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Voice actors' union demands better working conditions in new low-budget contract

U.S. screen actors guild SAG-AFTRA is attempting to negotiate low-cost agreements for video game productions with budgets of under $250,000.

U.S. screen actors guild SAG-AFTRA is attempting to negotiate low-cost agreements for video game productions with budgets of under $250,000. 

According to SAG-AFTRA, the new arrangement comes after games industry producers and actors requested a contract that allows indies on a limited budget to create games using union talent. 

The guild has whipped up a new contract with that in mind, and notably for voice performers, has attempted to time-cap "vocally stressful sessions" and improve overall working conditions. 

As part of the new "promulgated" agreement, those demanding sessions would last no longer than two hours, and would require voice actors to be paid twice as much. For context, the contract sets standard voice over rates at $825.50 for four hours. 

The new contract is also designed to secure sales-based compensation for voice actors, and states that "each performer […] shall be entitled to a Secondary Full Scale Payment for each 500,000 units sold or unique subscribers (when games are not sold by units)."

SAG-AFTRA has long been at odds with the video game industry over its treatment of voice actors, and earlier this year requested that the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health open an investigation into the workplace conditions of video game voice acting. 

In an open letter to the division, SAG-AFTRA's national executive director, David White, suggested actors were being knowingly overworked by employers. 

"Employers often know the vocal content and the extent of the vocal stress prior to a session," wrote White. "Still, they often deny this information to the actor. Members have also reported that employers will continue to push actors in a vocally stressful session, even though there are audible signs of vocal distress."

While the new contract looks to address those issues, there's no knowing how many game creators, if any, will sign it.

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