Voice actors on strike deserve more compensation

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Voice actors on strike deserve more compensation

Raka Sarkar| Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar| Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar| Staff Illustrator

Raka Sarkar| Staff Illustrator

By Thomas Wick | For The Pitt News

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If it weren’t for voice actress Jennifer Hale and her performance in the Mass Effect video game series, the character of Commander Shepard wouldn’t have been as memorable.

Hale, an esteemed voice actress, was responsible for bringing to life the iconic Commander Shepard in a game that has been praised for its strong story and powerful characters. Without her, the game would not have been as successful.

But Hale’s employer for that game, Electronic Arts Productions, along with many others, apparently disagrees.  

This past week, the union that represents voice actors — Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — has gone on strike against some of the biggest video game companies in the industry after failed negotiations to improve voice actors’ working conditions and compensation.

The guild has demanded contingent compensation, such as receiving a bonus when a game sells over 2 million copies — like all of the Mass Effect games did — more information regarding the roles the voice actor is playing and what that role entails and reducing the current four-hour voice session to two hours for better voice safety. In regard to that last demand, actors have reported fainting, tasting blood, vomiting and losing their voices because of their work.

The actors are striking against 11 video game publishers, which include EA, Inc.; Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc. and Interactive Associates, Inc.

Currently some of the biggest voice actors going on strike are Hale, David Hayter from the game series Metal Gear Solid and Tara Strong from Batman: Arkham City.

Video game companies continue to grow, selling more units and making huge profits. According to a 2016 Newzoo report, gamers worldwide will generate $99.6 billion in revenue in 2016, a number that has been on the rise in recent years.

However, it’s important for them to make sure that everyone gets compensated properly, including voice actors. The actors work tirelessly to bring some of the most memorable characters to life and deserve better treatment from companies.

Video game voice actors, for a long time, have not received the respect they deserve. They are responsible for quite a lot and are rewarded very little, and many game companies often claim that they contribute very little to the overall end product.

The worst example of this disrespect was when Michael Hollick did 15 months of voice work for Grand Theft Auto IV, including portraying the iconic character Niko Bellic. The game went on to make $600 million, but Hollick was only compensated $100,000 with no royalties, despite the fact that the game’s critical reception was mainly due to the main character.

In 2008, he won a Spike VGA award for Best Male Voice, and the game won several awards as well, including Game of The Year.

According to Scott Witlin, a lawyer representing the video game companies, voice actors contribute less than one 10th of one percent of the work that goes into making a video game. I can’t help but think this statement is complete and utter nonsense.

As video games try to be more cinematic by telling more engaging stories with well-written characters, having proper voice acting is more important than ever. Much like with film, a great performance can improve the narrative and even turn a pedestrian storyline into an exceptional one.

Take, for example, the performances of Michael Mondo in Far Cry 3 and Troy Baker in Far Cry 4. Mondo played Vaas in Far Cry 3 and Baker played Pagan Min in Far Cry 4, the main villains of each game, respectively.

Their performances were so good that Ubisoft made Vaas and Pagan Min the poster boys of their respective games. Baker and Mondo managed to turn storylines and scripts that were mundane and cliched into memorable ones through their performances alone. If it weren’t for the skilled acting in these performances, Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4’s storylines would not have the same effect that it had.  

Similarly, consider the critically acclaimed game, The Last of Us. Much of the game’s success hinged on its story and the voice performances from Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker as Joel and Ellie. The two managed to bring these characters to life in remarkable performances. If these performances had failed, I doubt The Last of Us would’ve received the same critical reception, as it would have been harder to become emotionally invested in the story.

All of these performances demonstrate the influence and importance of voice actors in video games, and for video game companies to not compensate them and claim they don’t matter is insulting and disrespectful to their talent and work. They should be rewarded fairly, because, without them, the lack of emotional appeal and raw stories brought to life by the actors would negatively impact a user’s engagement with the game. That engagement is one of the biggest drivers for a video game’s success.

Their voices matter, and they are being heard by everyone except the video game companies.

 

Write to Thomas at tmw79@pitt.edu

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