On Other People

Breathing Life

I remember playing video games back in the day.

Sure, there were good experiences, lots of shinies — for the time — and new experiences to be uncovered.  One of those experiences was — excitement! — computers began to have the horsepower for decent sound.  Digitised voices, and then movies, made their way into video games.

This was not good.

Well, it wasn’t universally good.  You’d maybe get the intern on deck, doing God’s work at a developer, voicing a key role.  Or someone’s uncle, or child, or whatever.  These were the voices that started to get into games, and not all of it was sex and candy, you know?  As games got bigger, and turned into more robust products, we started to see some pretty impressive talent come to voice the stories we love.  Nolan North, of course.  His brother from another mother, Troy Baker, whose work in The Last of Us was amazing.  Jennifer Hale, and Jen Taylor.

Turns out, these kids want to be paid.  Existing contracts don’t give them huge money, and so they’ve formed themselves a bit of an alliance – and are now looking at a strike to get what they want.

A curious part of this seems to be the dialogue that says that games are not purchased because these specific actors are in them – they’re not, for example, Tom Cruise.  I’ve got a couple problems with this.

  1. I definitely look out for voice actors I recognise.  Sure, it’s not Hollywood, but it’s still a field I know and care about.  Games are of increasing attach with society as a popular medium, and that grows the awareness of people in them.  I get that I might be slightly unusual, but I think that’s changing.
  2. Regardless of the names, the quality of their work drives the experiences we play.  The Last of Us would not have been the same with some developer’s brother’s cousin doing the voice acting.

IANAL, which should be fairly clear, but the rank myopia of the arguments makes no sense.  These people contribute to the great success of multi-million dollar projects; shouldn’t they get recognised, much as composers, or other artists in the work?  I can see that it would drive more people into voice acting, which would increase the pool – and likely quality – of the talent.  Isn’t that a good thing?  I get that for a bean counter sitting inside Activision on a chair made of C-notes it’s hard to draw a direct line of sight in your business case, but balanced scorecards exist for a reason.

Also, it’d be nice to do things because it’s fair and right.

If it was up to me, yeah, I’d support negotiations around increasing their share of the take.

8 thoughts on “Breathing Life

    1. Yeah see that’s the kind of shit that pisses me off too. IMO, refusal to even have a conversation is just being a dick about it, money aside. I remember reading about how in some of the sessions between Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, they had broken down in tears because, well, it’s hard as nuts stuff.
      Seems fair to me that you might want a break after that – maybe like if you’re operating heavy machinery you can only do that for so long without a rest. Whether it’s two hours or whatever isn’t the factor *yet* – it’s whether they can start negotiating.

  1. You should write Nolan North fan mail.

    But on the issue at hand, i think it will ultimately backfire for the union. It’s very easy work to move offshore, especially as recording studios are built in other countries as the TV and Movie industries continue to move out of the US.

      1. I wasn’t thinking Asia, more Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. There are plenty of actors from those countries who can do perfectly good American accents.

        1. And those are all countries with better labour laws than the US, and pretty good economies too… I’m not sure that’s the gangbuster solve that the publishers would want.

          1. It’s not just about the labour laws, it’s about tax schemes and intellectual property approaches. As far as I can tell there is an accumulation of voice actors in Los Angeles simply because the actors have moved there to try and break into the film industry. So it’s been easier to dip into that pool for games. If this stops being easy then the market will go elsewhere. If the existing film tax credit schemes get extended to games then it becomes even more likely.

          2. From Wil Wheaton’s post, this is totally about labour conditions. There’s a financial element to be sure, but the reason for the proposed strike is also about working conditions.

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