The Screen Actors Guildâ€American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has called for a strike, effective today, against some of the video game industryâ€™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 For more than 19 months the organization has been building up aggression toward what it claims to be an unfair and outdated contract that leaves voice actors â€œwithout the protections necessary to work in the modern video game industry.â€
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 unionâ€™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.
â€œSAG-AFTRA has gone to the negotiations table with serious concerns affecting voiceover and stunt performers,â€ SAG-AFTRA Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez wrote in a statement on the organizationâ€™s website. â€œItâ€™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.â€
So what exactly are they asking for?
Well, for starters, the performers are looking for secondary compensation — something currently unavailable for any video games. Theyâ€™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 â€œrefuse to provide basic information about the nature of the performance that will be expected of them.â€ 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 theyâ€™re kind of on strike right now. The union called the proposed contract a â€œfreeloader model of compensation.â€
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 (â€œAssassinâ€™s Creedâ€), Jennifer Hale (â€œMass Effectâ€) and actor Wil Wheaton (â€œStar Trek: The Next Generationâ€) — 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 (â€œFinal Fantasy XVâ€) said SAG-AFTRA doesnâ€™t want to strike but staying idle while performers put their careers at risk was not an option.
â€œThe time is now for a new contract for our members,â€ 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.