Game Voice Actors Reject Contract Due to Low Pay

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Game Voice Actors Reject Contract Due to Low Pay

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An influential group of voice actors in the Screen Actors Guild told the LA Times that they rejected a contract from game publishers because it meant more work for less money.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is a union representing movie actors but it also negotiates with the game industry. In October, SAG rejected a proposed contract, mostly because of one sticking point regarding "atmospheric" voices in video games. The proposed contract would pay actors $800 for a four-hour session and voicing up to 20 characters of 300 words each. Principle characters, defined as advancing the plot of the game, would be paid the same for up to three character voices. SAG rejected this proposal because in essence it would mean that actors would be paid less for doing more voices, which could injure or impair their vocal chords.

"Before, you were doing three characters dying a horrible death. Now you're doing 20 characters dying a horrible death," said Dee Baker, whose voice appeared in games like Halo 2 and Spore. "Not only will this mean less money for more experiences, it's also going to be a lot more vocally difficult."

It is clear that securing good voice acting is becoming more important when developing games in this generation. The numbers are staggering: Mass Effect 2 will have 90 actors playing 546 characters, speaking over 31,000 lines, Uncharted 2's cutscenes total over 90 minutes, the length of a feature film.

One wonders, then, why game companies are so quick to give voice actors short shrift. The contract did propose a 2.5% increase in wages, but that barely covers inflation.

The problem with the breakdown in negotiations is that 80% of the talent used in games is not represented by SAG, so their leverage is limited. Why bother paying SAG actors more when game companies can just hire non-union newbies to handle the increased load of voice acting that many games now demand?

Contract negotiations in the entertainment industry are never easy, as the TV writers strike a few years ago showed. But as more and more "big names" enter the videogame voice acting landscape, we will most likely see the conflict escalate before it gets any better.

And if the accents in The Saboteur are any indication, the games industry needs better voice actors.

Source: LA Times via Gamepolitics

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20 characters for one voice actor!? These people have clearly never seen Oblivion.

Game companies don't respect voice acting talent, I've been hearing about this for some time.

voice acting is one of thoes things that game companies know they need for most games but really dont want to have to deal with

My uncle does that from time to time, he says its pointless compared with the other work. Thats why most voice acting is crap, it's crap actors getting the only work they can.

Voice acting in a video game isn't necessary but it's a nice plus. That's why text dialogue still exists.

If the video game industry wishes to be the giant that they are they need to promote all sides of production when creating a video game. Being a voice actor is really difficult and deserves to be paid well because of how competitive each job they have to apply for.

Anyone who does voice acting in the Anime industry will tell you(they even produced a DVD) on how perilous getting work can be.

Booze Zombie:
Game companies don't respect voice acting talent, I've been hearing about this for some time.

I have mixed opinions on the subject.

In the past I've talked about corruption in the games industry and the fact that I think people are being overpaid. When I look at some of the price tags attached to games it's pretty ridiculous, I mean even with hundreds of employees when your spending a quarter of a billion dollars to produce a video game something is wrong. I think a big part of it is the fact that a lot of people in the industry have simply gotten TOO greedy and are demanding what amounts to lavish fees for doing very little. Much like Hollywood.

I point this out because the sheer amount of money tossed into games is one of the excuses used to try and justify the high prices. Albeit the high prices are also largely because nobody in the goverment cares enough to prevent them from engaging in price fixing (like when the industry as a whole pulled a $10 price hike), and the simple fact that with price fixing it means that a game costing a quarter of a billion (I refer to Modern Warfare 2 here), and one developed on a shoestring both wind up costing the same price upon release.

Going into voice acting I am looking at people basically whining about getting paid $200.00 an hour, and I think that represents a mentality that is destroying the game industry, and hurting us gamers as a whole. Sure, it can be argued that 'voice actors' are a skilled profession but so are a lot of things that make a lot less money than they do. I think the basic issue is the fact that they feel they CAN demand more money given these ridiculous budgets so they are going to do so.

Truthfully this is pretty lulzworthy because back when I was seriously following Anime a lot of magazines and such did articles on voice actors since they were just coming into demand to produce quality dubs and such. The basic gist of it was that these guys were doing it for peanuts and were lucky if they could support themselves at it, mostly sticking in voice acting as a labor of love.

Now voice acting is taking off because video games want to use these guys too, and while I can see wanting to be able to support themselves, saying that a contract is "unfair" if they make $200.00 an hour is absolutly ridiculous. I think in this case the "Screen Actors Guild" is pretty much demonstrating the worst aspects of union behavior.

What's more demands this this trickle down to use consumers, because really the game industry is so excessively greedy and wasteful today, they aren't just going to "eat" the costs. Rather they will wind up hiking the price of a game another $5-$10 to cover it and leave us holding the check so to speak.

So basically my attitude is that they should pretty much tell the Voice Actors "have a nice life" and work around them with synthetic voice programs, volunteers, or whatever. Truthfully I'd rather suffer a year worth of [email protected] voice acting... which we get half the time anyway... than have these guys dictating their pay rate quite this way because in the long run that hurts me.

I mean honestly, it's guys going from "I'm happy to make a living, and still have to do other jobs" to "Well geez, I need more money so I can afford that second Lamborgini and a garage expansion to hold it because of the space my boat is taking up next to the first one". There *IS* a middle ground. Nobody who makes $3,200 a month for working 4 hours a week is going to tug at my heart strings. Even if they do 20 differant voices and read a thousand lines in that time, it's still only four bloody hours. Plus for all their cries about strain I'd feel it's a safe bet that these guys are doing other jobs, and probably hitting every studio needing voice work in town that they can find.

Furburt:
My uncle does that from time to time, he says its pointless compared with the other work. Thats why most voice acting is crap, it's crap actors getting the only work they can.

so are you saying your uncle is a crap actor then?

i think everyone is demanding too much money these days, they want more and more and want to do less for the same or more money. maybe they should be glad they even are being paid for the work

Therumancer:
I mean honestly, it's guys going from "I'm happy to make a living, and still have to do other jobs" to "Well geez, I need more money so I can afford that second Lamborgini and a garage expansion to hold it because of the space my boat is taking up next to the first one". There *IS* a middle ground. Nobody who makes $3,200 a month for working 4 hours a week is going to tug at my heart strings. Even if they do 20 differant voices and read a thousand lines in that time, it's still only four bloody hours. Plus for all their cries about strain I'd feel it's a safe bet that these guys are doing other jobs, and probably hitting every studio needing voice work in town that they can find.

Believe me, voice actors can't afford a Lamborgini. The 4 hours at 200.00$/hour is maybe the only gig they will get in the whole month.

Tenmar:

Anyone who does voice acting in the Anime industry will tell you(they even produced a DVD) on how perilous getting work can be.

Can you give me the name of that DVD? My curiosity is piqued.

hypothetical fact:
20 characters for one voice actor!? These people have clearly never seen Oblivion.

To quote half-life, "but with good reason!!"

Entering the VG VO arena is reportedly very difficult, at least if you're from Ohio like me. Everyone I've talked to is clueless - I even had a guy, from L.A., a radio producer, tell me that character voice actors are in such low demand that it's not worth putting character work on a demo reel. Seriously, wtf. I've played so many games whose voice work made me cringe, yet people keep telling me the doors are sealed.

You know I don't even make $100 for four hours on the job before taxes! And I make fairly decent pay for what I do. Fucking Hollywood crybabies, get a real job and then you can complain. You don't want that $800? Where the hell do I sign?

I'm split into two sides for this topic.

On the one hand, if a A-Class game company wish to use voice actors for cutscenes totaling to a full length feature film, why do the voice actors not deserve the pay of actors in A-Class films? The chance of acting anywhere, let alone voice acting, is a chance that ANY actor will grab by the horns because it might be all they do for that year, besides extra work which might come rarely and as a huge bonus.

On the other side of this, I, as a stage actor, have to endure two shows each day for weeks on end producing different ranges of voices which will more than likely total up to more lines than most voice actors have to produce for one game. My duty as an actor is to create the same impact of voice without impaling myself and I use different vocal techniques to get this result, so the fact that there is the quote: "which could injure or impair their vocal chords." is bullshit. SAG are beating around the bush and not stating their true intentions which is making the game companies pay more for their service.

johnx61:
You know I don't even make $100 for four hours on the job before taxes! And I make fairly decent pay for what I do. Fucking Hollywood crybabies, get a real job and then you can complain. You don't want that $800? Where the hell do I sign?

Quit your job, try to get into voice acting, or ANY acting... see how often that $800 dollars comes around.

scotth266:

Can you give me the name of that DVD? My curiosity is piqued.

Sure. They only released one volume but in terms of voice acting there have been a lot of classes now being offered by famous voice actors in the anime industry.

The dvd is titled "Adventures in Voice Acting Vol.1"

It was created by the recording company Bang Zoom!. Who gets the parts to contract voice actors to play. They have made other DVDs but I have yet to see another DVD that has interviews so many voice actors and the harsh reality that goes with the turf. There is supposed to be more in production but since they couldn't make the new one in Anime Expo 2009, I'm hoping for Volume 2 in 2010.

EDIT: Oh and as mentioned above, one harsh reality is that job security in voice acting(from advertisements to video games) are highly competitive and few and far between. Some voice actors will go without a gig for months straight.

hypothetical fact:
20 characters for one voice actor!? These people have clearly never seen Oblivion.

lol, if they saw that script XD

I have alot of respect for voice actors, they aren't really treated all that well by game companies, well except for Michael Hollick (google it)

Still, if they did give newbies some jobs we might find new talent.

But still once again, Dee Bradley Baker is an insanely talented voice actor and he deserves a better pay for doing all the stuff he does.
Course, if I were a voice actor I'd appreciate getting my talents heard, no matter the price (for a while)

Here's an idea. Do all your voice acting online. Post on message boards and in chat rooms and recruit people for your parts that way. Most nerds have decent microphones, either built into headsets or from Rock Band. They'd be more than happy to work for a few bucks an hour. Using the power of technowizardry, the game companies can clean 'em up and stick 'em in. The number of pre-pubescent whiney little turds out there will more than make up for the lack of females.

Maybe game companies need to cut down on non-plot voice acting. If SAG doesn't like what the video game industry is proposing, cutting them out all together should make them change their minds. Or game companies can do what movies have done for a long time and bring in random people off the street (aka extras) to do the bullshit stuff.

I'm sorry to be so crass about it, but I don't play video games for the voice acting.

One person doing 20 is just ridiculous. I mean I know they can change their voices somewhat but a lot of the time you can tell. Especially when hiring cheapo people off the street.
You want talent, you have to pay for that talent and make the most of it.
Just pay the big name voice actors with distinctive voices (for example, Simon Templeman, a man I can pick out of any game instantly) a decent wage and use them for the main parts and if need be use the cheap ass drones for the background filler voices.
Or as Aardvark just suggested use fan voices. You can even make it into a competition. Put the lines on your site and let the geeks battle it out to see whos voice will get a credit in the game.

From what I understand, pretty much any job in the games industry is best described as 'underpaid, overworked,' though it's generally the latter that gets the most attention. The question that should be asked is, 'if you're not paying people with it, where is all of that money going?' Especially when it seems as if 90% of the memorable titles to come out in a given year are independent games developed on significantly lower budgets than their AAA rated cousins.

Not sure if its been brought up, but it was totally neglected by the article: SAG negotiates actor contracts based on total production budget... in film. For example, actors are more integral to the production of a film then they are videogames (programmers, modelers, animators, etc.): Therefore, I wouldn't be surprised if a game company states an "actor budget" separate from the "production budget".

In this case, I believe the actors have a pretty limp case... if, for example, I was making a movie on a $100,000 budget... the minimum SAG rate for an actor is approximately $300 *A DAY*: That's an 8-hour work day w/ breaks and meals. That is the minimum an actor could accept as a member... remembering that actors would typically have to drive/fly themselves somewhere, work out in the elements and so on... and that would be each day over the course of a full production.

That said, actors can always ask for (and usually do) get more than that.

One other "losing cause" for SAG actors: For filmmakers, it benefits a production to have "at least one" SAG actor involved... because then, as a "SAG Film" it is eligible for many film festivals that non-union movies are not - THERE IS NO INCENTIVE FOR VIDEO GAME DEVELOPERS TO USE SAG ACTORS: What are they gonna do? *Not* sell the game on Amazon.com because they didn't get Bruce Campbell to voice an NPC? They can drag any "aspiring actor" off the street, pay him a flat $500 for 3 days of voice acting for X characters and call it a day... they will still sell the game everywhere on all platforms.

Me = Filmmaker... I've become pretty familiar with a lot of the fun SAG practices.

Thats why you should join a union. None union employees easily get the shaft.

The rate of pay is sickening though.

ShadowKirby:

Believe me, voice actors can't afford a Lamborgini. The 4 hours at 200.00$/hour is maybe the only gig they will get in the whole month.

That still makes it one of the highest paid, unskilled weekend jobs on earth. It's not like flipping burgers. You can tell me its a skill but I'm guessing most people here could put in an hour or two voice acting. Lets see the same people put an hour or two in as a paramedic. Thats a skilled job and paramedics dont get $200 an hour.

brewbeard:
The question that should be asked is, 'if you're not paying people with it, where is all of that money going?' Especially when it seems as if 90% of the memorable titles to come out in a given year are independent games developed on significantly lower budgets than their AAA rated cousins.

Forgive the (probable) double post: The money goes to equipment. "Peggle", "I Maed a Gaem with Zombies Init!!!11!" and "Diner Dash" didn't need Maya systems working in conjunction with motion capturing hardware, actors and the like on a $5,000 an hour Greenscreen "Virtual Stage"... nor the $1,000 an hour audio recording facility and the $5,000,000 national ad campaign slathering billboards, TV every 10 minutes during primetime and more.

Afterthought: There are also only a handful of motion capture facilities in the world, much less the United States... the same facility could be used for hundreds of projects in film and videogames a year - So they WILL pay a price to get in those extremely in-demand places.

If all else fails, game studios will just go back to using random office temps and their girlfriends for voice work in their games. Having SOME sort of standard for professionalism is necessary, and those professionals want a piece of the action for their trouble.

Booze Zombie:
Game companies don't respect voice acting talent, I've been hearing about this for some time.

Given some games even sell themselves on the voices, you can hardly give them grief over it. Especially when Hollywood can't get some accents right.

Let's face it: Robin Williams, Mike Myers or Eddie Murphy can sell a movie with their voice. Jim Cummings sold Balder's Gate. Don't know who he is?

Well, he's 7.5 characters in Balder's Gate...you may have just heard this before...

Now, even with our favourite mute - Gordon Freeman - there's Merle Dandridge providing Alyx's coo, Michael Shaprio as Barney and the G-Man and who will ever forget the voices of Ellen McLain? or Vince Valenzuela, Jim French, Jen Taylor and Earl Alexander for where Left 4 Dead.
(Pop Quiz: Without looking guess who played which)

Now if you don't think Heavy Weapons Guy, GLADos, Minsc, Kyle "Shadow" Simmons, Demoman, The Joker, Lucan D'Lere aren't worth that much money, then I'm sure you can voice them with the bods around the office.

Don't think it'll sell that well though.

You don't HAVE to have great voices in the same way you don't HAVE to have great music, graphics, or anything else. Hell, Peggle gets away with cutesy pictures, Ode to Joy and a bagatelle board.

But if you want a quality voice to go with the character, at least let the guys live off it.

Imagine Jessica Rabbit with Fran Drescher's voice...THAT's why they paid for Kathleen Turner.

bjj hero:

That still makes it one of the highest paid, unskilled weekend jobs on earth.

Unskilled?

Uhuh...wanna record yourself doing one of Master Chief's infamous lines? Coz I'm damn sure it won't be as good as Steve Downes.

johnx61:
You know I don't even make $100 for four hours on the job before taxes! And I make fairly decent pay for what I do. Fucking Hollywood crybabies, get a real job and then you can complain. You don't want that $800? Where the hell do I sign?

I know like what $800 an hour isn't good enough for you? Random question but how do you make the words bold?

This could lead to a few very positive outcomes.
1. Voice actors get wage increases (obviously).
2. Standards for voice acting go up accordingly.
3. Game companies stop falling back so hard on voice acting (though many games would suffer as a result. Hit mute next time you play Bat Man: Arkham Asylum or pretty much anything from Bioware and see how much of the impact of the cutscenes is lost. It would be no better than[gasp] Final Fantasy 7!).

Good going, FAG...I mean SAG.

Like the article says this isn't going to really do much when the majority of VA's are not represented by SAG.

Games that need voice acting only come along so often, so it's best to pay generously while you can.

hypothetical fact:
20 characters for one voice actor!? These people have clearly never seen Oblivion.

And talking of Oblivion... what you do is hire one or two big-name voice actors, then have their characters die at the very start of the game so you can hype the heck out of them while only actually having to pay them for thirty minutes' work.

(Also it helps if their character names sound like a brand of toilet cleaner. Yes, I'm looking at you, Patrick Stewart alias Uriel Septim.)

Hitman Grant:
Quit your job, try to get into voice acting, or ANY acting... see how often that $800 dollars comes around.

This is an excellent point.
I work full time as a radio producer, but I'm trying to get into VO work. I have no capital for classes or an agent, and I'm starting with MOD work, but even that is tricky to get. It's hard, especially with a life and a job already. I certainly understand why these VO actors rejected this contract, and hope they get a better deal.
I also hope that the gaming industry as a whole takes the VO work as seriously as textures and animations. It all, every bit, adds to the experience. And if you want people to be lost in this world you've created, then you've got to make it believable.

Well if you want me to be 3 people over 90 minutes of time 270 minutes total for 800 bucks I'm in.

You want me to make voices for 20 people over 90 minutes 1800 minutes for 800, I'll tell you where to stick it.

And if I want to be 3 extras for 12 lines each for 800 bucks, I'll take it but the company is moronic then.

Because what the games industry as a whole needs right now is to increase production costs to hire more voice actors. Yes, the treatment of voice actors could be better, but the industry can't really afford to keep increasing how much is needed to make a game.
Also, unlike movies, voice actors are not the crutch of the game. If acting in a movie sucks, then the movie sucks. If the voice acting in a game sucks, it brings down the experience, but is does not completely ruin the experience. It is the developers who do the majority of the work in a game and who deserve the bulk of the money for their work.

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