SAG-AFTRA Expands Deal with Indie Game Studios: What It Means for Voice Acting in Games

voice artist recording in a big recording studio voicing the cartoon character which is in front his big tv screen

In June 2024, SAG-AFTRA, the union for actors, made a big change to how they work with indie game studios.

This change is important for both voice actors and game developers. Let’s break down what happened and why it matters.

What is SAG-AFTRA and What is Its Dispute?

SAG-AFTRA is the union of over 160,000 performers which includes actors, voice artists, broadcast journalists, and many others working in the entertainment and media industries.

As of June 2024, SAG-AFTRA is in the midst of a prolonged strike against major Hollywood studios as well as Gaming Studios.

This strike, which began in July 2023, has significantly impacted film and television productions across the industry causing delays in numerous projects, including my favorite Deadpool and Wolverine.

The strike centers around:

  • Fair Compensation: Actors are seeking better pay, especially in the era of OTT.
  • Streaming Residuals: There’s a push for improved residual payments for content on streaming platforms.
  • AI Protections: The union is fighting for safeguards against the use of AI to replicate actors’ likenesses and voices without proper consent or compensation.
  • Working Conditions: Improvements in various aspects of on-set conditions and regulations are being sought.

How SAG-AFTRA Is Dealing With The Gaming Industry?

While the dealing with Hollywood studios continues, SAG-AFTRA has made significant strides in its dealings with the video game industry.

These developments are separate from the ongoing Hollywood dispute but represent important advancements for performers in the gaming sector.

In February 2024, SAG-AFTRA announced a groundbreaking Tiered-Budget Independent Interactive Media Agreement (IMA).

This agreement was designed to allow independent game developers with smaller budgets to access union talent.

Initially, it covered three budget tiers, but now SAG-AFTRA added a new tier to this agreement.

This new tier is for game development projects that cost between $15 million and $30 million. Before this, the agreement only covered games up to $15 million.

With this extension, the updated agreement (as a whole) now covers game development projects with budgets ranging from $250,000 to $30 million, split into four distinct tiers:

  1. $250,000 to $1 million
  2. $1 million to $5 million
  3. $5 million to $15 million
  4. $15 million to $30 million (newly added)

Additionally, the expanded agreement also includes several important features that benefit both developers and voice actors:

  • Simplified Contracts: The agreement streamlines the language of the full Interactive Media Agreement, making it easier for developers to understand and implement.
  • Success-Based Payments: It captures project success with secondary payments, which can be prepaid at a reduced rate. This allows voice actors to share in the success of the games they contribute to.
  • AI and Digital Replica Protections: The agreement requires informed consent and compensation for the use of digital replicas of a performer. This forward-thinking provision addresses the growing use of AI in game development.

What Does This Mean for Game Developers?

  • Access to Top Talent: Indie studios now can easily hire some of the best voice actors in the union.
  • Clear Rules: The agreement makes it easier for studios to know how to work with union actors.
  • Better Games: With professional voice actors, indie games might sound even better.

What Does This Mean for Voice Actors?

  • More Job Opportunities: Voice actors can now work on a wider range of games.
  • Better Protection: The deal includes rules about using AI and digital copies of actors’ voices.
  • Potential for More Money: Actors can get extra money if a game sells well.

What About AI?

The deal also has rules about using AI in games. The AI Voice Sampling rules are added in the new agreement that gives better income opportunities to voice actors.

Key Points of the AI Agreement:

  • Voluntary Participation: Actors can choose whether to allow AI sampling of their voices.
  • Informed Consent: Actors must be told exactly how their AI voice will be used.
  • Fair Pay: Actors get paid for the initial AI voice sampling and for each use in a game.
  • Limited Use: The AI voice can only be used for the specific game and character agreed upon.
  • Protection Against Misuse: There are rules to prevent the AI voice from being used in offensive ways.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, a SAG-AFTRA negotiator, emphasized that these AI protections apply to all members who perform in video games, including both voice and movement performers.

Is Everything Solved?

Not quite. SAG-AFTRA is still talking with big game companies like Activision and Electronic Arts. These talks have been slow, mainly because of disagreements about AI use.

Why Should Gamers Care?

Better voice acting can make games more fun and immersive. This deal means that even smaller games might have really good voice performances.

Sarah Elmaleh, who helped make this deal, said: “Thousands of video games are released every year and each one deserves to benefit from union talent.” This means that no matter what kind of game you like to play, it has a chance to have great voice acting.

This article is based on the GamesIndustry.BIZ For more information stay tuned with Gaming Foodle!

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