SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors, voice actors, singers, writers, and workers in other creative fields, is positioned for another strike, this time against a number of major video game companies.
The union had a standing agreement with a long list of video game companies. This “Interactive Media Agreement” ran its course in 2022 but was extended beyond its original expiration date. SAG-AFTRA is looking to get a new agreement in place and has authorized a strike in case negotiations freeze.
Among the signatories for the Interactive Media Agreement are major publishers Activision, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, and Take-Two Interactive. This could potentially impact games such as EA Sports UFC 5 or DLC for Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. With such big names facing pushback from an actors’ union that has been in the spotlight throughout 2023, many are wondering what impact a strike could have on the gaming industry.
Is there a video game voice actor strike?
Currently, there is no strike against video game companies by voice actors but one may come in the near future.
SAG-AFTRA’s National Board has voted unanimously in favor of a possible strike. Informational postcards are being mailed to union members about the proceedings and a final vote is scheduled for September 25. While the board voted unanimously on the matter, there are two other factors that will determine whether a strike actually happens.
First, all members of the SAG-AFTRA union will have the chance to vote on the matter. Second, even if a strike is authorized by the general vote, it would only take place should the signatory game companies and the union fail to come to terms. Though a strike could potentially happen at any time negotiations for a new agreement could move at a pace where an actual strike is averted.
Why are video game voice actors considering a strike?
The possible video game voice actor and mo-cap artist strike is due to a disagreement over pay and AI potentially replacing workers.
SAG-AFTRA is seeking wage increases for performers, vocal stress protections, and rest periods for on-camera workers. It is also seeking protections for its members against their work being used to train AI that ultimately replaces them. Protections would include contract terms that compel signatory companies to acquire consent and compensate actors for any work used to train AI.
“Voice and performance capture AI are already among the most advanced uses of AI…Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods,” SAG-AFTRA negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement.
Fran Drescher, the current president of SAG-AFTRA, has expressed concern regarding the use of AI tools trained on actors’ input without compensation. The current agreement does not fully encompass AI, which has advanced rapidly since the previous agreement was put in place.
“We at SAG-AFTRA say no! Not on our watch!” Drescher said in a statement.
Notably, the AMPTP, a union representing film and TV writers, recently went on strike for similar reasons. While both unions cite similar concerns about the use of AI, the AMPTP strike does not overlap with the video game industry.
How will the strike impact video games?
A SAG-AFTRA strike against the video game industry wouldn’t completely halt the development of new games, but many major titles can’t be finalized without voice actors or motion capture.
The deal does not extend across all video game companies. Here is the full list of video game publishers and companies that work with publishers that SAG-AFTRA is negotiating with:
- Disney Character Voices Inc.
- Electronic Arts
- Epic Games
- Formosa Group
- Insomniac Games
- Take 2 Productions
- VoiceWorks Productions
- WB Games
Companies that are not listed would not be impacted by a strike. Games being developed by these companies that do not require voice acting or new motion capture work by SAG-AFTRA members could also continue on without issue. While Activision could potentially put together another sequel to Candy Crush, a strike could be difficult for something like Take 2’s Grand Theft Auto 6.
Though SAG-AFTRA is positioned for a strike should negotiations sour, it might not happen. If it does, video game companies will still be able to develop new games. The loss of voice and motion capture actors would be a major hit, however, and could impact the process in unforeseen ways.