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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

SAG-AFTRA Voice-Acting Nagging Strikes

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Union-busting, please?

Recently, the SAG-AFTRA, or Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, voted pretty unanimously to allow the videogame voice actor part of its massive and dangerous union to go on strike for petty reasons. If you don't know, this is the union that has their whole timeline talking about its flirtation with communist ideology. (And don't think for a moment that they haven't stopped flirting.)

Why do I bring that up? Because the union exists to create all of these ridiculous restrictions on companies looking for voice actors. I mean, look at all the restrictions placed on companies in their FAQ and their other documents. But also the restrictions on the people who end up unionised that they can't just negotiate their own contract. The thousands of people in the union have to submit to the leadership's one-size-fits-all contracting. The union apparently has such strength that the majority of prestigious gaming companies are signatories to the union's agreements.

And signatories are obligated to seek unionised work first and are restricted in hiring non-unionised work.

SAG-AFTRA union logo salute heil Nazi fascism communism

But that's basic Union 101. So what were the demands behind the strike authorisation and what are their implications? Well, obviously they couldn't reach agreements with the gaming companies.

According to the union, here were their demands:
  • Residuals for voice actors for successfully-selling games. Basically, the voice actor gets a bonus if the videogame they acted for does really well. And more bonuses if it does even better. (Millions of copies, though according to some companies even million-sellers aren't good enough for profit.)
  • If the voice work is very stressful and demanding, then they want to limit the amount the voice actor may do a day to two hours. And they get "stress pay" like "stunt pay" for actors who do physically-endangering stunts for a movie.
  • An on-scene stunt coordinator, though their page didn't actually explain what they were demanding very well.
  • Transparency on the projects. Basically how this works is that the union agents just blindly send voice actors out to take projects because the studios don't actually give information on what the actor will be acting until the actor gets to the studio. So actors won't know what they'll be getting into. We obviously know that this isn't universally true because many times voice actors claim they are ecstatic about the role they will be playing.
According to the union (so might not be an honest source but there's a lack of the other side providing literature), here's what the companies want from them (note that the companies are "bargaining jointly for convenience" — also note that the demands on their "According to the union" web page are not listing exhaustively the demands in the "bargaining jointly for convenience" PDF):
  • The union will be prompt (24 hours) of approval of a performer. No response means they approve.
  • Actors will show up to the session on-time and will be attentive to what the studios are asking them to do. If you're goofing off or being terrible, the actor can be fined $2,500.
  • Application voice tapes will not be manipulated unless requested, and will represent the actor's own work.
  • The companies should be allowed to use their own non-unionised random employees to voice-act without running afoul of any union exclusivity contract.
SAG-AFTRA claims those reasonable proposals are "reckless and ill-advised."

I will say that SAG-AFTRA wanting transparency is a good thing, but that shouldn't be mandated into a contract. Here's how it should work:

Companies try to get voice actors for roles. They give as much information as they want. Actors are free to take or reject these like any other contracting jobs based on the information given. They're free to request more information or take the risk (though it's not like voice-acting is a life-or-death situation) if there's a lack of it. Actors should then be free to negotiate with the companies the rates and conditions. Basically, independent contracting like you'd see on Craigslist.

Apparently, most of these "talent gigs" are probably adult films. So not exactly like Craigslist.
(And if you're interested in this for some reason...)

Unions muck that common-sense approach up. They're layering in and piling on so many market distortions.

We know that voice actors command a very high rate for their services, more than lawyers. And in some cases, random employees within the company get a better reception with fans than unionised dudes. That very high hourly rate is why the voice actors need to be attentive and ready to act, which apparently they are not as of now. Very hard-working union members, you see? If they're wasting their hundred dollars a minute goofing off, then damn right the companies should get their money back.

All the union exists to do, as I wrote, is to distort the market. In reality, there are way too many people going around being voice-actors than there is a demand for them. The reason why there are so many of these people and there isn't a market equilibrium is because of the union, which obviously has incentives in terms of power and size (and union dues) to expand its member rolls. The last thing the union needs is a random CAPCOM employee voice-acting Phoenix Wright.

As for residuals, these union thugs genuinely believe that their work voice-acting is equal to or more important than the work of the programmers, artists, musicians, etc. But we can clearly see that Wil Wheaton, who defends his union, did absolutely nothing to help Code Name S.T.E.A.M. sell or be rated well. But if it did sell well, it wouldn't be because of him. It'd be because of good game design. Or something. If that game had good game design. But we know the union thugs get very defensive and think they're super-important when one of them are attacked.

If you don't like the rigours of voice-acting, then don't be a professional voice-actor. Pretty simple.

And the consequences of this whole strike thing? Videogame companies that think they need professional voice-acting (and they don't) will get their games delayed unless the companies submit to the union's idiotic demands. All this will also do is make games more expensive to produce, and for labour contracts to get even more complicated (and I clearly am not an expert on these contracts) and for legal departments to have to get more bloated. Let's avoid these hostage-taking whiny communists as an industry, okay?

Ludwig thinks that people should pursue what they're good at and what they're passionate for, and that you should negotiate for yourself. He voice-acts his own videogames and other projects, including songs. He really doesn't care who the hell is voice-acting the games he actually plays.

No matter the year, SAG-AFTRA is still demanding more and more concessions. What value does their voice-acting truly bring?
There actually are games where their main priority is to showcase a SAG-AFTRA voice.
The fight for trying to get residuals continues for many years to come.


  1. Cranky Kong: In my day we were voiced by blips and bloops. And we liked it! Primates these days...

    1. The Inklings in Splatoon ain't voiced by voice actors, and Inkling Girl is becoming one of the most popular characters out there with WOOMY.

    2. While not sure about regular Inklings, Squid Sisters actually have voice actresses who probably had their voices filtered:

      Check out starting at 1:08

    3. :)

      Anyway, The Musicians Union of Japan and Japan Actors Union are apparently pretty weak. I won't claim to know how their dynamics work (since I only vaguely understand America's), so hell if I know who those voice actresses are or how they got their jobs.

    4. Thankfully I do not care about "AAA" games as I think they are trying too much to be like movie blockbusters. Game companies need to embrace what form of media they are. And no voice acting is always better than bad voice acting so I don't get second hand embarrassment so many companies won't feel the need to use voice acting all the time of they come out ridiculous in the end.

    5. I'll consider my own voice-acting to be "good" and nod my head.

      But yeah, movie acting is totally different than gaming acting. The whole point of movies is the acting.

      ...Can't say the same for gaming.
      As long as your graphics department can avoid Uncanny Valley no one really cares.

  2. I have no particular stance on the whole voice acting thing, but I wanted to comment that I think it's cool how the original Ace Attorney people were all Capcom employees.

    1. I actually want you to comment on the whole contractor freelancing thing, as someone who actually gets income from that.

      How would it affect you if you were unionised as opposed to being independent?

    2. It would probably improve some things. For example, it's fairly well-known among freelance writers that since there are people willing to write for extremely low amounts, sometimes the market seems swamped with low-paying jobs, and there are no minimum wage laws or anything similar that apply to us. Freelancers (full-time, without more traditional employment) also have to handle their own health insurance and whatnot. I've seen people push for more unionization in response to some of these issues.

      The downsides mentioned above are because freelancers are essentially their own employers. I set my own rates (though I have to find clients willing to pay them) and times. I'm... not entirely sure how a union would change that. I think of a union as a voice for employees, bargaining with an employer. If I'm my own employer, would my union make contracts with my clients? What if I wanted something different?

      You know, attempting to answer your question has mainly taught me that I have no idea how freelance unions work. XDD

    3. Yeah, unions just end up overwhelming everyone with complexity. You think the talent understands the damn contracts either? I bet they don't.

      If you want to pay for your health insurance and you insist on associating yourself with a union to do that, they'll just avoid hiring you entirely because that's way too much money for the amount of benefit you provide them.

      Won't matter if you ask them or your union thug asks them. (Also have fun paying substantial dues.)

  3. I believe that the union's demands are unreasonable; games are making enough money without voice actors, I would care less if a famous actor is voicing a game and I believe they shouldn't. This is a union scam, they want them to sign the contract to get most of their profits and put them out business like everyone else the union put out.


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