A response from the group representing publishers like Activision, EA and Take-Two Interactive has called out the voice actors union for its undemocratic approach to negotiation talks.
After close to two years of discussions between some of the biggest video game developers and SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents close to a quarter of the voice actors working within the gaming industry, a strike was declared just after midnight on Friday. In a press release, SAG-AFTRA’s chief contracts officer, Ray Rodriguez, said it was time for certain companies within the games industry to start taking actors’ concerns seriously and giving them additional pay.
Now, a group representing the video game companies affected has responded, stating that the companies did everything they could to strike a deal with the actors before the strike took place. According to the statement, the companies offered a "money package almost identical to SAG-AFTRA's last demand" and said SAG-AFTRA leaders should let the actors decide if the new offer meets their demands.
"We believe SAG-AFTRA performers should be allowed to look at what we offered and compare it to the union's last demand — and see that the terminology and other minimal differences are not worth striking over," Scott J. Witlin, a member of the companies’ legal team at Barnes & Thornburg, said. "The strike is going to hurt the SAG-AFTRA performers that these companies value."
The strike affects game companies that hired SAG-AFTRA-represented actors and released games anytime after February 2015. While there are notable actors within that group, including Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard) and Metal Gear Solid’s David Hayter (Snake), actors represented by SAG-AFTRA only make up 25 percent of voice actors working within the industry. A report published by the union discovered that 40 percent of top-selling titles don’t use actors signed to SAG-AFTRA.
Not everyone in the games industry agrees with this analysis, however, with former Infinity Ward Creative Strategist Robert Bowling penning an essay calling for the same rights that the union was: Transparency and secondary compensation.
Bowling points out that the additional or discretionary pay can sometimes be tied into a game’s average review score instead of sales. As such, a game can sell extremely well, but if it doesn’t perform well with the critics, those involved who had signed contracts promising discretionary pay wouldn’t receive it.
"The problem with this is, that despite the game being an undisputed financial success and generating amazing revenue and profits, you are now entitled to none of it because a series of subjective opinions about the game concluded it wasn’t within the top 10% of video games," Bowling wrote. "If they’re making money off your work, so should you."
Part of SAG-AFTRA’s negotiations include additional pay for every two million copies of a game sold. The law firm representing the various publishers didn’t explicitly state that it would be offering additional pay for copies sold, but said it offered an "additional compensation to performers of up to $950 per game based upon the number of sessions a performer works on a particular game." The publishers also offered an immediate 9 percent increase in wage, but that offer was rejected by SAG-AFTRA.
As part of the strike, actors within the union will start picketing in front of EA’s offices in Playa Vista, California, on Oct. 24.