Actors spar over video-game voices

Video games generate large profits, and Hollywood movie actors are pushing to reap a bigger share of those rewards.

The Screen Actors Guild announced this week it has rejected a deal with the video-game industry that would have boosted its members’ pay for doing the voices of video-game characters by nearly 40 percent over the next three years.

The guild is seeking greater compensation for its members.

“We will now explore other options,” said Greg Hessinger, SAG’s chief executive, in a statement.

Guild members currently are paid a minimum of $556 for a four-hour recording session. Had SAG agreed with what had been put on the table, that price would have risen to $759 by 2008.

The union representatives argued, however, that movie actors featured in top-selling games should receive additional compensation — a proposal rejected by industry executives.

There is some concern that SAG’s rally to obtain more for its members may backfire, particularly because the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — SAG’s counterpart — already has accepted what game companies have offered, and their agreement will take effect July 1.

Earlier this month both SAG and AFTRA stated publicly they were prepared to accept the new contracts, but SAG decided to back out of the agreement in the end.

“It is unfortunate that our brothers and sisters at the Screen Actors Guild have chosen another path,” said John Connolly, AFTRA’s president, in a statement.

Because AFTRA has accepted the agreement, there will be no shortage of voice actors willing to take on contracts with video-game producers.

Some industry analysts argue that the SAG decision will hurt voice actors far more in the near term than the game companies, which collectively generated $25 billion in revenue within the United States last year alone — if they are adversely affected at all.

“The gaming industry is relatively new … and there’s always a clash (between companies and trade unions) whenever there’s a new division of entertainment,” said Lee Crowe, chair of media arts and animation at the Art Institute of Atlanta.

Crowe said video-game companies were seen to be taking advantage of the lesser-known voice actors who needed the union to defend their rights.

“Exploiting them is rampant throughout the gaming industry right now,” Crowe told United Press International. She said the latest contract dispute involved those who needed the voice-over jobs the most, rather than the major Hollywood celebrities.

Crowe noted that keeping out talented voice actors from the market could hurt the gaming industry in the long run. She said trained voice actors make animation come alive, and their contributions to the animated product, be it film or video game, is invaluable and should be treated accordingly.

Jeff Greenfield, executive vice president at 1st Approach, a product-placement company in Dover, N.H., said voice acting is a “craft … and if you believe in those characters on the screen, it helps” improve the game experience.

Greenfield told UPI the voices of Hollywood celebrities featured in games may make them “totally cool” to players, but whether or not the original actor in a movie takes part in the game version makes no difference in actual sales of the product.

The original cast of a blockbuster, such as “The Matrix,” might play a role in the video game as well, but whether or not the game becomes a hit ultimately depends on its action quality, rather than on any secondary factor such as the voice behind a character, Greenfield said.