With a majority vote of 96% approving to strike, some large names in the voicing business are demanding more pay for their recording sessions on top of royalties amongst their demands. TechRaptor previously covered the pre-strike while votes were still being tallied and also after to break the news. Is gaming doomed? Not by a long shot and here’s why.

You know what makes a great game? It isn’t jaw dropping visuals, a professionally recorded orchestra arrangement or powerful vocals. No, no, no. What makes a game immortalized is soul. Without soul, a game is simply programing with an interactive aspect tacked on to classify it as a game. Even in the modern gaming era, devs are still making strong titles that don’t need theatrically spoken dialog to appeal to the masses. Our good friend Shovel Knight is just one example that classic type gaming is alive and well.

Toriel Undertale

Art by Ashley Davis

Cult classics such as Mother 2, Cave Story, and now the latest sensation in Undertale, have proven you don’t need A list celebrities aiding their voice or even B listers, such as Wil Wheaton, to spawn a passionate fanbase. As gaming evolved, the culture has grown more entitled over the years in what we’re supposed to expect in a video game. While not quite around to remember Atari or Colecovision dominating the living room, my first exposure to gaming came in the form of the North American Nintendo Entertainment System.

Back then, there were no real voice over work in gaming. Instead, it was 8bit chip tunes and developers coming up with creative ways to utilize what limited resources they had to work with. With every hardware revision, gaming became much more intricate beyond a tubby plumber smashing bricks with his skull. In due time, gamers were treated to voice over work in gaming and it blew our minds!

That isn’t to say all voice overs were music to the ears, so to speak. Utilizing our favorite rewind button—YouTube—gamers are able to catch a glimpse of some really bad script reading in the 90s and early 2000s. As kids, we forgave the cheesy dialogue because we thought it was cool anyway. Well, mostly cool. Tidus’ laugh still haunts my dreams. Now as adults, we have games with spoken dialogue read in the same manner  you would expect if you paid a ticket to see a movie at the theater. Is this what defines modern gaming, though?

People may argue that the voice is what defines a character and what propels them to fame. In a sense, the right voice can become instantly synonymous to the character itself. To those people who insist a character is nothing without that voice, Sonic The Hedgehog waves hello. One could argue this franchise was stronger before voice talent became the new norm. From Urkle to his current VA Roger Craig Smith, Sonic’s voice has changed over the years, but neither were used when the highest grossing Sonic game debuted: the original Sonic The Hedgehog followed by Sonic The Hedgehog 2 respectively.

Sonic the Hedgehog Box Art

Sonic The Hedgehog Box Art

Besides our blue dude with the ‘tude, Nintendo’s Zelda franchise isn’t exactly suffering any lost sales because it doesn’t have Hollywood voices driving the cast of grunts. Other popular franchises, such as Need For Speed, are notorious for bad acting and even worse dialogue, but the actual game play results in hours of fun from both customization and racing friends. A good game will stand on it’s own, always.

From a gamer perspective, Hollywood is probably the last thing video games should try to emulate—contrary to what supporters of the hashtag #performancematters would lead you to believ—looking at you, Jim Stirling. Like a blank canvas, video games are one of the most artistic mediums in our modern era. I’d rather this canvas not follow the lazy Hollywood trends of constant rehashes with little to no imagination. Bad enough we have games today that indulge in this trend, we don’t need yet another New Super Mario Bros. title–as fun as they may be.

Don’t take this article as an attack against voice actors or that I believe their contributions aren’t significant. Contrary to what some people might believe, just reading off a script does not translate to becoming a voice actor. No. One has to deliver raw energy in their performance or else we end up with a very amateurish end product.

Being friends with talented people who have done minor voice over work has shown me the amount of effort that must be put forth. Simply put, if you have a nice expressive voice, you can do voice over work. You don’t need to be a Hollywood elite for the gig. That said, this only affirms that voice over talent is easily replaceable by individuals with the drive and not necessarily Hollywood connections.

Need For Speed Underground 2

Fun doesn’t always need the best dialog.

A game without any voices or bad voice work can still be great, but a bad game with great vocals will only go so far unlike film which requires on point dialog to be considered a success. In the end, we’re talking voices in video games, not cinema. Let me reiterate: Video games and film are two completely genres of entertainment mediums even though both are capable of delivering enriching story telling. Just because someone can dominate on the silver screen, it doesn’t necessarily equate to dominating in a recording booth and vice versa.

On this front, talented voice actors do deserve every bit of praise for their performance. You’re not going to find anyone who doesn’t believe a talented voice actor doesn’t help shape something magical. However, the 96% who believe striking is best are only going to end up either hurting themselves, the gamers, or a combination of both. How? If demands are met, AAA publishers could easily raise prices of their games onto consumers to recoup the loss. Yeah, not looking forward to $80 a game. Alternatively, this could shape a Renaissance of new talent.

While reading through the comments on Wil Wheaton’s blog, one in particular stood out:

As someone who works on the other side of the equation, I’m going to let you know that the main reason your proposals keep getting rejected outright is because every single one has had the demand for residuals in it. It’s not happening.

You’re asking for something that nobody else in the industry gets. Programmers, designers, writers, QA, marketing, sales, none of those people get residuals. None of these guys have unions, so this isn’t a situation where our side us going to use you getting residuals as a wedge to start getting us residuals.

If you just want better working conditions, then just ask for that. The way you describe it isn’t quite as it seems. For example, I’ve worked with actors who come in and tell me that they’re all torn up from a session they did across town. So, yeah, it’s physically demanding, but it’s not like you’re so wrecked you can’t go out and do other work. Also, if I’m not mistaken, while your previous proposals have been rejected, voice actors have gotten modest pay increases every time you’ve gone to the table.

Yeah, the way those rules are worded are BS. However, if you’ve ever experienced the special hell that is trying to get an actor who doesn’t care to give you their full attention, you’d understand why this is there.

I was directing one session that was a game based on an animated show, so we were contractually obligated to use the same actors for the show. 2 lines in, and the voice director for the animated series and I have a discussion about a term. Actress asks what the deal is, director, responds. She says she’s going to go read a magazine while we figure it out. Exits the booth before we can tell her it’ll just be a second.

Right now, I have zero recourse for that behavior. I can’t reduce her pay, I can’t fire her, I can’t even dock her the 10 minutes of the session she ulitmately burns because you have to pay is an hour, and she would only work one hour sessions.

Granted, that’s an extreme scenario, and it’s ridiculous to ask you voice actors to give game companies such wide-ranging, easily abusable protections. But, there probably needs to be SOMETHING to protect against the situations I described, right?

In short, the stipulation that every requested union member be available for every audition is as much of a non-starter as residuals are. So, why don’t we just kill off both of those and figure out a way to come to terms on protection from vocally taxing sessions, and protection from unprofessional actors messing up our schedules? I think negotiations would be viewed in a much better light if they were simply about getting reasonable considerations instead of two sides going to the table attempting to extract as much as is humanly possible from the other side whole conceding nothing.

The crux of the argument is that this isn’t simply about wanting better conditions for voice actors. If it were such a simple reasonable demand, I have my doubts a studio wouldn’t have cooperated. No, this was about residuals. Those royalties that the other members from programmers to storyboard artists aren’t partaking in. We can sugar coat this all we want, but ultimately it’s a union shake down of entitlement that extends far beyond the request of better working conditions. Better conditions aren’t what is strictly being fought for, but a slice of pie that no one else is claiming dibs to.

Do you know how much hard work goes into creating a game? A lot would be an understatement. What sets the voice over crew from talent, such as programmers, is that the former isn’t going to be sleeping in their office away from their family to meet deadlines. Remember the mention of entitlement? This is where it comes from. In a large project such as doing voice work for the Dragon Ball Z franchise, Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat, aka North America’s Goku and Vegeta, are the franchise as far as some fans are concerned.

While Dragon Ball Z games exist, the bulk of their talent is for voice over work in the animé dub and the series’ animated films. Their performance is absolutely important because, as mentioned previously, video games are an entirely different medium compared to something intended to be watched. In my humble opinion, watching hours of Saiyans kick alien butt is much more satisfying than trying to recreate the same scene with clunky controls.

Not every genre is mashing your head for coins or being a muscled brute attacking a guy three times your size. For story driven games, this is where things get interesting. Due to the nature of an RPG, a lot of dialogue goes in to tell a story and often enough there are multiple endings. Once you add voice over work, the project morphs into a bigger beast. As mentioned previously, Undertale is a beautifully crafted game that struck an emotional chord with many and didn’t have a single line of spoken dialogue. To suggest a heavily story driven game will suffer without these unionized voice actors is a bit silly.

My new mic! featuring: BOKEH ver2

Audio Technica 2020 – really good entry level mic for voice work.

As long as there are willing people with nice voices, there will always be a talent pool to choose from. Some studios may bypass this process all together and get the crew to read off some lines themselves just to not have to deal with any complicated contracts or potentially hire independent talent that’s happy just to work on something. All members of a team are important in their own right, but it seems like entitlement for the team that does the least amount of work to be the ones striking for royalties.

Your talents are observed, but at the end of the day we’re comparing someone who reads a script for around $200 per hour versus people chained to their work unable to see their family for long periods at a time in some cases. As someone in a comment section mentioned, it would be like employee’s at a Mcdonalds location demanding royalties for every burger sold from corporate and that just doesn’t work in the real world. TechRaptor will keep the readers posted with any news regarding this strike. If it’s any sentiment, this is only for North American talent, and your imported games from the land of the rising sun will be completely unaffected. 

Simply put, we all want higher compensation in every line of work. It’s human nature to always want more. Maybe if you feel you’re getting shafted in the video game department, try providing voices elsewhere. Gaming has existed for a long time without voice overs and will continue to exist even if veterans decide to bow out. New talent can replace old—this is something to keep in mind. Voice Actors do deserve respect, that isn’t what the rant is about. I’m looking at the bigger picture and my take away is games will be fine. Maybe that same talent can be used to voice cartoon characters instead. Could be more rewarding—just a suggestion. 

What are your thoughts on this Strike and do you feel it’s justified or not? We’d love to hear your comments below!

Anthony Lee

Gamer since the NES era, computer nerd since 2001. Happily in a loving relationship with a happa who has been a gamer since the Sega Genesis era. Who says Sega does what Nintendon't?