The video game industry can sometimes be a cutthroat one for those working within it. Bungie’s in-house composer Marty O’Donnell had his contact with the developer terminated abruptly, prompting the former Destiny composer to pursue legal action and gaining entitlement to $142,000. Indeed, the history of video games is littered with important lawsuits, with battles over everything from the similarities between Donkey Kong and King Kong and the use of the Unreal engine.
For those working in gaming, however, it often seems as though more power lies with the fans themselves. Video game communities have staged huge protests against the negative traits of certain games and developers. The Battlefield 4 community effectively went on strike over the huge problems the DICE title had on launch, with over 50 clans and 130 servers involved. Meanwhile, EVE Online players staged a protest against additional micro-transactions in the space sim.
It seems as though at least one major part of the gaming industry is willing to push back, however. The union representing voice actors, SAG-AFTRA, is currently considering strike action over several ongoing contractual disputes between actors and publishers. In fact, the union is so close to this means of protest that union members have been voting on whether to go on strike, with 75% of voting members needed for a strike to go ahead.
The main complaints come from the current payment method that many voice actors receive. The current model, the Interactive Media Agreement, was negotiated in the mid-1990s, and the union feels that the video game industry has moved on dramatically since then, particularly when it comes to payments that actors can receive. SAG-AFTRA is aiming to give actors a stronger presence in terms of performance bonuses, requesting a performance bonus for every 2 million copies or downloads sold.
The move has gained support amongst the voice acting community, with some big names joining the cause and raising voice on social media. Mass Effect star Jennifer Hale shared her vote on Twitter, alongside the #performancematters and #Iamonboard2015 hashtags. Meanwhile, former Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Wil Wheaton, who has given his voice to the likes of Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and Broken Age, also gave his support for the movement. “I love voice acting in video games, but our employers don’t seem to think #PerformanceMatters,” said Wheaton on Twitter.
It remains to be seen whether the union will strike over the matter, but it certainly seems as though there is an impasse that cannot be overcome. Alongside the problems regarding performance bonuses, the union also aims to gain stunt pay for actors over strenuous and stressful recording sessions, as well as guaranteeing stunt co-ordinators to be present during motion capture. Let’s see whether either side can reach an agreement on these issues.