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Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016 at 6:04 AM
In the early morning of Friday, the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced a strike against a dozen video game entertainment corporations, including Electronic Arts Productions, Inc., Disney Character Voices, Inc. and Warner Brothers Games, Inc.
The strike was voted by 96.55 percent of the union’s membership back in October 2015 and applies to production commenced on or after February 17, 2015.
Nearly two years of negotiations failed to produce a new Interactive Media Agreement between the union and the employers. The last contract was signed in the mid-1990s, at a time when video game technology was in its infancy and actors’ performances were a marginal factor.
Technological advances since then have rendered that agreement obsolete and allowed the corporations to reap immense benefits from uncovered areas, as is often the case with new technology implementation. Moreover, today’s video games are comparable to tele-cinematic production, where actors’ performances are more similar to film and television standards.
The thrust of the negotiations has revolved around secondary compensation, safety and transparency. The intransigence of the companies is certainly glaring, but just as striking is the pitiful character of the demands put forth by SAG-AFTRA and the timid implementation, after one full year, of strike action.
Residual income is a long-established method of compensation among artists, a modest form of profit sharing. In traditional royalty-based production (film, TV, music), artists are paid additional income if the medium reaches certain sales thresholds. The union’s request amounts to a measly additional scale payment for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers. Currently, that amounts to ,300.
With regard to safety, video game production often requires strenuous vocal and physical performances. There are many reported incidents of actors fainting, vomiting or losing their voice for days or weeks, sometimes with permanent damage to the vocal cords. The union is demanding a limit of 2 hours to vocally stressful sessions, instead of 4 hours previously.
Moreover, with several incidents being reported, stunt coordinators can effectively prevent painful injuries on the set. The union is requesting a provision to include such service.
On the question of transparency, SAG-AFTRA is merely requesting that actors be informed of the project title and role they are being hired for before signing a contract. In film and TV this is normal procedure. In video games, however, actors may be hired unknowingly for roles they may not be willing to perform, such as sex scenes or offensive content.
SAG-AFTRA’s demands are so mild that even their web site admits that their proposed package is “not loaded with any crazy demands.” Especially when analyzing the profits realized by these companies. As of 2015, the video game industry in the United States has generated an estimated .5 billion in content sales, a 7 percent jump from the previous year and more than three times the numbers in 2000. Last year, total revenues (content, hardware and accessories) for the industry in the US hit .5 billion—a 5 percent increase over 2014, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
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