So it’s contract renegotiation time again between the Screen Actors Guild and such like in terms of union rates to use their people in video games.

Currently the rate is $740 for 4 hours work. Thats quite a lot I think you’ll agree, and that’s the basic rate. For real celebrity voice over work you are talking significant figures. A friend worked for 2 years on Spider Man II and then learned that Tobey Maguire made more than him over 2 years for 16 hours of work.

Now granted, it’s not like VO actors are going from job to job in a day, all earning $740 a pop. Most don’t get work throughout the year and that does suck a bit. What also does tend to happen is that the actors who can be character actors (as opposed to someone like Tom Cruise, who is a very good Tom Cruise in a movie but can do little else) get most of the work and everyone else goes hungry.

What they are currently pushing for though is residuals. Residuals are kinda like royalties – they are a fixed amount of money that is paid to the actors of a given performance, every time that performance is shown. So the more you see re-runs of something like Star Trek, the more the original actors are paid. Usually residuals have term limits on them – you only get them for X many years or whatever (which is often why DVD sets take so long to come out).

Anyway, so basically the SAG is saying they want residuals on video games because thats the deal they have with Hollywood, and their situation in relation to video games is no different. Since we aren’t the same industry, they want to bring it as close the deals they already have, so they want royalties instead. They have some heavy arguments, particularly when the voice talent of something like Grand Theft Auto 4 start making noises about it read more about it here.

And when you look at it from the purely “well, these are making millions why aren’t they getting their cut?” point of view there’s some tendency to have some sympathy.

But. Lets not forget that effectively this will just drive up the price of voice over work from anyone that might actually be worth it to the point where it isn’t worth it to the developer any more. If it costs me 3x to get Samuel L. Jackson in for VO work, will he actually make me 3x the sales? And the answer to that, I’m afraid, is No.

This is one of the crucial area’s where SAG,- in it’s understandable work on behalf of it’s members, – just doesn’t understand. VO work does NOT sell more product. People do NOT buy a game because Shannon Elizabeth has put her voice in it. While is nice to have the original voice talent for a movie tie in, it’s not actually going to sell any more copies of the game. And that’s just the reality of it. So given that, why exactly are we paying these people more and royalties on top of that??? Because SAG says we should?

On top of that, there’s also the aspect that quite frankly all this does is hit the developer squarely in the pocket book. Most developers never see royalties for their products because they don’t recoup enough of the development costs. Add in there the fact that Mr VO over there has a guaranteed royalty that cuts even more into the chance of them getting a return and how do you think that will work?

When the royalty rates from a publisher go up and more indie developers start seeing better (and any) royalties from their work there might be some solidarity of feeling between developer and SAG member. Until then it’s doubtful there will be. The Bottom Line here is that as a developer the two years of work I put into a game far exceeds your VO contribution to the game. If anyone should get these royalties it’s the developer who has no other forms of income and is not a free agent to go where he will. Once he gets taken care of, we can talk about you.

The bottom line is that this industry by and large cannot support what the SAG wants. To use examples like GTA 4 is not representative of the average game – 90% of games do NOT recoup their costs and to impose a further tarif on top of that to make it even worse on developers, from a source that frankly doesn’t make that amount of difference to the final product is NOT the answer.

Of course we, as an industry, don’t do ourselves any favors since we have no industry body that we entrust the power to negotiate on our behalf with entities like SAG, which just means they get to play divide and conquer with publishers, who inevitably just pass on those costs to the developers who don’t actually get a chair at the negotiating table.

It’s all very screwed up. I despair sometimes.

Edit: It appears some of my esteemed peers agree (not that it’s really that surprising) – Snipehunters comments

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