Game voice actors demand better compensation

Videogame voice actor strike edges closer.

While I have much respect for voice actors and their profession, I don’t think they have much of a case here. When the programmers and developers putting in 60 hour work weeks for months on end are getting paid residuals and a percentage of the gross, then maybe the guys who spend a day in a voiceover booth reading a script a couple times can start whining about it.

Producers have countered with an offer of a 34.8 percent wage hike over three years, bringing the one-hour rate for union actors to $375 from $278.

Good lord, how can they even afford to eat at those rates? I mean, they’ve gotta work a solid four hours a week to break a measly $75k/year!

I totally agree, voice actors are getting screwed. :roll:

Na, Greedy Buggers.

They provide content to the game, but it’s not significant enough to warrent a percentage. Programming is a different story. They have to put all the content together and make it work, and then work along side QA through the crunch pretty much until the game ships.

So basically this means we’ll get David Lucas instead of Stephen Blum doing game voices, right?

That’s esoteric, so I will explain: I was trying to find out if the Cowboy Bebop movie dub had the same voice cast as the TV dub. I learned that Blum, playing Spike in the movie, claimed that it was very important to note that he was not David Lucas from the show, because Stephen Blum was in the union and would have hell to pay if he worked on a nonunion show like Cowboy Bebop. Wink, wink.

The problem is that if the games industry wants to stay competitive in a city like LA, where most voice recording is done and where the actor’s union is pretty strong, it’s going to have to a) offer more money or b) rely on non-union talent. I believe the current SAG rate for television, which an actor gets no matter what portion of the day he actually works, is around $800.

Also, it feels unfair to a lot of actors that games exist outside the traditional residuals structure. Especially considering syndicated shows. I still occasionally make money from an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 and ER I did way back when. I was in an independent film that eventually found a home on HBO, and I’m pretty sure I get residuals when it’s sold overseas or rented. Actors who do voicework on games feel like they’re doing the same kind of work, but without the same type of compensation.

Finally, it’s not really fair to compare the hourly rate of an actor and that of a programmer, because they’re entirely different kinds of work. Although there’s a small pool of voiceover actors who dominate the industry, a lot of them are lucky to work once a week. And you can ask anyone who’s had to direct a voiceover session: talented actors make a huge difference.

So before you guys write actors off as “greedy buggers” and “whining”, it would behoove you to understand a bit more about how the business works. I don’t pretend to know the particulars of the negotiations, but I suspect it’s a lot more gray that you guys think.


So the take home message is that we, as a society, value recognizable celebrity far more than people who actually build things, make them go, teach our children, or the like. Nothing new there.

(No offense or screeds intended; this is literally commonplace, I’m not sure why it suddenly surprises anyone that our society is skewed this way just because we’re now talking about programmers instead of scientists or teachers or carpenters.)

I actually do understand pretty well how the VA industry works, and know several (small-time) VAs who have done work in a few games, and you’re right, it’s not as cut and dried as the hourly rate makes it seem. Very few VAs work every week, let alone every day. You also have a good point about competing in the LA market, but I don’t see how it can be justified considering how small a contribution to a game’s overall success the voice acting is. Outside of something like MGS, whose character voices are highly recognizable, would replacing union with non-union really make a noticeable impact on sales? As much as I love playing “spot Cam ‘I’m Cam Clarke!’ Clarke” in every other RPG I play, I really don’t think many other players would miss him.

I support the use of professional and talented actors in games, but I don’t know if they have a leg to stand on here.

So the take home message is that we, as a society, value recognizable celebrity far more than people who actually build things, make them go, teach our children, or the like.

I’m not talking about celebrity, which is a completely different issue.

I’m referring more to the value added in a game when you have a good voice actor who can understand what the producer, writer, and perhaps designer are trying to accomplish, and who can take direction to help them create that. Most actors are bad. Really bad. And in games, it’s really not even worth mentioning bad voice acting, because it’s usually a given.

But actors with talent are a value commodity who deserve to be paid for their talent, not just the number of hours they worked. That’s what I mean when I say it’s not fair to compare an actor’s hourly rate a programmer’s hourly rate. Talent is important in both cases, but the nature of their input – and the market in which they’re used – is very different.


This problem has a pretty cut and dried summary: actors are convinced that they are the stars and driving force of whatever medium they’re in. Movies, TVs, etc. With games, they’re NOT the stars, they’re props, and that sticks in their craw.

There is No. Fucking. Way. An actor gets residuals for VO work. Sorry, that’s not going to happen. Their “value add” is marginal compared to the designers, artists, and programmers that actually BUILT the game.

But as Tom pointed out, one of the problems is that actors are used to things being a certain way, and instead of recognizing that another industry does things a different way, they’re actively trying to impose their world view on others even though they’re a tiny, almost irrelevant part, of the scheme. Most actors probably believe that developers and programmers are the game equivalent of production staff on a set (i.e. make up artists, grips, gaffers).

Boo fucking hoo.

It particularly sticks in my craw when union reps use the term “the talent” to talk about the VO staff.

Good thing they have a union. In an industry almost as dangerous as coal mining or as unappreciated as teaching, one’s heart swells to know that actors will never be forced to work in such horrid conditions again.

Seriously, though… $300 an hour? Shit I’m in the wrong fucking business. Two hours a week of that would approximate what I make now.

Erm, I’m not sure I follow. Both require talent; both require you to hone that talent to be skillful in the practice. Yet the voice actors should get residuals or a substantially higher pay rate because… their jobs require the same amount of “talent” (ostensibly) but in shorter bursts?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say they don’t deserve compensation, but I’m not sure how it’s any more deserving of compensation to be able to come in and speak lines with emotion for 2 hours than to come in and program normal-mapping routines on next-gen engines for 5. So all I can come up with is that at some price-point disparity you’re not paying for the talent any longer, but for the association that it brings you; basically for the brand name.

Putting Samuel L Jackson’s name on your box cover will sell a few thousand games.

Putting Joe E Schmucker work a day programmer’s name on your box will sell you nothing.

But does Sam Jackson fall under the same guidelines as, say, Michael Bell? What are the rules for having a name celeb to a VO role in a game as opposed to someone who would only be known for his/her cartoon or game credits?

There’s a few things worth mentioning.

It’s easy to point out that a voice actor makes $300 an hour, and that working “x” amount of hours a week = one person’s salary. Most actors I’ve known don’t work every day, every week or every month. I also don’t know how much more or less the competition is for VO work as opposed to screen/TV.

I’m not saying we all need to stop by the picket lines and give them perishables, but I doubt many voice actors make their full month’s living solely off of game VO. Now, I don’t know if these are the same actors that do commercial voice work too.

This sentiment is exactly why most voice acting and writing sucks.

Programmers and designers put themselves so far ahead of everyone working on a project (how actor-like of them, to think their own talents are that much more critical to the project than anyone else’s), they lose sight of how games present their worlds to the player. These aren’t silent games, and are typically driven by some sort of narrative.

And if anyone’s going to open their mouth and say something, they better say it well. Maybe you don’t need Hollywood actors, but you sure do need “talent.”

Putting Samuel L Jackson’s name on your box cover will sell a few thousand games.

I’d change “a few thousand” to “a few dozen,” personally.

One of the problems from an actor standpoint is that the ‘residuals’ the union is pushing for wouldn’t even kick in for the rank and file VO actors who do the bulk of the work in the industry.

The other problem is in this case residual really means royalty, as Doom 3 doesn’t get syndicated on Saturday afternoon TV.

It’s not worth giving more money to high-end stars just to get their voices in a game so the publishers have no reason to budge.

Alas, I can’t use this as an excuse to do more VO work…

That’s one way to look at it. Another way to look at it is that the game industry is trying to get them to work according to a business model unlike the way they normally work.

Look, game developers don’t have to use union talent. They’re free to offer whatever they want to get people to come in and do voiceovers. Hell, they can get Louise in the front office and the cousin of the QA lead if they want. But if they want to use Hollywood talent, they have to play by Hollywood rules. And that includes dealing with a powerful union that has ensured actors are compensated in a particular way.

As for mouselock’s point that an actor should get less than a programmer, I completely agree. Which is why programmers are salaried employees and actors are temporarily hired contract workers. Apples and oranges, and the programmers put in more time, effort, and energy. But in the end, the programmers invariably make far more money than the actors for working on a particular game. No one’s suggesting it should be otherwise.

And, no, Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t fall under the same rules. I don’t even fall under the same rules, in a way, since my rate is a few hundred dollars/day over scale. If you’ve worked enough to build up a body of ‘credits’, your daily rate is higher. And if you’re a celebrity, you don’t work for anything less than a huge hunk of money.

But I think part of the issue is that if the union and the game industry can’t reach an agreement, guys like Samuel Jackson, who are part of the union, can’t do voiceovers. That’s got to be a huge bargaining chip for the union.


I dunno man. Having recognized TV/movie celebrities hasn’t really helped quite a few games I can think of, although it did explain multi-million dollar budgets lost on those games. “Riddick” would maybe be an exception since they had the same actor in the game as in the movie, but otherwise?

I dunno man. Having recognized TV/movie celebrities hasn’t really helped quite a few games I can think of, although it did explain multi-million dollar budgets lost on those games. “Riddick” would maybe be an exception since they had the same actor in the game as in the movie, but otherwise?[/quote]

Having some of the cast from LOTR do the VO for Battle of Middle Earth totally sold it for me. I’ve heard Mr. Elwes work in Bard’s Tale really added to the game.

Those are two immediate uses of “Hollywood Talent” I can think of.