New deal brings the voice actors' union strike to a (tentative) end

On Saturday both sides reached a deal that brings the strike to a (tentative) end, though it does not include the royalty payments voice actors were pushing for.

Nearly a year after the U.S. screen actors guild SAG-AFTRA declared a strike against a number of video game companies in the name of signing a better contract, both sides have announced they've reached a strike-ending agreement.

This is a big deal because the strike has affected the game industry significantly, bringing hundreds of protestors to picket outside of game companies and fouling up voice acting arrangements for games like Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

Perhaps more importantly, it revived important questions about whether or not game industry workers should receive bonus payments based on how well the games they work on sell. 

When the union called the strike last October, one of its chief sticking points was secondary compensation: specifically, the union wanted the video game companies to agree to a contract that would see union talent paid a "reasonable performance bonus" for every 2 million copies a game they worked on sold, up to a maximum of 4 payments if the game sold 8 million or more. 

"What if actors get royalties and the programmers don't? You can imagine what that could trigger," video game composer Tommy Tallarico said in February, after some members of the game industry publicly voiced support or disdain for the notion of game dev workers getting royalty-like payments. "The reality is that it should."

According to statements made by both the union and the 11 video game companies (including Activision, Insomniac, and Electronic Arts) targeted in the strike, the new deal they reached on Saturday does not include any such payments. Rather, it contains "a new bonus structure" which will see union workers receiving bonus payments based on how many sessions they work on a given game, starting at $75 for one session and capping out at $2,100 for ten sessions.

The union also made some progress on its other big complaints, specifically that voice actors deserve more information about what games they're working on and more consideration about the health risks of their work, especially during demanding or high-frequency recording sessions.

SAG-AFTRA chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez stated in a press release that the new deal will require video game companies "to disclose the code name of project, its genre, whether the game is based on previously published intellectual property and whether the performer is reprising a prior role." It will also require that union members be told whether their role will touch on content "of a sexual or violent nature" or require racial slurs, profanity, "unusual terminology", or stunts.

The video game companies also agreed to "continue working" with SAG-AFTRA to deal with the threat of vocal stress caused by voice recording sessions. 

“We want to thank our counterparts at SAG-AFTRA for their efforts to conclude this labor dispute and reach a deal that will bring SAG-AFTRA members back to work on upcoming videogame projects,” stated Scott Witlin, who served as chief negotatior on behalf of the video game companies targeted by the strike.

The union is a bit more hesitant about the whole deal, calling it "tentative" and stating that the new contract will need to be reviewed by the SAG-AFTRA National Board at its meeting next month.

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