By Danielle Broadway LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Cissy Jones isn’t asking to be paid millions of dollars to give video games their voice, but the actor, and others like her performing under a Screen Actors Guild’s video game contract say they need more money to cope with rising costs of living. “We haven’t had a […]
Video game performers prepared to strike for more pay, protections
By Danielle Broadway
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Cissy Jones isn’t asking to be paid millions of dollars to give video games their voice, but the actor, and others like her performing under a Screen Actors Guild’s video game contract say they need more money to cope with rising costs of living.
“We haven’t had a raise in five years, four years maybe, and prices have gone up. Our rates have not,” said Jones, a BAFTA winner for her voice as Delilah in the Campo Santo video game “Firewatch”. Jones is covered under a contract with video game makers negotiated by SAG-AFTRA.
Voice actors and motion capture performers in the multi-billion dollar video game industry voted overwhelmingly on Monday to authorize a strike if negotiations on a new labor contract set to begin Tuesday fail, setting the stage for another possible work stoppage in Hollywood.
SAG-AFTRA said 34,687 members cast ballots, 27.47% of eligible voters.
SAG-AFTRA is the same union representing film and television actors who went on strike in July, putting Hollywood in the midst of two simultaneous work stoppages for the first time in more than six decades.
In May, roughly 11,500 Writers Guild of America members had walked off the job. The writers union reached a preliminary labor agreement with major studios on Sunday.
The SAG-AFTRA agreement covering video game performers expired last November and has been extended on a monthly basis as the union negotiated with major video game companies.
“We all want a fair contract that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA-represented performers in an industry that delivers world-class entertainment to billions of gamers around the world,” spokesperson Audrey Cooling said in a statement issued on behalf of the companies.
The video game industry generated total revenues of $180.3 billion in 2021 and is expected to generate revenues of $218.8 billion by 2024, according to data analytics firm Newzoo.
With video game console sales up in 2023, PlayStation maker Sony said in July it expects to sell 25 million units of PS5 consoles this year, a record for any PlayStation device.
As earnings climbed, video game company staff beyond the performers covered by SAG-AFTRA have been unionizing for the first time this year.
In July, Sega workers formed the largest multi-department video game union in the United States, after Microsoft’s video game testers formed their first U.S. labor union in January.
Along with pay, video performers represented by SAG-AFTRA say the most pressing issues being negotiated include getting Disney, Activision, EA, Epic Games and others to consult performers over the use of artificial intelligence to create voices, something some of the companies are already doing.
AI has been an issue for writers as well for striking actors covered by TV, theatrical and streaming contracts.
For video game performers, the union is also calling for more safety measures for motion capture performers, who wear markers or sensors on the skin or a body suit to help game makers create characters’ movements.
“These are folks that work in games a ton. They do stunts but also they will perform on stage as different characters, embody the characters, memorize dialogue to get timing correctly and that kind of thing,” said actor Ashly Burch, who has done motion capture as well as voice work for video games.
The union is asking for on-camera performers to have the same five minutes per hour rest period that off-camera performers are entitled to, SAG-AFTRA said in a statement on its website.
They are also asking for a set medic to be present at dangerous stunts, just as on film and television sets.
For Jones, the power of AI became evident 18 months ago when she saw that a fan had created videos on social media platform TikTok that included a scene from the animated Disney channel show she voiced “The Owl House”.
“They were using an AI version of my voice in these fan scenes,” she said.
“I panicked,” she said. “This is my only means of making money. This is the only way that I work right now. This is how I feed my children and put them through school. Someone had taken my voice without my consent.”
(Reporting by Danielle Broadway; editing by Donna Bryson and Miral Fahmy)