Video Game Voice Actors Reach Agreement, Avoid Strike

Unions win more pay but lose out on request for residuals.

So much for your favorite video game characters losing their voice. Unions representing more than 2,000 video game voice actors, who talk, argue and scream to make games sound more alive, have reached a tentative agreement that should call off a possible strike.

"While we did not get all that we want -- and deserve -- this contract is another important step in building artists' power in this growing sector of the media industry," John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, said in a statement. AFTRA joined the Screen Actors Guild in a three-month standoff between the unions' voice actors and a group of major American game publishers and developers, including Rockstar Games, Electronic Arts and Insomniac Games, the makers of voice-heavy games such as "Grand Theft Auto," "The Godfather" and "Ratchet and Clank," respectively.

"This agreement is a win for both sides," the game industry's lead negotiator, Howard Fabrick, said in a statement. "The deal permits continued employment and a generous increase in compensation for voice actors while allowing game publishers to continue working with the union talent they prefer."

The agreement comes one day after union members were required to vote on a possible strike. As part of the agreement, the results of that vote will not be made public.

The agreement boosts minimum pay for voice actors working a four-hour session from $556 to $759 and offers other pay and workplace improvements, including mandatory rest periods and advance warning of contracted work, meaning voice actors hoping to work a session cooing like Princess Peach won't be caught off guard when they're asked to shriek like an invading alien. But the voice actors failed to win their biggest demand: residuals, or a cut of a game's actual sales. This left union reps sounding less than triumphant.

"On the eve of a strike-authorization vote, and after much deliberation, both unions reluctantly withdrew their demand that a residual, or profit-sharing, model be instituted for video games, in return for producers putting more money for minimum pay into both contracts," SAG President Melissa Gilbert said in a statement.

Under the new agreement, the union's minimum pay boost will be $9 per session greater than the $750 offered by the gaming industry nearly a month ago when talks between the parties broke off.

The games industry is opposed to offering residuals, Fabrick told the Los Angeles Times, because it believes such a concession would open the door to hundreds of other members of video game development teams demanding cuts of their own.

A strike would have tested how much pull voice actors have in the games industry. How much do gamers care who voices their favorite characters? But such a test held wouldn't have happened until 2006. Tammy Schachter, a spokesperson for Electronic Arts, said earlier this week that the voice work for the company's big 2005 games was essentially all done. "Their actions won't impact our plans for the holiday season," she said.

The new agreement, set to run until December 21, 2008, should hold off any questions about the voice actors' collective importance to gamers for a while longer.

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