Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Never-Seen, Often-Heard, Heroes of Video Games

Polygon posted a good read about the state of voice actors in the gaming sphere. In that they are not treated like super stars unlike their Hollywood counterparts.  To me, this isn’t news. It’s something I’ve been fully aware of ever since I was a child. We don’t care about the actor behind the voice. We want Kevin Conroy to talk like Batman and we’re all happy campers-even if we never see his face. We want the voice.

Anime voice actors in the U.S. know this all too well. You’re fortunate if you can get a gig at Funimation, which basically has its own set of in-house actors, so they are guaranteed a few series before they have to find work elsewhere. They are paid by the hour for their work, usually no more than $200 an hour (which is below the industry standard for voice actors in general). No residuals for any repeats or syndication airings of the show. Funimation is one of the few places that I know that gives a salary to their core voice acting group, at least here in the U.S. Flat fee. Per hour. That’s it. Which is why if you’ve ever been to an anime convention, or look at a lineup, you’ll see a lot of voice actors on the circuit, begging for the attention so that they are still prominent in the eyes of dubbing companies.

It’s hard work. And voice acting for video games is no different. If you pull up any IMDB page for a voice actors, you’re going to see dozens if not hundreds of credits. They have to work hard and nab everything that they can in order to maintain a living. It’s rough stuff. The only way to really “hit it big” is to grab a Milk campaign. I remember Kyle Herbert and Mike Mercer, anime and gaming voice actors, during a panel talking about how much they have to hussle to get a job, and they’re pretty well known amongst anime fans in the U.S. for their dubbing efforts. (Kyle is THE VOICE of DragonBall Z). Why do they want a milk campaign? Residuals. Every time those commercials play, every time that slogan is said, that voice actor is getting a residual check. All for only saying 2 words. “Got milk?” And another check is on his way.

The gaming industry doesn’t favor voice actors, unfortunately. It’s still a new field when you think about it. Voices really didn’t become mainstream until the last 5-6 years. Even now we still play games that have no voices. Final Fantasy X was the first to really incorporate it, that we’re expecting it more and more with our games. But even back in the day, we had voice actors to mimic fight noises and such.

We’re at a point where we’re going to need to see changes. Voice actors, whether obscure or not, need to be properly compensated for their work based on the sale of the game. Because let’s face it, Mass Effect would not have been so powerful without the voice acting. Seeing the actors for Kaiden Alenko and Kelly Chambers at PAX East, they were super stars. We would have no attachment to those characters without the actors that provided the voices. And it’s also important that the studios start supporting their actors, be it in marketing campaigns, or even just mentioning them on the website. Yeah, a lot of companies won’t even do that. They slight the actors as a side position because “anyone can do it.” Well no not really.

Is there more of a push to get movie/tv actors into video games? Of course. And it blows the budget of the game to where everyone else working on the project gets screwed. But hey, if that gets the game on Conan or The Late Show, then it might compensate with marketing gains. We won't get into the work-load difference because that would be an obvious response. An A-Lister in Hollywood could portray themselves in a film for 20 million for a few days of work. A voice actor, such as Tara Strong who averages 3-5 characters per show is lucky to make a grand per episode over a few months (and she is so ridiculously talented in the way she can manipulate her voice that it's insane that she's not paid more for her work).

It’s important that everyone working on a game gets the attention and respect that they deserve. From the guy working at QA 70 hours a week with no sleep to the voice actor of “random village man #2.”

Go read the article. It’s good stuff. 

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