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Voice Acting and Game Development

A recent article in the L.A. Times dealt with voice actors in games and their working conditions. Having spent a lot of time in the studio, I wanted to point out a few errors in the article and present the game developer's point of view.

Jeff Spock, Blogger

December 8, 2009

3 Min Read

The original article is here:

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-actors7-2009dec07,0,6235255,full.story

As I've written over dozen games and always been in the voice studio when the actors recorded their lines, I do have some knowledge of this.

The article says: "The concern going forward is that as these games become larger and larger and generate more income, we as actors won't see any more money when we walk out the door..."

I say: That's true, you won't. The quote is from Dave Wittenberg, a very talented actor that I have had the good fortune to work with. But I still don't agree with him. The fact is that the structures of the two industries are completely different.  GAMES ARE NOT MOVIES.

Games are software development projects, and the SAG seems to be pathologically incapable of understanding this. Movies are created by loosely federated groups of specialists who get together, make the movie, and disband. The people involved in the effort, from writers to electricians to actors, are represented by unions who ensure that they are treated fairly and receive downstream rights and revenues. This makes sense.

Games, however, are created by salaried employees working for studios. The revenue and profit sharing are completely different--again, like software companies. It is hard to argue that the actors, with their minimal parts in the overall game creation, should have more lucrative contracts than the game's designers and programmers.

The article says: "Before, you were doing three characters dying a horrible death. Now you're doing 20 characters dying a horrible death..."

I say: Crap.  No Dialog Director with a functioning brain makes an actor do "20 characters dying a horrible death." I don't know who invented that number, but in my thirty or so total days in the studio the most I have seen is an actor do is four characters.

In addition, asking a voice actor to do more than three voices is asking for trouble. There are some unusual voice talents who can do half a dozen and keep them distinct and differentiated, but they are so rare as to be almost non-existent. This statement is hyperbole, and did not help the article's credibility.

The article says: "...in the future, game makers will capture the facial expressions of actors for the eye and mouth movements of the animated characters whose voices they provide." This is an argument, for the reporter, indicating that actors should therefore be paid more.

I say: The reporter knows nothing about the industry they are covering; we have been doing this in games for several years. It's another ding to the article's legitimacy. Furthermore, it does not change one iota the fact that it still represents an infinitesimal part of the development cost in an industry that has a completely different structure from film and TV.

There were of course some valid points in the article. I agree that the actors should get a high daily rate, simply because they are doing freelance work and there are no residuals. It is also true that games are moving to a more cinematic style of storytelling, which will require more and better use of skilled actors.

But I feel that the reporter did a poor job of verifying their facts, and seemed more interested in presenting the plight of the actors than actually trying to figure out what the realities of game development are, and why the two sides disagree.

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