sag_aftra_building

(Note: Part one of two ar­ti­cles. First the news, with an opin­ion piece on my thoughts com­ing soon.)

With the SAG-AFTRA video games strike near­ing a month and a half in length, a lot of peo­ple are left won­der­ing where every­thing stands now. While there was a me­dia black­out dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions them­selves for the year pri­or to the strike, in­for­ma­tion is a bit more free flow­ing now that pick­ets have start­ed. The video games com­pa­nies PR’ed up, and with the strike un­der­way the con­stituents of SAG-AFTRA are more open with their opin­ions.

Before SAG-AFTRA car­ried out their strike vote on October 21st, fi­nal ne­go­ti­a­tions looked to be com­ing to a head. Information avail­able from the PR firm, Singer Associates, show that the par­ties were talk­ing at least un­til the night of October 18th. While no pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion is avail­able to state what hap­pened in those fol­low­ing three days, I would call it safe to as­sume that the union rep­re­sent­ing the voice per­form­ers did not want what was of­fered by the time the 21st came along.

A seem­ing­ly im­por­tant date also just passed. December 1st was the fi­nal day that the Extended Payment sec­tion of the pro­pos­al from the col­lec­tive video games com­pa­nies was on the ta­ble.

Singer Associates not­ed to us that, “the Companies have made it clear that the 9 per­cent im­me­di­ate pay hike and ad­di­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion were con­di­tioned upon ap­proval by Dec. 1”. This speaks to the ad­di­tion­al mon­ey be­ing dis­cussed, and not to any pre­vi­ous­ly agreed to pro­vi­sions you will see be­low — from my knowl­edge.

While SAG-AFTRA re­mains firm on the bul­let points they have been dis­cussing for over a year, what ex­act­ly was of­fered by the video game com­pa­nies be­fore the strike was car­ried out?

Information on that can be pub­licly ob­tained from the site videogamestrikenews.com, a site set up by Singer Associates.

It’s worth stat­ing be­fore pre­sent­ing this in­for­ma­tion that orig­i­nal­ly the URL had been “sagaftravideogames.com.” The Wrap had re­port­ed that SAG-AFTRA com­plained about this, claim­ing that it could cause con­fu­sion in re­gards to peo­ple think­ing the in­for­ma­tion came from them, as well as al­leg­ing that mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion was pre­sent­ed:

Management has a re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to ne­go­ti­ate in good faith. We could be mak­ing ac­tu­al progress on the cru­cial eco­nom­ic, health and safe­ty is­sues that led to this strike rather than hav­ing ‘Top Gun for Hire’ cri­sis PR ad­vi­sors set­ting up mis­lead­ing web­sites in an at­tempt to con­fuse peo­ple,”

Singer Associates re­spond­ed by stat­ing:

SAG-AFTRA seems to sug­gest that mem­bers of the pub­lic can­not read. Our web­site is clear that it is the videogame com­pa­nies’ web­site… Nothing on that web­site is de­cep­tive. What the union doesn’t like is that, af­ter the union ab­ro­gat­ed a pri­or agree­ment to have a me­dia black­out, the com­pa­nies’ post­ed the pro­pos­als that are on the ta­ble for the en­tire world to see.”

It is also im­por­tant to note along with this bit of dra­ma, and the URL change from Singer Associates, that no one from SAG-AFTRA has claimed that any of the spe­cif­ic pro­pos­al in­for­ma­tion pro­vid­ed by videogamestrikenews.com is false.

So with all this in mind, let’s go through what SAG-AFTRA states they are strik­ing for, and what the ne­go­ti­a­tions were left at when October 21st came. There looked to be as much agree­ment as there was dis­agree­ment, but pub­licly there also ap­pears to be some very hard feel­ings on both sides.

{Editor’s Note: in the fol­low­ing screen­shots, IMA stand for Interactive Media Agreements.}

Financial Compensation

There are ul­ti­mate­ly two parts to this. Essentially a cost of liv­ing (COL) per­cent­age in­crease over three years, and a bonus pay­ment method for suc­cess­ful games. The lat­er is all about the bonus for sales or sub­scrip­tions of suc­cess­ful games, while the for­mer is just a small bump to keep wages lev­el with year-to-year cost of liv­ing in­creas­es.

When it comes to the COL in­crease, there was an ad­just­ment and an agree­ment by the union. The video games com­pa­nies of­fered a 9% in­crease up­front, in­stead of an in­crease from 2% to 3% for three years.

hru98sn

The so-called “con­tin­gent” com­pen­sa­tion in the form of sales bonus for suc­cess­ful games was a stick­i­er bit that was left be­ing ne­go­ti­at­ed be­fore the strike. I’ll try to ex­plain the back and forth as plain­ly as I can, though. God help me.

So what SAG-AFTRA want­ed, on top of the COL in­crease (and oth­er av­enues for in­creased in­come po­ten­tial), was this con­tin­gent com­pen­sa­tion. Basically, “for each 2,000,000 units sold or unique sub­scribers (when games are not sold by units) up to a to­tal of 4 Secondary Payments” was what the union want­ed, with the pay­ments be­ing 25% of scale (up to 100%). The video game com­pa­nies dis­agreed, but they of­fered up a multi-session bonus sched­ule.

SAG-AFTRA stuck to the sales bonus plan, but of­fered Plan B bonus­es for prin­ci­pal per­form­ers based on how many ses­sions they record­ed on a project (see be­low). The union seemed to take to the idea of ses­sion bonus­es, but only as a sort of “pre­pay­ment” of the same sales bonus­es they had been fight­ing for. The video games com­pa­nies re­spond­ed by re­assert­ing they were not go­ing to do sales bonus­es, but agreed to take on more mon­ey in the multi-session sched­ule of bonus­es per union re­quest.

There was no res­o­lu­tion to this be­fore the October 21st strike an­nounce­ment.

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Pension and Health Contributions

This is a bit of a bor­ing sec­tion. In large be­cause of the specifics of ne­go­ti­at­ing pen­sion con­tri­bu­tion lan­guage, but also be­cause the video games com­pa­nies agreed — with fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tion of the lan­guage to be done by pro­fes­sion­als. All most peo­ple need to know is that the union want­ed a 0.5% in­crease to con­tri­bu­tions, and they got it.

equ4zs

Vocal Stress Issues

Vocal stress is­sues has been one of the most com­mon is­sue I see peo­ple agree some­what on. There cer­tain­ly are roles and sit­u­a­tions that will put sig­nif­i­cant stress on even the most trained voice tal­ent. Initially SAG-AFTRA had been re­quest­ing that stress­ful voice ses­sions be lim­it­ed to two hours, but that a four-hour rate was paid as a sort of “haz­ard” pay. This was with­drawn.

In what was sure to be a lot of back and forth, the video games com­pa­nies and the union seemed to agree to a point. That point is that both par­ties found that is­sues of vo­cal stress on tal­ent need­ed to be looked into, that in­creased co­op­er­a­tion was need­ed, and a co­op­er­a­tive com­mit­tee would be in­volved in this.

Besides that, it looks like any pro­pos­als for split­ting stress­ful ses­sions or in­creased pay­ments for stress­ful work were off the ta­ble by both par­ties by the time SAG-AFTRA went on strike. Note that both par­ties also agreed to re­open this sec­tion if the California OSHA de­part­ment makes a rul­ing on work re­lat­ed vo­cal stress.

smmmsuStunt Coordination

This was tied in a lit­tle bit to the stress­ful voice work, but was in re­gards to stunt co­or­di­na­tion for mo­tion cap­ture of per­former roles.

SAG-AFTRA ac­cused the video games com­pa­nies of not pro­vid­ing stunt co­or­di­na­tion at times, and called them out in gen­er­al for is­sues re­gard­ing lack of safe­ty. Video games com­pa­nies seemed to just re­it­er­ate that they al­ways had safe­ty pro­ce­dures in place for their IMAs, and re­mained com­mit­ted to them. What both par­ties seemed to agree to was that safe­ty is im­por­tant, and that both would work with the afore­men­tioned co­op­er­a­tive com­mit­tee on this.

jy3vyk

Transparency

This was eas­i­ly the re­quest that got the sec­ond most amount of em­pa­thy from peo­ple. As it stood, voice per­form­ers were nor­mal­ly not giv­en very many de­tails about some of the projects they were of­fered. At times they would need to sign a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment (NDA) be­fore they were told the de­tails of this job. This can be an is­sue for per­form­ers who would like to be prop­er­ly in­formed of what they are get­ting into when tak­ing a role. They were re­quest­ing ba­si­cal­ly more in­for­ma­tion at the time of a job of­fer.

There was a lit­tle give from the video game com­pa­nies on this, but clear­ly not as much as SAG-AFTRA would have liked. Video game com­pa­nies es­sen­tial­ly agreed to give the code name of the project they would be in­volved in, genre, and whether it’s a role reprisal. But un­der NDA.

This is a lit­tle of a swampy is­sue, and I can hon­est­ly see both ends of this.

On the performer’s side, you would want as much in­for­ma­tion avail­able up­front so you can make the best choic­es for your time and your ca­reer.

On the video game com­pa­nies side, we live in an age where many web­sites will post leaked in­for­ma­tion in a heart­beat, and will pay good mon­ey for it some­times. A heads up on a ti­tle a  year ahead of time com­ing from a voice per­former who was re­ject­ed for a role seems like a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty, I am sure.

There has to be a bal­ance, and I think both sides need to see what the oth­er is deal­ing with. Needless to say, this was some­thing not re­solved be­fore SAG-AFTRA went on strike.

po8kgl

Limited Integration

Oh boy, is this a fun one. I will tell you all straight up that many parts of lim­it­ed in­te­gra­tion and the com­pen­sa­tion av­enues for this are above my pay grade in com­plete un­der­stand­ing.

To pro­vide a the most ba­sic of sum­maries, though, this equates to the abil­i­ty to make mon­ey off the roles you have done when those roles are tech­ni­cal­ly owned by an­oth­er com­pa­ny. Companies can also “buy-out” por­tions used in a record­ing ses­sion for fur­ther use in a prop­er­ty with­out pay­ing ex­tra at the time of re-use. This is re­al­ly just the start. For more, ask your lo­cal con­tract lawyer.

This all ties into the ad­di­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion that SAG-AFTRA is fight­ing for, and a bit of where they ac­cuse the video games com­pa­nies of mis­lead­ing peo­ple when the video games com­pa­nies rep­re­sent their in­creased pay­ments from ear­li­er sec­tions as some­thing that “vir­tu­al­ly match­es” what the union is ask­ing for

This was still left in ne­go­ti­a­tions when the strike was en­act­ed.

Most Favored Nations (MFN)

MFN’s are an­oth­er fun part of act­ing con­tracts that is at least eas­i­er to ex­plain than Limited Intergration. I can gen­er­al­ly sum up what this is. And why it would mat­ter to SAG-AFTRA. This one does come all down to mon­ey.

Think of a Most Favored Nation agree­ment as an agree­ment that all per­form­ers will be paid the same rates. If three ac­tors are on a project, and one of those ac­tors is gen­er­al­ly more ex­pe­ri­enced, they would re­ceive the same amount as the less ex­pe­ri­enced ac­tors on the project. It is of note that all ac­tors in­volved would have to agree to this.

Jeff B. Cohen states on Backstage.com:

Simply put, if your con­tract terms are grant­ed on a most fa­vored na­tions ba­sis, then none of your fel­low per­form­ers can have bet­ter con­tract terms than yours. An MFN con­tract is com­mon on projects that em­ploy a num­ber of sim­i­lar­ly sit­u­at­ed ac­tors, such as in­de­pen­dent films or plays with en­sem­ble casts or tele­vi­sion se­ries on which sev­er­al cast mem­bers have ap­prox­i­mate­ly equal promi­nence. An MFN agree­ment can also be a mech­a­nism to al­low a high­ly paid ac­tor to per­form for a low­er fee in a small­er pro­duc­tion with­out dam­ag­ing the actor’s per­ceived eco­nom­ic val­ue in the mar­ket­place. The actor’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives can rea­son­ably ar­gue that their client took a low­er fee be­cause he or she was pas­sion­ate about the project and, be­cause it was MFN, no oth­er ac­tor was paid more.”

SAG-AFTRA want­ed to re­move MFN lan­guage from con­tracts. I hon­est­ly can’t blame them ei­ther, though it isn’t a sin­gle is­sue I would strike over. But gen­er­al­ly, it WOULD be in the ac­tors best in­ter­ests to get paid more for the ex­pe­ri­ence they have. And that ex­pe­ri­ence can save video games com­pa­nies mon­ey in short­ened record­ing ses­sions.

The video games com­pa­nies did not agree to the re­moval of MFN lan­guage in con­tracts.

Clearances

If I un­der­stand my con­tracts well enough, when they speak of clear­ances here, this is clear­ance to use or not use a pro­duced work. While I am not as clear to the de­tails of what the is­sue was be­fore the strike ne­go­ti­a­tions start­ed, it is clear that the union and the video game com­pa­nies agreed on this.

The stat­ed in­for­ma­tion points to the cre­ation of an elec­tron­ics clear­ance sys­tem for pro­duc­ers to use, with­in a win­dow of one busi­ness day.

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Final Thoughts

While it is easy to try and paint things as black and white, and rail against one group or an­oth­er, things are just more grey than that. The per­cep­tion that SAG-AFTRA mem­bers just want more mon­ey is not ex­act­ly right. I think it would be more apt to say that SAG-AFTRA mem­bers would like more pow­er over their ca­reers.

Members of SAG-AFTRA of­ten are, or at least rub shoul­ders with those who, also nav­i­gate con­tracts with TV and film com­pa­nies. And it is true that the con­tracts for video games do not of­fer as much ne­go­ti­a­tion room as those gen­er­al­ly made for TV and film.

Should they? That is the de­bate that I see SAG-AFTRA hold­ing a side on. The abil­i­ty to per­form to po­ten­tial, so to speak. To have con­trac­tu­al par­i­ty with the oth­er in­dus­tries that they not only work in, but the video games com­pa­nies in ques­tion com­pete with.

The oth­er side of that de­bate is be­ing paint­ed as mon­ey grub­bing and want­i­ng to stick with an old­er style of abu­sive con­tracts they are used to when deal­ing with voice act­ing, but they also seem to be giv­ing lee­way on some is­sues that the union finds im­por­tant. I see the video game com­pa­nies not just be­ing some Ebenezer Scrooge po­si­tion, though they do need to look out for bot­tom lines. But they do have to look at all the de­part­ments that come into game cre­ation, not just one.

The strike puts SAG-AFTRA in a pre­car­i­ous spot, too. At least with what I’m look­ing at it.

Where I am look­ing, I see an in­dus­try that only a frac­tion of which uses union tal­ent. If Sam Singer of Singer Associates is to be be­lieved, only 20 – 25% of the in­dus­try uses SAG-AFTRA per­form­ers. Not all voice per­form­ers out­side the union even agree with what they are try­ing to achieve.

When #PerformanceMatters first spawned, and talks of a strike be­gan, we had the great op­por­tu­ni­ty to speak with vet­er­an voice per­former and vo­cal strike op­po­nent Lani Minella. She re­it­er­at­ed re­cent­ly that her views from last year still stand, and are well worth a read to get an ex­pe­ri­enced opin­ion from that side of the fence.

The de­ci­sion to strike can ran­kle the rank and file de­vel­op­ers who are tasked with cre­at­ing the games that beget the need for voiced roles, among ne­ces­si­tat­ing many oth­er de­part­ments around the cre­ation of games like artists, mar­ket­ing, HR, gen­er­al man­age­ment, and more.

Many peo­ple across many a dif­fer­ing dis­ci­plines come to­geth­er to make the AAA ex­pe­ri­ences we con­sume on a day to day ba­sis. It seems like it would be­hoof every­one cen­tered around video games to come to­geth­er and dis­cuss what is fair for them. Katherine Cross re­cent­ly wrote a piece call­ing for the game in­dus­try it­self to union­ize.

My own com­pli­cat­ed thoughts on the state of cur­rent day unions says that this is not the best idea, though. If only be­cause there are so many dis­ci­plines in­volved in the cre­ation and mar­ket­ing of games, and that would make one union cov­er­ing all of their needs a hot mess.

I do know that every­one cre­at­ing games needs to come to­geth­er to dis­cuss the fu­ture of work­ing in a mod­ern AAA games in­dus­try. It’s damn near im­pos­si­ble to quan­ti­fy the ex­act per­cent­age that a game’s suc­cess re­lied on mar­ket­ing, or artists, or voiced roles. I also know that griev­ances for work­ing con­di­tions at some com­pa­nies goes far­ther than just one de­part­ment.

Where do they go from here? That’s hard to say. And a lot of it is con­jec­ture for a com­ing opin­ion piece from me. I do of­fer my sin­cere hope that all par­ties can come to­geth­er again to at least dis­cuss terms again. I fear that the strike is not leav­ing a good im­pres­sion of ei­ther side to most folks on the out­side.

Stay tuned for an opin­ion piece that goes into my thoughts on both sides of this or­deal.

On Modding and The Future: A Team Dragonpunk Interview
[Republished] A Day at ShemFest.
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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand