Video-Game Performers Authorize Strike Ahead of Pay Talks

Voice actors and performers who work in the video-game industry voted to authorize a strike ahead of contract negotiations this week.

(Bloomberg) — Voice actors and performers who work in the video-game industry voted to authorize a strike ahead of contract negotiations this week. 

The union, SAG-AFTRA, was scheduled to begin talks with video-game studios on Tuesday. 

“We hope the added leverage of a successful strike authorization vote will compel the companies to make significant movement on critical issues where we are still far apart,” the guild said in a statement. 

The union, which also represents TV and film actors, is currently on strike against Hollywood studios. In both negotiations, talks involve how artificial intelligence can be used to re-create actors’ voices and images.

The video-game performers are bargaining with the units of top gaming companies including Activision Blizzard Inc., Electronic Arts Inc., Epic Games, Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. and Warner Bros. Discovery Inc. 

“We will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA-represented performers in video games,” said Audrey Cooling, a spokesperson for video-game producers that are party to the Interactive Media Agreement. “We have reached tentative agreements on over half of the proposals and are optimistic we can find a resolution at the bargaining table.” 

Video-game voice actors are concerned that, without adequate contractual protections, AI may reproduce or remix their voices without consent or compensation. 

“The unregulated use of artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to anyone who makes their living using their voice, image or performance,” said Ray Rodriguez, chief contracts officer for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television & Radio Artists.

The union and the Writers Guild of America have both expressed worry about members losing control of their writing, voices or likenesses through the use of generative AI. Because games are computer-generated, the risk to video-game performers is high, Rodriguez said.

The game workers have also alleged unsafe conditions for actors who perform stunts using motion-capture technology. 

“Games are basically playable action films,” said Ashly Burch, who voiced the protagonist in Sony Group’s Horizon series. “We’re asking for a set medic.” 

They’re also seeking the same wage increase as film and television workers. Video-game voice actors struck for nearly a year in 2017 after demanding residual payments, voice protections and pay transparency. The residual payments did not make it into the agreement.

“Video game employers view themselves as technology companies engaged in a technology business, not as entertainment companies, which is really what they’ve become,” Rodriguez said.

Approximately 2,600 people work under the guild’s interactive media contract. Some 14,680 have been employed under the contract at some point in the career, the union said.

(Updates with producers’ comments starting in sixth paragraph.)

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