#PerformanceMatters & The SAG-AFTRA Strike: The Beef With Their Demands

Toal Fact gives his view on the SAG-AFTRA strike possibility and gives his beef with the demands presented by the Union.


Recently I’ve been look­ing at the hub-bub about the SAG guild at­tempt­ing to strike, and I’ve been mean­ing to pick apart their de­mands. Personally I don’t see the point of unions in this day and age. I think they are re­dun­dant with the ad­vent of work­ers laws, and at this point they are just scram­bling to stay rel­e­vant (read: keep cash reserves).

That is were my view­point is com­ing from. With that in mind, let us delve into what SAG-AFTRA has brought to the table.

Here’s a quote from SAG-AFTRA re­gard­ing them­selves and their demands.

What We Stand For

SAG-AFTRA’s pack­age of pro­pos­als has been craft­ed with in­put from in­ter­ac­tive per­form­ers every step of the way. We start­ed with one-on-one meet­ings with the top per­form­ers in the in­dus­try. Then we held dozens of small in-home gath­er­ings, or­ga­nized three big so­cial events and had a Wages and Working Conditions cau­cus. Below are the is­sues that came up time and time again. These are the four is­sues that make up the bulk of our pro­pos­al package.

Okay, let’s take a look at these de­mands and see what they are about.

Performance Bonuses

You might call them resid­u­als, sec­ondary pay­ments, roy­al­ties, pay bumps or what­ev­er suits your fan­cy. It is sim­ply the idea that, if a video game is wild­ly suc­cess­ful, ac­tors should share in its fi­nan­cial suc­cess. There is am­ple prece­dent for resid­ual in­come for ac­tors, yet they’ve his­tor­i­cal­ly been ex­treme­ly dif­fi­cult to achieve in this con­tract. The for­mu­la we pro­pose is as follows:

We’re ask­ing for a rea­son­able per­for­mance bonus 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. That shakes out, po­ten­tial­ly, to FOUR bonus pay­ments for the most suc­cess­ful games: 2 mil­lion, 4 mil­lion, 6 mil­lion and 8 mil­lion copies.

As much as I am fond of cer­tain VAs in­volved, no, you do not de­serve roy­al­ties to a job that is es­sen­tial­ly fluff. Not com­pared to 90% of the rest of the work in­volved in de­liv­er­ing a great game. VAs are not movie stars. They do not sell the game; the game­play does. I’m not sor­ry if the truth hurts, and I un­der­stand this may make you mad. But Orwell said it best, “The fur­ther a so­ci­ety drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it.”  So I’m will­ing to ac­cept con­se­quences for speak­ing it. And yes, I’ve seen what I feel is SAG-AFTRA ma­nip­u­lat­ing the VA’s fan­base, just so they can get bet­ter off at oth­ers expense.

I call that deceit.

Vocal Stress

We be­lieve ac­tors should get stunt pay for vo­cal­ly stress­ful record­ing ses­sions the same way they get stunt pay for phys­i­cal­ly de­mand­ing roles. That’s why we’re propos­ing to lim­it “vo­cal­ly stress­ful” record­ing ses­sions to two hours at the same union minimums.

You are go­ing to a union, to charge ex­tra, for an amount of ef­fort not every­one will put into their work. How sil­ly. I see you all claim it’s to keep you all from keep­ing you from scream­ing your­selves mute. But why do you need a union to help you with any of this. Unions are re­dun­dant now that work­ers have ac­tu­al rights. And watch me have to re­peat this in every re­sponse. I have a feel­ing I will need to keep do­ing so. There is this handy lit­tle ac­tion one can do if they feel they are be­ing abused de­vel­op­er or pub­lish­er. It’s called not tak­ing the job. For ex­am­ple, if pro­duc­ing voice act­ing for games via EA is harm­ful, and they don’t lis­ten to griev­ances, then just don’t work for them any more. I un­der­stand that you can­not just quit a job in the mid­dle of a con­tract, and also keep your pro­fes­sion­al rep­u­ta­tion in tact. But you have full choice of who to work for in the fu­ture. Don’t work for the vul­tures if you feel they are pick­ing your bones. Simple.

Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume

Many ac­tors feel un­safe with­out a stunt co­or­di­na­tor be­cause they are of­ten asked to do things that could po­ten­tial­ly be dan­ger­ous to them­selves or oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, once, with­out a stunt co­or­di­na­tor on set, a video game de­vel­op­er tried to do a wire pull – which means he ba­si­cal­ly made him­self jerk re­al­ly hard and fast across a room – with­out some­one on set to mon­i­tor his safe­ty. He, of course, got hurt and couldn’t go back to work for a long while. This is just one in­stance among many.

Again, if it’s so tough, make sure this is in place be­fore tak­ing a job. Refuse that job if they do not have stunt co­or­di­na­tors. Don’t hide be­hind a union bul­ly to squeeze mon­ey out of a pub­lish­er just be­cause some­one could get hurt. Because it’s a case by case ba­sis. Compared to be­ing a screen ac­tor where you en­dure phys­i­cal stress, where you have to change your body to fit a role, voice act­ing is seems like noth­ing. I un­der­stand that VA tal­ent of­ten does mo­tion cap­ture these days, and a stunt co­or­di­na­tor is not out of the ques­tion, but I can’t help to feel they are ap­proach­ing this wrong. Striking to pun­ish some bad pub­lish­ers and tak­ing their “toys” away from every­one else who has act­ed in good faith when de­vel­op­ing games with VA.


Our pro­pos­al is that we need to know more about the projects that we’re work­ing on. We pro­pose that the ac­tu­al ti­tle of the project should be made avail­able to at least our rep­re­sen­ta­tives be­fore we are asked to au­di­tion. Again, prece­dent is on our side here. You wouldn’t work on a TV show, com­mer­cial or film with­out know­ing what part you’re play­ing and how it fits into the sto­ry, yet we are asked over and over again to do just that in in­ter­ac­tive me­dia. Our pro­pos­al also asks for the fol­low­ing in­for­ma­tion when­ev­er rea­son­ably pos­si­ble: How many ses­sions are you ex­pect­ing to book? What rat­ing are you plan­ning to get? Why? Is there of­fen­sive con­tent? Will the ses­sions be vo­cal­ly stress­ful? Transparency is key. We de­serve to clear­ly know what we’re get­ting into be­fore we com­mit to a role in a game.

On the sur­face, this looks fair­ly rea­son­able. Until you get to what looks most like a naked pow­er­grab here. So you want the pow­er to pos­si­bly cen­sor work if it of­fends you? I cer­tain­ly don’t trust that kind of pow­er in the hands of some­one like Ashly Burch or Wil Wheaton; sim­ply due to their ide­ol­o­gy. All and all, I’ve heard from my in­dus­try con­tacts that VAs can be dra­ma queens with huge egos. Nothing too per­son­al here, there are prob­a­bly plen­ty of good ac­tors among you. But I don’t trust the pow­er to cen­sor a games script in the hands of all of the VAs collectively.

Especially the ones also spear­head­ing a po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness crusade.

Your Interactive Committee has worked hard to bring the con­cerns of work­ing video game per­form­ers to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table.

On Feb. 2, a group of video game per­form­ers and video game pro­duc­ers met to rene­go­ti­ate the Interactive Media Agreement.

Some of the folks in the room were big hit­ters and sig­na­to­ries to the ex­ist­ing con­tract, in­clud­ing EA Games, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros., as well as small­er record­ing stu­dios like Blindlight and Formosa. We put our pro­pos­als on the ta­ble, they put their pro­pos­als on the ta­ble, there was some po­lite and spir­it­ed back and forth, but no agree­ment was reached.

Both sides met again on June 23. Still, no agree­ment was reached.

According to SAG-AFTRA, here are some of the pro­pos­als that their em­ploy­ers have put for­ward that they find “reck­less and ill-advised”

Our em­ploy­ers pro­pose to fine you $2,500 if you show up late or are not “at­ten­tive to the ser­vices for which [you] have been en­gaged.” This means you could be fined for al­most any­thing: check­ing an in­com­ing text, post­ing to your Twitter feed, even zon­ing out for a sec­ond. If a pro­duc­er feels you are be­ing “inat­ten­tive,” they want the op­tion to fine you $2,500.

This is one of the more vague­ly de­tailed con­tention points from both sides. I mean, I’ve seen oth­er unions have its mem­bers par­take in drunk­en an­tics, so there is a prece­dent for dis­tract­ed work cost­ing a pro­duc­er mon­ey. This is what this comes down to, though. Money. When you are late for your con­tract, when you are too busy twad­dling on Twitter to know your cue is up, when your friend high fives you on Facebook for that lat­est snap­py come­back but leaves you not know­ing what line you were on last, this costs a pro­duc­er mon­ey. When it comes to multi-million dol­lar projects, one can eas­i­ly waste more than $2,500 in a day if the tal­ent and crew are dawdling around and not pay­ing at­ten­tion to the project at hand.

It’s an­oth­er point I am not sor­ry to speak: you are on an­oth­er person’s dime when you take a job from them. You do not have a right to be on your cell phone while you are work­ing. There is no fuck­ing right to so­cial me­dia; es­pe­cial­ly when one has lit­er­al­ly trad­ed their time for mon­ey in what us com­mon folk call a “job.” I don’t even do this type of thing at school, let alone at work. The inat­ten­tive thing is vague, but again VA drew first blood here, so I have to lean where log­ic goes.


Our em­ploy­ers pro­pose to fine your agent $50,000 – 100,000 if they don’t send you out on cer­tain au­di­tions (like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour One Voice ses­sions). And if your agent choos­es not to sub­mit you for cer­tain au­di­tions, the em­ploy­ers want it put into con­tract lan­guage that SAG-AFTRA will re­voke the agent’s union fran­chise. This would mean your agency would not be able to send you or any­one else they rep­re­sent out on any union jobs, in­clud­ing those in an­i­ma­tion, TV/Film, Commercials, etc.

Our em­ploy­ers don’t be­lieve that Motion and Performance Capture work is cov­ered un­der this con­tract. The com­pa­nies also pro­posed they be al­lowed to hire their own em­ploy­ees to play char­ac­ters in video games with­out hav­ing to join the union.

That’s rea­son­able; why should they pay you when you want to be Hollywood? I’m go­ing to lean on the ex­pe­ri­ence of busi­ness op­er­a­tors here. There is a rea­son that pub­lish­ers and de­vel­op­ers would want this (like­ly re­lat­ed to sav­ing mon­ey, but also to help achieve ef­fi­cien­cy of work­flow). If VAs don’t want to meet the re­quire­ments put forth by their con­trac­tor, then they should just not take the job. Everyone has this right.

I would also have to agree that Motion Capture isn’t, and shouldn’t, be cov­ered un­der a voice ac­tors con­tract. It seems per­fect­ly rea­son­able that com­pa­nies should be al­lowed to hire who­ev­er they damn well please to do Motion Capture. If I was a de­vel­op­er or pub­lish­er I would be in­censed that this actor’s guild thought they could tell me who I could and couldn’t put in the fun­ny black suit with ping pong balls attached.

These aren’t an actor’s pro­duc­tions, and these aren’t an ac­tors com­pa­ny. These actor’s are not spe­cial snowflakes and they are in­fi­nite­ly re­place­able. I hate to sound like an ass­hole here, but know your place.

There are oth­er pro­pos­als that re­duce integration/reuse fees and al­low the sun­set of Cloud Gaming pro­vi­sions that roll­back the gains we’ve made in pre­vi­ous contracts.


Over and over, in­ter­ac­tive per­form­ers have iden­ti­fied of a back­end bonus as a top con­cern. There is am­ple prece­dent for sec­ondary pay­ments across the me­dia land­scape. You get sec­ondary pay­ments when you per­form in fea­ture films, an­i­ma­tion, episod­ic TV, com­mer­cials and the like. But that wasn’t al­ways the case. Performers who came be­fore you had the courage to fight for the resid­ual pay­ments you en­joy to­day, and, be­cause they stood to­geth­er, they won them.

The top games make mon­ey. This in­dus­try has grown, boomed and mor­phed into some­thing big­ger and lu­cra­tive than any oth­er seg­ment of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, and it con­tin­ues to do so. The truth is, back end bonus­es are not un­com­mon in the video game in­dus­try. Last year, Activision’s COO took home a bonus of $3,970,862. EA paid their ex­ec­u­tive chair­man a bonus of $1.5 mil­lion. We ap­plaud their suc­cess, and we be­lieve our tal­ent and con­tri­bu­tions are worth a bonus pay­ment, too.

Then stop hid­ing be­hind a union. Because all it’s go­ing to do is screw over the lit­tle guy while fill­ing the pock­ets of those run­ning unions. That’s all they do nowa­days. Just see­ing how their ne­ces­si­ty be­came out­lived af­ter the 20th cen­tu­ry. Long af­ter the Robber Barons ran amok.


Sure. Most of the small­er and less pop­u­lar games won’t be af­fect­ed by the resid­u­als pay­ment. We struc­tured our pro­pos­al to trig­ger at 2 mil­lion units, the point we would re­gard a game as a block­buster. We want the video game in­dus­try to keep grow­ing. Growth = More work for us! As for the big games, we know the com­pa­nies al­ready bud­get for sales-based bonus­es for many of their em­ploy­ees. So maybe the com­pa­nies are try­ing to pro­tect the bud­gets for their top ex­ec­u­tive bonus­es, but is it not rea­son­able to sug­gest that per­form­ers should also share in these successes?

You have no idea how much mon­ey ad­ver­tise­ment makes for a game. Advertisement is worth more than you guys are worth; at least when it comes to draw­ing an au­di­ence. There is also no con­crete proof that par­tic­u­lar ac­tors do or do not help sell more games. Of the few out­stand­ing per­for­mances that come to my mind, I still don’t think it was the ac­tor them­selves be­ing in­volved that made it a block­buster suc­cess. On top of this, there seems to be a gen­er­al feel­ing that SAG-AFTRA is ask­ing for more mon­ey on the backs, blood, and tears of those who can spend years work­ing 60 – 80 plus hours a week and nev­er see the resid­u­als that the ac­tors are demanding.

Let’s also not for­get this lit­tle tid­bit from Mike Futter of Game Informer, “According to our anony­mous union source, many SAG-AFTRA mem­bers see resid­u­als as an ‘ex­trav­a­gance.‘”


No. You will not be able to work un­der the in­ter­ac­tive con­tract while the strike is in ef­fect. But please know, the com­mu­ni­ty would only de­cide to strike if the short-term risk of loss-of-work is out­weighed by the long-term gain of a bet­ter con­tract in a grow­ing industry.

So in oth­er words you will black­list who­ev­er re­places you from your union, and at­tempt to keep down new tal­ent. How benev­o­lent and no­ble. We read you loud and clear.

Via http://www.gamekyo.com/blog_article346364.html

Their nar­ra­tive of Video Game VAs be­ing un­der­paid and over­worked falls flat in most cas­es.  I have looked at the costs of games such as Mighty No 9 where the VA tal­ent gets $4,200 per ses­sion. This is ig­nor­ing how a pub­lish­er work­ing in a SAG ap­proved Sound Studio can pay as much as $150-$3,000 per hour.

I was once sym­pa­thet­ic to the strug­gle of VAs in com­par­i­son to Hollywood, but stuff like this has made me un­der­stand the bias the game in­dus­try has against them to a point. As ter­ri­ble as Hollywood is, screen ac­tors must put in much more work to fit a role, and of­ten rad­i­cal­ly al­ter their bod­ies; while VAs bare­ly have that same amount of re­spon­si­bil­i­ty work­ing on a game. This is com­pared to screen ac­tors who ac­tu­al­ly do sell a movie, or even the devs who do 90% of the work on a video game. I have nev­er seen a per­son buy a game for the voic­es, but they do every day for their game­play. I mean Beyond Two Souls had hon­est to god celebri­ties, but it was still a David Cage game. I adore Jennifer Hale as Femshep, but it is the sum of Mass Effect’s ex­pe­ri­ence and game­play that sold so many copies. Not top tier VA billings.

All this is do­ing is sim­ply mak­ing the ac­tors who are well off, and known as­so­ciates of the union, look lazy and greedy; while at the same time mak­ing oth­ers fear­ful for the small­er VAs ei­ther be­ing roped into this, or risk­ing be­com­ing black­list­ed by the Union if it strikes and they de­cide they still want to work.

Personally, I don’t think Unions will help any­one, any­ways. All they do is gob­ble up mon­ey, and screw over small­er com­pa­nies once they get done eat­ing the big boys. Which is why I op­pose that asi­nine sug­ges­tion by the VAs to union­ize as well. Unions are re­dun­dant with work­ers rights. It is not the devs fault that you are too cow­ard­ly to take your own risks with small­er pub­lish­ers. Why the hell do you keep work­ing with renowned id­iots like EA and Ubisoft if you don’t want to be treat­ed like garbage?  Then you come to the pub­lic cry­ing be­cause you got screwed by known card car­ry­ing vil­lains. It just makes you look stub­born and greedy.

I see all this, and I won­der what kind of stig­ma VAs have against small­er com­pa­nies if they are so ded­i­cat­ed to act­ing like they them­selves are the lit­tle guy. What’s so bad about go­ing to some­one else who will at least not treat you like crap? Or do you all just want to be pam­pered? Hell, re­cent­ly it was re­vealed the VA cast for Star Citizen has more than like­ly been the source of  large amounts wast­ed funds for the en­tire game; ob­vi­ous­ly due to Robert’s own in­com­pe­tence, and like­ly his zeal to make it big. All by squan­der­ing it on big names such as Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson, Mark Hamill, and others.

Regardless, if you do go with the strike then we can go back to times like Dawn of War; back to the times where Scott McNeil did the voic­es for half the en­tire named cast again!

I can hon­est­ly live with this.


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