I stumbled upon a blog post on Wil Wheaton's blog via Penny Arcade yesterday that I found interesting. It seems there was a recent threat of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) on behalf of voice actors in video games which got them improved pay. This seems to have led to somewhat of a backlash from some video game developers. Wil writes

Since I wrote about voice actors the other day, I've been personally attacked, called names, and vilified all over the Internets, often by people whose work I respect and admire.
It seems like many developers are angry with SAG because SAG stood up for its members, which is what a union is supposed to do. It just doesn't make any sense to me that SAG is being viewed with such animosity, just for doing its job. Actors represent less than 3% of the total budget on games, so it's incredibly unlikely that if SAG were able to make some residual gains, it would even affect developers' pay. I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt that producers are going to tell developers that they can't afford to pay them, because actors are now taking up 4.5% or 5% of the budget.
I don't understand what developers gain by spending energy attacking SAG, when SAG is just doing what its membership expects it to do. As far as I can tell, voice actors and developers have the same ultimate goal, and I just don't get why developers are so angry with SAG for trying to reach that goal. It seems like a lot of developers and gamers are pissed at SAG because SAG has the ability to stand up to our employers and ask for better wages, and from an Art of War standpoint, that is an awfully huge waste of energy. It makes much more sense to me for developers to take that energy and those resources, point it at producers, and take the fight to them. Because, ultimately, getting angry at SAG, or me, or other working actors, isn't going to get developers better contracts or profit-sharing. All it's going to do is take focus away from the people who can make those things happen.

Given that video games seem to have the same hit-centric characteristics of movies and music I can see why there is the school of thought that expects developers to get a percentage of the take if it is a hit. I doubt the status quo will ever change without some organized effort on the part of video game developers.

The comments in response to Wil's post also contain some interesting viewpoints for and against his position. I was actually surprised that there was anything in his post to take offence at but people have a way of surprising me.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005 6:58:59 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I've been amused by union discussions with software people ever since my transition from aerospace engineering to software. Not because I think software people are uninformed or silly. Just that 99.9% will never be a part of a union, so the expectations are really clear. Once you are in a union a whole new layer of politics and pragmatism is added to your career.

I've been a member of one of the few professional technical unions, the Wichita Engineers Association (a union for Boeing Wichita engineers). My conclusion after 8 years of that (with some time as a union rep): don't go there. If you think the pain is worth it, carefully review the history of unions in America. Consider why each one was formed (and SAG is a special case), when their power peaked, and how management can influence the situation.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005 6:25:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It is very important to remember that the SAG is not a union. It's a guild. That's a different thing. It's also important to remember that the reason the SAG is so powerful is because it has members like Tom Hanks who can back up the starving actor trying to make ends meet. We've got nothing like that in the software industry. The sad truth of the matter is that in the game industry especially, if every working programmer walked out, their seats would be filled by fresh-from-college kids within a week.

I see the "value" of unions in my wife's teaching job quite well enough, thank you very much. Seems their job is to collect $60/paycheck in order to have the funds to tell their members to bend over when management snaps its fingers.

I think a lot of the venom in Wil's blog wasn't so much "you don't deserve to be paid for voice acting" as "how dare you claim four hours voice work is 'hard' in an industry where people work seventy hour weeks routinely". It's real easy for a member of SAG to say "well, you should unionize" when they can hold the threat of Brad Pitt walking off the set over the heads of the studios.
Comments are closed.