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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

https://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/SAG_AFTRA_Building-e1480715392580-1024x520.jpghttps://supernerdland.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/SAG_AFTRA_Building-e1480715392580-150x150.jpgJosh BrayEditorialNerd NewsSAG-AFTRA Strike(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...
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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. Leader of the crazy experiment called SuperNerdLand