Ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike raises fresh questions about game dev unions

"What if actors get royalties and the programmers don't? You can imagine what that could trigger," composer Tommy Tallarico told Motherboard. "The reality is that it should."
"What if actors get royalties and the programmers don't? You can imagine what that could trigger. The reality is that it should."

- Video game composer and performer Tommy Tallarico, speaking to Motherboard.

The U.S. screen actors guild SAG-AFTRA continues to strike against 11 video game companies (including EA, WB Games, and more) in what it says is an effort to secure better working conditions and fairer compensation for the video game voice actors it represents.

Representatives of the companies targeted by the strike have pushed back, stating last year that the strike action was initiated by SAG-AFTRA over a difference of "semantics" rather than substance.  For many game devs, the strike has raised fresh questions about unionization in the game industry, and a feature recently published by Motherboard offers some useful perspective on the issue from both sides of the strike.

The big talking point is SAG-AFTRA's proposed performance bonuses based on game sales -- a set bonus for a performer for every 2 million copies sold, with a cutoff at 8 million sales.

"We have calculated that video game performers are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all the people who work on video games," Sam Singer, a representative for the targeted game companies, told Motherboard. "We can't reward one set of people and not take into account 99 percent of other people who don't have that kind of compensation. It's not fair to the vast majority."

But elsewhere in the article Johanna Weststar, a professor who specializes in labor issues (who has also run surveys in conjunction with the International Game Developers Association) counters that this "it's not fair to everyone" attitude is the general response most employers have when faced with the prospect of dealing with unions, regardles of the industry.

Performers like Tommy Tallarico and Phil LaMarr also crop up in the article, suggesting obliquely (or not so obliquely, as in the quote above) that game devs might take some inspiration from the voice actors' union strike.

"A lot of people are working under the assumption that because actors are asking for something that developers don't get that we think we're better than them," LaMarr told Motherboard. "That's not the case. When my kid asks for a dessert, he's not asking that his sister doesn't get dessert. He's just the first one to ask."

You can and should read the full article, which includes further comments from all of these sources as well as the IGDA's Kate Edwards, over on Motherboard.

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