Just as one strike among entertainment workers ends, another could be on the horizon.
The video game industry is on the verge of a possible actors strike following an authorization vote from union members. So could a work stoppage be imminent? And what are the key issues in this dispute?
What union covers video game actors?
SAG-AFTRA represents video game performers in addition to film and television actors. However, video game actors are covered under a different contract than actors who work in movies and TV and who have already been on strike since July.
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SAG-AFTRA's Interactive Media Agreement covers "all performers engaged in an interactive program or video game," the union explained. This includes voiceover artists and actors who provide motion capture and stunts for games, as well as "stunt coordinators, singers, dancers, puppeteers, and background performers." The ongoing SAG-AFTRA actors strike does not apply to video game work, per Polygon.
Video game actors’ current contract expired in November 2022. "Since then, we’ve been operating month to month," SAG-AFTRA noted. Negotiations have been ongoing since October 2022.
Will video game actors go on strike?
On Sept. 25, SAG-AFTRA announced that its members had voted 98.32% in favor of a strike authorization.
This does not mean a strike will definitely happen, but it gives the union the ability to call one should negotiations with video game companies be unsuccessful. Film and television actors similarly authorized a strike in June 2023 before one was called the following month.
Should a video game strike occur, it would be against major companies including Activision, Electronic Arts, Insomniac Games, Epic Games, and Take 2 Productions.
What issues are driving the potential strike?
Video game performers share several of the same concerns as film and television actors. The "overlap of these two SAG-AFTRA contracts is no coincidence, but rather a predictable issue impacting our industry as well as others all over the world," said SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher.
The guild has called for wage increases and protections against video game performers being replaced by artificial intelligence. "For many performers, their first job may be their last, as companies become increasingly eager to scan our members or train AI with their voices as soon as they show up for work," the union argued.
SAG-AFTRA has additionally called for steps to be taken to ensure the safety of on-camera performers. For example, the union wants these performers to have a rest period of five minutes per hour and is also calling for a medic to be present on set during the performance of stunts or other hazardous work.
"Between the exploitative uses of AI and lagging wages, those who work in video games are facing many of the same issues as those who work in film and television," SAG-AFTRA Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez said.
Has there been a video game actors strike in the past?
Yes, SAG-AFTRA previously called a video game strike in 2016, and it lasted almost a year. This was the longest strike in SAG-AFTRA history.
A major factor in that fight was residuals for video game actors. Ultimately, an agreement was reached for a "new bonus structure" providing additional payment to performers based on the “number of sessions worked on each game,” the union explained to members at the time.
However, Rodriguez told Kotaku that the stakes are different this time because of AI. "Secondary payments or residuals — they’re irrelevant if you’ve been replaced by a machine," he said.
Bargaining between SAG-AFTRA and the video game companies resumed on Sept. 26, but following the strike authorization vote, a work stoppage could be called at any time. This could potentially result in delays to highly anticipated games, just as films and TV shows were postponed amid the writers and actors strikes.
A spokesperson for the gaming companies told Axios that they will "continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA," adding that "we have reached tentative agreements on over half of the proposals and are optimistic we can find a resolution at the bargaining table."
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