The National Board of SAG-AFTRA, the American-based actors’ union, has sent a strike authorisation vote to members ahead of the union’s upcoming negotiations for the Interactive Media Agreement in late September. The strike would impact a number of video game companies, including Activision Productions and Epic Games, who are signatories on the current agreement — meaning video game voice acting and motion capture for major publishers could be put on hold should a strike occur.
The union’s initial agreement has been in place since 2017, and while it was originally set to expire in 2020, has since been extended twice (to 2022 and 2023 respectively) — but is now once again up for negotiation. SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) said in a statement that the extension was put in place as they negotiated with the companies “for critical terms…members need,” however added that “unfortunately, throughout the negotiations, the companies have failed to address those needs.” The National Board unanimously agreed to the vote authorisation ahead of the bargaining period.
The major video game publishers that are signatories on the Interactive Media Agreement include:
- Activision Productions Inc.,
- Blindlight LLC,
- Disney Character Voices Inc.,
- Electronic Arts Productions Inc.,
- Epic Games, Inc.,
- Formosa Interactive LLC,
- Insomniac Games Inc.,
- Take 2 Productions Inc.,
- VoiceWorks Productions Inc., and
- WB Games Inc.
It’s worth noting that any strikes relating to the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Media Agreement would be separate from the ongoing Hollywood strikes alongside the Writers’ Guild that have impacted many major studios and productions in recent months. Despite this, the union did note that the two contracts were up against some similar key issues like wages that are in line with inflation and “protections against unrestrained use of artificial intelligence.” Only recently, Hi-Rez Studios (the developer behind Paladins) caught heat online due to a now-removed clause that stated voice actors would have their performances replicated using technology such as AI should they die or become otherwise incapacitated for an extended period.
In the SAG-AFTRA statement confirming that a vote authorisation to strike had been approved, union President Fran Drescher said that the video game agreement was at a stalemate. “Here we go again! Once again we are facing employer greed and disrespect. Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work. And once again, SAG-AFTRA is standing up to tyranny on behalf of its members,” she said. “The overlap of these two SAG-AFTRA contracts is no coincidence, but rather a predictable issue impacting our industry as well as others all over the world…We at SAG-AFTRA say NO! Not on our watch!”
Unfettered AI usage seems to be a major sticking point in negotiations, with SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explaining that the “threat [of AI] is here and it is real.” “Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods,” he added.
Beyond AI protections, SAG-AFTRA is seeking wage increases for video game performers, with a retroactive 11% increase dated back to the expiration of the Interactive Media Agreement, and further 4% increases in the second and third years of the agreement in order to keep up with inflation. The union is also asking for on-camera performers to have the same regular rest periods that off-camera performers are entitled to, as well as set medics when stunts are performed, prohibitions against stunts on self-taped auctions, and vocal stress protections.
A successful strike authorisation vote for video game performers isn’t a guarantee that a strike will actually occur, though. The authorisation instead permits the National Board to declare a strike should video game companies fail to negotiate fairly with SAG-AFTRA.
Bargaining is set to resume for the Interactive Media Agreement on 26 September, so whether a strike occurs is anyone’s guess up until then – but it looks like the union is ready to mobilise members to strike should it become necessary.