Actors' union SAG-AFTRA announces 'ethical AI' agreement with Replica, but industry veterans feel misrepresented: 'Nobody in our community approved this'

SAG-AFTRA image header on announcement of strike authorization approval
(Image credit: SAG-AFTRA)

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has announced a "groundbreaking AI voice agreement" as per the union's website—and despite its claim that the agreement was "approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community", a lot of industry vets feel like their voices weren't heard.

This agreement with Replica Studios seeks to "[pave] the way for professional voice over artists to safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas with industry-leading protections tailored to AI technology". 

While the specifics have not yet been outlined beyond the press release, the announcement states the agreement will broadly allow SAG-AFTRA actors to licence their talent (as replicated by AI) for use in "video game development and other interactive media projects." 

The use of artificial intelligence has been a particularly tense subject for voice actors—including for SAG-AFTRA itself, which overwhelmingly approved a strike in September 2023, citing worries over "exploitative AI" as one of many reasons for its decision. That makes this turn of events even stranger.

Steve Blum—a prolific voice actor who you might recognise as Grunt from Mass Effect 2 and Oghren from Dragon Age: Origins (and more recently Mephisto from Diablo 4)—spoke out about the agreement on Twitter/X, saying that "nobody in our community approved this".

(Image credit: @blumspew on Twitter/X.)

A deluge of other voice industry professionals have responded similarly. So many in fact, I need to resort to bullet points to keep things legible:

  • Yong Yea, the voice of Kiryu from the Yakuza series Like A Dragon.
  • Xander Mobus, the voice of Joker in Persona 5.
  • Allegra Clark, who has played various roles in Apex Legends (Bloodhound), Genshin Impact (Beidou), and Street Fighter 6 (Marisa).
  • Mary E. McGlynn, a voiceover director and actor with a prolific career including games like World of Warcraft, Starcraft, and Mortal Kombat.
  • Shelby Young, a voice actor with credits in God of War: Ragnarok, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, Spider-Man 2, and Genshin Impact.
  • Chris Hackney, voice of Rauru in Tears of the Kingdom and Rusty from Armoured Core 6.
  • Elias Toufexis, the voice of Sam Coe (Starfield) and Adam Jensen (Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mankind Divided).

This is just what I gleaned from the immediate, public response—and it's still an abridged list. It's safe to say that the union's decision here has not gone over well with a sizable portion of the community it claims to represent. Sizeable does not mean 'all', though.

SAG-AFTRA is a major union representing a broad swathe of talent across the industry. The primary issue with the statement is that there's a complete lack of information available—both on the agreement itself and the steps taken to get there. It's unclear whether this is a genuine heel-turn or simply an issue of poor communication.

One could make the argument that when it comes to AI-generated work, the metaphorical cat is already out of its bag—that SAG-AFTRA's protections are here to let voice actors continue to profit from their work. The union's national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland certainly seems to think so:

"With this agreement, we have achieved fully informed consent and fair compensation when it comes to the use of our members' voices and performances. We are proud to work with Replica in leading the way to make it easy for these companies to access SAG-AFTRA’s world-renowned talent in an ethical manner that ensures consent and fair compensation for their contributions. This agreement also paves the way for other companies to follow their lead."

You could also make the argument that just because something feels unavoidable, doesn't mean it is. As my fellow PC Gamer writer Joshua Wolens put it recently: "we shouldn't let the C-suites of the world dupe us into thinking any of their desired changes are inevitable." While it's certainly too late to re-cork the bottle in terms of the tech being out there, industry regulations are another thing entirely.

Replica studios actually has a page of examples. Predictably, they're pretty terrible. I don't think these specific AI voices are going to be outcompeting any working voice actors any time soon (at least not for projects worthy of note) and they're rightfully getting panned. 

However, it's also naive to assume that AI-generated art, voices, and writing will stay wonky and riddled with errors forever. We still haven't quite hit the ceiling on what the tech can do, and it's already come a long way in a few short years.

Perhaps SAG-AFTRA's proposed AI-licensing future is the only choice actors really have. But I'm shocked to see the volume of prolific industry professionals who weren't consulted—granted, that's not to say the Union didn't consult with anyone. I've reached out to SAG-AFTRA for comment on this particular part of the issue, and will update this article if I receive a response.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.