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Screen Actors Guild Reaches Tentative Agreement to End Strike Against 11 Video Game Companies

After almost a year, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), a union representing video game voice actors, announced it may soon be ending its strike against 11 video game companies, penning a new contract for voice actor safety and company transparency. The contract is expected to be reviewed by SAG-AFTRA National Board at its upcoming October meeting and if approved, it will end the strike.

SAG-AFTRA revealed last October it would be striking companies such as EA, Take-2 Interactive and Activision over unsafe conditions and demands for video game voice actors after “96.52% of members [voted] in favor of the [strike]” in October 2015. This news came after 19 months of attempted negotiations between the guild and companies, breaking new ground only now. The strike was the longest in the guild’s history.

The issues SAG-AFTRA raised in regards to demands made by certain companies revolved mainly around long hours that posed threats to a performer’s voice – the bread and butter of a digital actor’s career. With its strike, the union also sought a bonus for every two million copies of a game sold, as well as more transparency upfront regarding projects and more serious steps taken to ensure actors’ safety and better working conditions.

As Polygon points out, when it comes to video games, a lot of actors aren’t paid residuals or bonuses based on the success of a product – a practice common with movies and television. To put that into context, per the outlet’s report: “voice actor Michael Hollick said that he was paid $100,000 for about 15 months of work to voice Grand Theft Auto 4 protagonist Niko Bellic, and received no royalties; publisher Rockstar Games has sold more than 25 million copies of the game.”

Under the new agreement, new bonus payments will be issued based on the number of sessions worked. These bonuses start at $75 for the first, maxing out at $2,100 after 10 additional sessions. These payments will be due “no later than the release date of the game.”

The reason something like this is important for talent is, unlike an other media, a lot of video games are written during development, and oftentimes have to be changed due to the constraints of technology or the rescoping of a project. This results in a performer having to reshoot or reperform new content with no additional financial incentive.

“The bonus payments we have now are significantly larger now than what we had 11 months ago. And the existence of additional payments beyond your session fee is in the video game world for good, both in our high-budget and independent promulgated agreements,” chair of the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Negotiating Committee Keythe Farley said in statement.

Additionally, the union seeing holding these video game companies responsible for being transparent as a secondary victory, allowing performers to know just what it is they’re signing onto before signing onto it. It’s common for a performer to get involved with a video game project with no prior knowledge of what it is exactly they’re agreeing to – often times leaving some of its questionable content in the dark until the day of performances.

“The new transparency provisions will enhance the bargaining power of our members’ representatives by requiring the companies to disclose the code name of project, its genre, whether the game is based on previously published intellectual property and whether the performer is reprising a prior role,” Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez, lead negotiator of the new contract, said. “Members are also protected by the disclosure of whether 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.”

Finally, this new deal requires companies to continue working with the union on issues surrounding vocal stress during the term of the agreement. 

The SAG-AFTRA’s 11 month strike did impact the video game industry. In one case, SAG-AFTRA voice actress Ashly Burch wasn’t able to reprise her role in the Life is Strange prequel Before the Storm – though she did help out on the game in an advising role. 

We’ve reached out to SAG-AFTRA to clarify a few points of this agreement, such as whether or not the strike should continue if it were to fall through for any reason next month. We also have asked if this is he first step for the union in securing benefits and safeties for video game performers. We’ll update the story accordingly should we hear back.

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