on to a project–if they will be required to use “unusual terminology, profanity or racial slurs, whether there will be content of a sexual or violent nature and whether stunts will be required.”
SAG-AFTRA’s new deal also includes language that says publishers agree to work with the union “on the issue of vocal stress.”
Video game companies reportedly sought to fine performers for being late or distracted in a recording session. Another proposal put forth by publishers was apparently one that would have required agents to “submit performers for low-paying ‘atmospheric voice’ sessions or face fines, and a possible revocation of their union franchise.” Another provision apparently put forth by video game companies would have allowed them to use internal staff to do voice acting work outside the purview of the SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement.
The new SAG-AFTRA deal will be reviewed and potentially confirmed by the group at a board meeting in October. We’ll report back with more details as they become available.
SAG-AFTRA’s strike was against 11 video game companies, including juggernauts like Activision, Warner Bros., Electronic Arts, as well as Insomniac. According to the union, the gaming industry refused to offer residual payment bonuses and other profit-sharing opportunities. The union also claimed that the industry denied a provision that would reduce the recording time for “vocally stressful” sessions to two hours to help prevent an actor from damaging their voice. Under the terms of the new deal, all the union said was that the publishers agreed to work with the union on this issue.
According to Deadline, only about 25 percent of video games use union voice actors. This was the first strike in the history of video game performers.
The chief negotiator for the video game companies, Scott Witlin, said in a statement that his group “worked hard to reach this deal and end the strike.” The statement also confirms that the new contract will be in place for three years, starting when it’s ratified; that should happen in the coming weeks.
“The new contract provides a substantial pay increase for performers through both increases in session fees and additional compensation tied to a performer’s contribution to the video game,” reads a line from the video game companies’ statement. “In addition, the Video Game Companies agreed to additional transparency in bookings and to continue to cooperate with SAG-AFTRA in the area of safety, including vocal stress.”
Overwatch voice actor Crispin Freeman, who voices Winston, spoke to GameSpot about the strike and why voice actors matter. “We negotiated with them for 19 months in good faith,” Freeman said. “It’s the longest negotiation SAG-AFTRA has ever done. It was the last thing we wanted to do, but they left us with no choice.”
Pickets were held at Electronic Arts, Insomniac, and Warner Bros., while SAG-AFTRA has also organized virtual pickets.