Videogame voice actors strike is still ongoing, but progress is being made (Updated)

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 Update: A representative of the Interactive Video Game Companies, the organization that last year launched and was quickly forced to take down a website criticizing the SAG-AFTRA union, has issued a statement in response to this report claiming that no new deals between the union and game publishers have been struck, either collectively or for individual games.

"There are a large number of videogames that were started under the existing bargaining contract. Those games are unaffected by the strike," the rep said. "They are still in development and production and the union strike does not impact their progress or completion."

Contrary to our original report's statement that deals for "dozens" of new projects had been agreed upon on a case-by-case basis, the rep stated that "there have been no new deals on games, period.” There is apparently a dispute between the publishers and SAG-AFTRA over the "safe harbor" cut-off date that establishes non-struck games. "But as to struck games, none have signed any new deal to cover the games SAG-AFTRA contends are not safe harbored," the rep said. And because non-struck games were covered by the old contract, they were developed under its terms, the rep added, rather than under new terms as the original report indicates.

The SAG-AFTRA union, however, is maintaining its position. "SAG-AFTRA can confirm that it's signed 45 games and 33 companies to independently negotiated video game agreements since the strike began," the union said in a statement. "Our non-struck list includes safe harbor titles along with newly signed titles."

It’s possible that none of the 33 companies SAG-AFTRA says it has negotiated new agreements with are part of Interactive Video Games Companies, which includes Activision, Blindlight, Disney Character Voices, Electronic Arts, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Take 2, VoiceWorks Productions, and WB Games. The union’s non-struck list (which is not comprehensive) does include games from other companies. I've asked both parties for more information and will update if and when I receive a reply. But for now, it appears that the dispute may not have progressed quite as far toward a resolution as it initially appeared. 

Original story:

The videogame voice actors strike that began last October is still underway, and while voice actors hold the line, game production has continued on. That's because, as Ars Technica (opens in new tab) explains, the SAG-AFTRA union has been signing individual deals for specific games, and has been able to reach terms with 36 companies ranging from tiny indies to heavy hitters like Activision, EA, and Take 2. 

By going after individual companies and games rather than taking on the industry as a whole, the union has been able to keep its members working, and more importantly, to take the legs out from under arguments against a new deal. After all, if Electronic Arts is willing to meet the union's demands for Mass Effect 4 (one of the non-struck titles that feature SAG-AFTRA talent), then why not for the next Dragon Age, or Battlefield? And if EA is willing, then what about Activision, and WBIE? 

"We decided we would put out an agreement that we felt proud of, that people would not have any problems signing on to, in order to demonstrate that our asks were reasonable," union rep and voice actor Keythe Farley (opens in new tab) told the site. And so far, he claimed, the strategy has been a "huge success." 

"It's already having a domino effect," he said. "It's like an avalanche... I knew the first six months of this year were going to be the proof. If our contract had not been adopted by anybody, we'd be in a much different position."   

The strike has impinged on the amount of work available to union members—that was inevitable—but Farley appeared to consider the impact minimal, describing it as "maybe a little bit of a downturn." 

"But just remember that these actors are also working in commercials and animation and audio books and narration and promos," he said. "Most of the actors who do videogame work are also actors who work in other fields even while the videogame portion of their salary might have dipped, and I can't even say that it even has." 

That's good news for voice actors, but there's still no sign of the strike coming to an end anytime soon. As Ars (opens in new tab) suggests, instead of "ending" in the conventional sense, the strike may ultimately usher in an entirely new paradigm, where some games are voiced by SAG-AFTRA members, while those unwilling to agree to the deal use non-union actors.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.