The Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has called for a strike, effective today, against some of the video game industry’s leading publishers. For more than 19 months the organization has been building up aggression toward what it claims to be an unfair and outdated contract that leaves voice actors “without the protections necessary to work in the modern video game industry.”
Beginning in February of last year, SAG-AFTRA has been attempting to negotiate a new contract. Its members delivered to employers a statement of support signed by more than 300 of the union’s top performers.
The months following were filled with tons of members showing their support online, a vote on whether or not to strike (in which 96.55 percent voted yes) and more negotiations — the last of which was held earlier this week.
“SAG-AFTRA has gone to the negotiations table with serious concerns affecting voiceover and stunt performers,” SAG-AFTRA Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez wrote in a statement on the organization’s website. “It’s time for video game employers to take our concerns seriously and negotiate a modern contract based on actor safety, industry precedent and best practices.”
So what exactly are they asking for?
Well, for starters, the performers are looking for secondary compensation — something currently unavailable for any video games. They’re asking for a bonus for every 2 million copies/downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers in the case of online-only games, with a cap at 8 million, meaning the highest number of bonuses available for the top-selling games would be four.
Many game employers will hire a performer without mentioning the role or game for which he or she has been hired. Some will also “refuse to provide basic information about the nature of the performance that will be expected of them.” SAG-AFTRA is asking for there to be more transparency so performers can know beforehand and be better-prepared for a decision on whether to take the role or maybe even negotiate more appropriate pay.
Instead, the gaming companies proposed a counteroffer, suggesting a 9 percent immediate wage increase and an additional compensation of up to $950 per game depending on the number of sessions a performer worked on a title. Currently SAG-AFTRA negotiators receive a 3 percent annual increase over a three-year period.
However, the union yesterday refused the offer — which was pretty obvious because they’re kind of on strike right now. The union called the proposed contract a “freeloader model of compensation.”
The existing contract, which was written in 1994, expired in late 2014, but SAG-AFTRA performers have been working under it as negotiations have persisted.
“The Video Game Companies did everything in their power to reach agreement with union leaders, offering a money package almost identical to SAG-AFTRA’s last demand,” Scott Witlin, the chief negotiator for the video game companies, said in a statement. “We are greatly disappointed that SAG-AFTRA refuses to allow its members to have a democratic vote on our proposal and decide if the significant money on the table is acceptable to them,” he said.
Some of the companies involved include Activision, Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Insomniac Games and WB Games. Some performers involved are Roger Craig Smith (“Assassin’s Creed”), Jennifer Hale (“Mass Effect”) and actor Wil Wheaton (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) — via GameSpot.
A review done by the video game companies revealed that fewer than 25 percent of games use union workers.
Voice director Keythe Farley (“Final Fantasy XV”) said SAG-AFTRA doesn’t want to strike but staying idle while performers put their careers at risk was not an option.
“The time is now for a new contract for our members,” he said.
Members of the organization will picket EA in Playa Vista, California at 1:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 24. This is the first video game-performer strike in history.