Thursday, February 23, 2017

SAG Strike Boiled Down to $3,300 In Residuals

Almost a month since my last post and there is still no resolution with the video game voice actors strike (SAG-AFTRA) against gaming companies for unfair wages and compensation. Several months in and the concern for additional labor disputes is rising. It may not be long until programmers and coders join the fray as unreset continues.

However, the game companies targeted in this campaign still feel that the additional compensation to voice actors is unwarranted. In the February issue of VICE Magazine, they spoke with actors, SAG, and game developers to get the full story - or as much of it as they could, and compiled one heck of an article. Game developers are still sticking to their guns, and would rather have a general pay increase of 9% across the board for voice actors instead of providing residuals for games doing well. Tommy Tallarico, a game composer and founder of the Game Audio Network Guild, said that developers won't back down because of principle. The reasoning? Coders work longer hours and they don't see additional payments, so why should a voice actor working 4 hours get those bonuses and they don't?

Sam Singer, a legal representative for the gaming companies involved in the strike, echos this same opinion. That it's "not fair" to the other 99% of people working in the industry if only the voice actors see residuals. The argument is that voice actors make up 1% of the people working on video games, therefore they don't count as much and shouldn't be paid more. They also claim that it'll cause unrest to their current staff who won't see the same benefits (which is true - even though coders are typically paid more then a voice actor, if others got residuals for a game I helped make, then I'd want in on that action too).

Aside - voice actors sure do a lot to keep us interested in games. Where would we be without the vocals for Snake, Master Chief, or Uncharted's Drake? Those actors made the games come to life on a level we never imagined. The stories were powerful; more compelling. I don't believe Halo would be where it is today if the Chief had no voice.

It's almost like they are playing out a really bad "this is how to negotiate with unions" playbook from the 1940's. Johanna Weststar, a professor who specializes in labor issues (who has also run surveys in conjunction with the International Game Developers Association) counters in the article that this "it's not fair to everyone" attitude is the general response most employers have when faced with unions.

When you crunch the numbers, what SAG-AFTRA is asking for is actually pretty reasonable. For every 2 million copies of a game sold, with a cap at 8 million units, they are asking for a performance bonus to be paid to voice actors. That amounts to potentially four session payments per principal performer. Video game companies would have to pay up to another $3,300 to primary actors for games that hit that 8 million units.

$3,300. Seriously. That's it! If you have 4 principle performers in a game, that's only $13,200. While that could be an issue for independent developers to pay up if they have a small team, it would be easy to add clauses into contracts to adjust for this. If you are Activision/Blizzard or EA Games, you can pay that residual. Don't act like you can't. And in the case of voice actors, much of their work revolves around yelling, screaming, grunting, and losing their voices in the process. Those "4 hours" of work can result in the actor losing days of potential income once their voice is gone. They can't work until it's returned and they are not on a salary. They are not making anything extra from the job. They are out. Having the potential for residuals helps make those days not feel so doom-worthy when you can't work.

I'm not saying that developers, graphic designers, and coders shouldn't also get some form of bonus for their work too. But this mentality of "it's always been like this" doesn't work. It never does! Any union in the world can tell you that. Game companies need to get out of their heads, realize the world around them is changing, and provide a solution.

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