Electronic Arts in Playa Vista
Electronic Arts in Playa Vista

Video Game Voice Actors Make $800 a Day, but They Want More

The median individual income in Los Angeles is $27,987. That's not even enough to cover the rent of a midrange two-bedroom apartment.

L.A., however, is a town of haves and have-nots. "The average annual wage in the entertainment industry was $117,000" as far back as 2011, according to the L.A. Economic Development Corporation. Hollywood's a planet apart from Los Angeles.

So, of course, voice actors are on strike against video game companies, largely based here, over their measly pay — about $825 for a four-hour session of work. You could barely eat — first at Whole Foods, then at Mozza and finally at Providence — for that kind of cash.

(UPDATE, OCT. 28: Voice actors explain that their work isn't as lucrative as that dollar figure would have you believe.)

The latest salvo in the battle between the game makers and actors, represented by the SAG-AFTRA union, came this week, when the video game firms claimed they made an offer that "met and mirrored the union's demands in practically every manner," according to Sam Singer, a spokesman for the gaming companies.

"These proposals exchanged across the table prove the companies and SAG-AFTRA have largely agreed on the significant issues before us except for the label we have placed on the ‘additional compensation,’ which would be paid above and beyond our proposed 9 percent pay increase,” said Scott J. Witlin of the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, the chief negotiator for the gaming firms. "The documents also demonstrate that the companies value performers and reached agreement with the union on the issue of vocal stress."

Singer said the actors were offered an immediate 9 percent raise as well as an additional $950 for "up to eight sessions" of work on a single title, he said. "Not every video game is successful," Singer said. "Wouldn't you rather have money up front?"

Still, it appears the voice actors are holding out for residual compensation, a fact of life for film and television actors but not for vocal-only talent. The union also wants the producers to reveal the titles of the games, some of them blockbusters, that actors are otherwise blindly voicing. The game makers have kept the titles secret out of competitive concerns.

Voice actor Jennifer Hale of World of Warcraft and Halo fame told National Public Radio that health on the job was also an issue. "Let me hear the sound you'd make if you were slashed in half by a sword," she said. "How about if you're struck in the heart by a bullet? How does your throat feel? ... I have friends who have had to have surgery because of the vocal stress they incurred in the session, and they've been out of work for months." (Yelling out "Oranges for sale" at the side of a freeway all day is not half as unhealthful.)

She called the game makers' claims that they've met the union's demands "disingenuous and misleading,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Their attempt to characterize their offer to make 'additional compensation' payments at the time of session as equivalent to our 'contingent compensation' proposal is disingenuous and misleading," according to a SAG-AFTRA statement. "These employers know full well that our issue is the creation of secondary payments that allow our members to share in the success of the most successful games. The employers’ offer purposely does not do that."

We reached out to the union for comment but were unable to get anyone on the record.

The strike, which was called Friday, affects voice actors at Electronic Arts, Insomniac Games, Activision, Disney and other companies.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a statistic about the low representation of minorities in SAG-AFTRA; that statistic has been removed, since voice actors comprise a small portion of the union's membership.

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