Voice actors protected by SAG-AFTRA announced earlier this month that they would be moving forward with their strike against the video game industry, following unsuccessful negotiations with companies. They’ve been picketing outside the EA offices since then and spreading the word about their cause. Their demands are for, among other things, royalties, safer working conditions, and better payrates in general. Obviously it is a bit more complicated than that, but the gist is that the industry has not created an environment that voice actors feel they can work safely in (and that pays their bills). The response has been mixed. Many with fond memories of the voices that helped shaped their favorite games have elected to support their favorite actors. Unfortunately, though, there seems to be a lot of misinformation about what voice acting is and a lot of anger over voice actors standing up for their line of work while developers are (seemingly) ignored.
The misinformation can be cleared up easily. No, voice actors don’t just sit in a room for a couple hours and do some mild talking to bring in $800 every day. The reality is voice actors get a job maybe once every few weeks that pays $800 total (before taxes), where they must attend long sessions not just talking but yelling, grunting, screaming, and generally making noises that can strain the throat and vocal cords. Without proper safety measures, this could permanently damage a person’s voice, an unpleasant thought for anyone but especially for someone who relies on their voice to make a living. The strike also includes motion capture performances, where there are currently few safety measures put into industry policies. The stunts required for motion capture are often dangerous, so it makes sense to ask for some protection there. As for the money, it’s odd that royalties aren’t already offered for actors. Everyone else working on the film is working from when development starts to when it is finished and also paid for that time. Actors are paid only for the few days they provide a voice, and not in large amounts at that. The nature of acting is exactly why Hollywood provides royalties—unless you are already incredibly famous, royalties won’t make you rich nor bankrupt the company you work for. It’s to allow a full compensation for work well done but done in shorter spans.
Questioning whether voice acting is “real work” isn’t a valid complaint anyway, though. Questioning whether it’s fair to pay voice actors more when developers famously get similar treatment and pay for far longer periods is a very valid concern though. However, the response there shouldn’t be to decry voice actors because that solves nothing. To tell voice actors “You can’t do that, developers have it worse” means now no one is treated better and everyone hates each other now. Instead of complaining about the voice actor strike, why not take inspiration by it? Developers have gotten the raw end for a while. In the age of indie development, it has gotten better. In the late 80s and early 90s, developers often didn’t even receive credit for their work, because companies didn’t want rivals sniping their top talent. Obviously, developers are credited now, but there are still issues, even with more well-known creators.
What’s more, developers have a lot more power in their situation. It is much harder to replace a competent programmer, and while voice acting adds the flavor to the game, the game can’t exist at all without artists. So what is holding them back?
First, developers don’t have the power of a union. Voice actors (and pretty much all actors) have SAG to protect them and advocate for them. While some are critical of how SAG works, in a way that often makes it difficult for up and coming actors to get their foot in the door, it does work effectively at keeping their members fed and housed. Developers don’t have that though, certainly not to the scale and history of SAG. It isn’t like the idea hasn’t been tossed around though. Fortunately, developers don’t even need the union to be successful here. They just need to decide how much they are willing to potentially sacrifice to make a point and try to change how the industry works. And everyone else needs to stand with them if they decide to, particularly the voice actors. Most voice actors likely would stand with developers in demanding the industry treat their workers better.
Final Fantasy was thousands of lines. Acted my ❤️out regardless how tired.Should I perform less cuz it's "just a game?"#PerformanceMatters
— tara strong (@tarastrong) October 24, 2016
For this to happen, though, we have to get over this idea of taking advantage when the big players get fed up. If you are a young developer or voice actor (or artist or writer or any other position), it might be incredibly tempting to take advantage of the situation and pick up one of those new positions that barely pays pennies. Doing that only hurts you in the long run though, and the rest of the industry. It tells companies with millions in the bank that you are fully willing to put up with being mistreated and underpaid for your passion. It is good to be passionate about something, but if a company treats you like that, you won’t be passionate for very long. Everyone has a breaking point. It’s already common to learn to hate something you used to love when you start working in it (because it becomes oddly less thrilling when you do it every day).
More than that though, doesn’t that defeat the point? Why are you passionate about games? It’s because some wonderful and creative people made games that made you excited and gave you something to enjoy and dedicate yourself too. So why would your response be to take advantage of their problems and try to steal away their positions? This can be applied to any aspect of the video game creation process; if you think it’s okay to see creators protesting bad work conditions and take advantage of that to secure a position yourself, then you are no fan.
Everyone should strive to make the industry better for everyone who helps make these games reality. Remember, these people are why you’re here in the end—without them, video games as we know them don’t exist.