Paid Less To Die More: The Actors' Union's Beef With Video Games

The Screen Actors' Guild's rejection of a contract with video game makers can be seen as a tempest in a teapot - 80 percent of voice work in games is non-union. But the L.A. Times goes further to see what's really at stake.

Mostly, SAG voice actors are concerned about a new work classification called "atmospheric voices," in which one actor supplies the dialogue for up to 20 incidental characters for the same $US800 fee per four hours of recording. The actors also have a concern that all extra yelling, grunting, and yeaaarghing will place additional wear and tear on their pipes although the deal includes protections against "vocal stress,"

Said voice acting vet Dee Baker to the L.A. Times:

Before, you were doing three characters dying a horrible death. Now you're doing 20 characters dying a horrible death. Not only will this mean less money for more experiences, it's also going to be a lot more vocally difficult.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists approved the deal. Its executive director said ratifying the deal is important to give publishers more reason to hire union talent. "A lot of employers are not signatories to our contract," its executive director told the Times, "and part of the reason is that we can't accommodate their budget ... This will keep us in the game."

If you're going to rip the union or its members for rejecting the contract or being too concerned about their vocal cords, at least read this entire article before commenting. Thanks. Video Game Voice Actors Worry They're Getting Shortchanged [Los Angeles Times, thanks Andrew C.]


    Gamers would probably be sympathetic if more voice actors didn't sound like they were sleepwalking through the job. Granted, too many games didn't leave a budget for a decent writer (looking at you, Resident Evil seris).

    But good voice actors can really make a game, so eh. All this will probably end up doing is driving up the price of games when the Xbox720/PS4 comes out :D

    It should also be noted that currently you don't see "Mass Effect 3 - Starring John Brown". While these stars are paid for their talent, how is that any different to an accountant, or a brick layer.

    TV, movie stars etc become a brand, thus there is supply and demand. The bigger the brand, the more they are paid. Until voice talent for games have their own bankable brand i see no problem with their industry having set rates. So to me this debate should be soley around fair rate for a fair job.

    I can't comment on the contract itself as i don't have the information to say if they are being ripped off or not. If they can work safely for 4 hours doing a job it shouldn't matter how many "characters" or they are performing. Do the kids at maccas get paid by the burger?

    There is a limit on how hard someone should work definately. Asking someone to voice for 4 hours isnt the same as say screaming your lungs off for 4 hours. This however is a stress/strain issue, which it sounds like the contract tries to cover. Does it cover it well? Another point that should be debated.

    To me it seemed like the real issues were glossed over with a bit of whinging from the actors. It really seems like real issues exist here, but i don't think the SAG approached them well.

      *puts on weabo hat*

      @Ross Edwards:You mean until Voice Acting becomes bankable OUTSIDE Japan. It's a rather huge industry over there and popularity is comparable if not more than "live" actors =P

      *weabo hat off*

      That being said.. i may slightly agree w/ the rip-off comments. Voice-acting as such is "still" acting. Think of it this way.. u know how everyone will hire a joe schmuck every now and then on movies for stand ins or random person "a" for specific scene sets. They get payed their time for the hour and how many scenes they get to be random person no.1.. now imagine if instead of getting payed multiple times for multiple scenes the person is then shot only 4 scenes payed their dues.. and then scene is "recycled" 20 times more in the movie w/o the pay that goes for the.

      This works on 2 different levels.. one it severely degrades experience by "recycling" so much and two the actor is effectively being reduced in pay because he/she is "credited" on only 4 scenes that later becomes 20 "different" scenes in the movie. Thats less cash for more experience as they said..

      Let's try it on the same McDonalds example.. nope they don't get payed by the burger but they do get payed for the time and labour spent. Now imagine a kid who is made to only work 2 hours a day and just told stuff x hundred burgers now and go home so he gets paid piddly nuts for a LOT of manual labour.. for burgers which would get sold during the day. Cost effective to the company definitely. However not only does it screw w/ the kid's employment entitlements it also degrades quality of the stores food (would u want a burger prepared like 5-6 AM in the morning for Dinner? xD)

      That being said its all moot seeing as the SAG technically only represents 20% of VA's xD

      "I can’t comment on the contract itself as i don’t have the information to say if they are being ripped off or not. If they can work safely for 4 hours doing a job it shouldn’t matter how many “characters” or they are performing. Do the kids at maccas get paid by the burger?"

      That is a really excellent point, and well made.

    Jack Black did do Brutal Legend, along with a host of others and I do beleive he was a selling point for that game. And the Original Spider Man movie tie in had Bruce Campbell talking you through the tutorial.

    So I guess some people can get good rates for voice acting.

    Some good points Ross.

    It sounds a little like the Union wants to settle for a little less than they may want to improve their footprint and build better bargaining power for the future, whereas the actors themselves are definitely and understandably focussed on what they'll get paid now.

    Without knowing more than what's presented in the linked article I'm left wondering if presently they get paid for a minimum of 4 hours which may be fairly laid back, i.e. only a couple of actual hours of work if only doing the likes of 3 voices, yet under the proposed agreement they may actually have to work for the full four hours (allowing for breaks etc to avoid strain). It seems to me this working the full time you're paid and wanting a "slice of the profit cake" is featuring in the actors position.

    What BS.
    The issue as I see it is they want to be treated like movie actors... who are traditionally massively overpaid (IMHO). Now the problem with voice acting is that it's just the voice, no face, no "Staring..." on the box (Brutal Ledgend is a bit of an odd one), and if one actor refuses the gig, then they can just find another.
    $200 an hour and they complain their voice can be used as much as the producer likes.
    Its simple... if you don't think its a fair deal, don't take it. If they realy want you, or can't find someone else then negotiate a rate you're all happy with.
    Of course if they can't find a big name (of course I still don't know of any "big name" voice actors, but am sure they exist), they could just find some local talent from theatre groups or something, who will no doubt think $200 an hour is awesome.

    Oh god I'm so sorry you make 200 dollars an hour. Jarate off.

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