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Actors Unions Ask Members For Video Game Industry Strike

by Rainier on May 25, 2005 @ 9:19 a.m. PDT

The video game industry has been in talks with actors unions for quite some time now, but when talks broke down last December it has become clear that unions are leaning towards their only alternative, striking. The breakdown was over ongoing payments to actors and actresses for each copy of a game sold to which they contribute their voices and likenesses, while the game publishers want to stick to one payment up-front.

Last week members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) received materials asking to authorize a video game industry strike after talks on a new agreement between the two sides broke down. A 75 percent for SAG and 66.7 percent for AFTRA majority vote is required before their national bodies can formally authorize the strike. Actors will decide over the next two weeks if the impasse is critical enough to call a strike.

"To deny working-class performers their fair share of the tremendous profits their labor helps to generate is illogical, unreasonable and unjust," John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said recently. "It is simply shortsighted to believe that consumers don't care about the artistic quality of the characters."

That's a risk game companies seem willing to take, especially in light of divisions among actors, some of whom feel a strike would lead to the complete loss of union protection on video game jobs.

"The union's demand for an equity stake, or residual structure, is unreasonable and not fair to the hundreds of people who often spend years developing a game," Howard Fabrick, an attorney representing publishers in the talks, said in a statement. "Voiceover work represents a small fraction of a video game's development and consumer enjoyment."

No more than 15 percent of all games are produced under union contract, the unions say. But that includes nine of the 10 top-sellers last year.

In some cases, celebrity voices and likeness are key to selling a game. Electronic Arts Inc. recently signed a deal with actors James Caan and Robert Duvall to reprise their roles in the game version of the Oscar-winning film "The Godfather."

But in most cases, anonymous actors lend their voices to game characters. And while professional voices lend reality to games, analysts say the voices are not the key to a game's ultimate success.

"They have no leverage," Yankee Group analyst Mike Goodman said of the voice actors.

"In 99 percent of all games, the voice actors are irrelevant," Goodman said. "You replace one voice actor with another nonunion actor and no one will know the difference."

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