For a time, indescribably horrific voice acting was a hallmark of video games. However, with the game industry now pulling in nearly $18 billion a year in the US alone, publishers and developers have learned that it takes some solid investment in talented people to make the voice acting in video games not only professional but enjoyable from a gamer’s point of view.
Renowned actors as Sir Ian McKellen, Liam Neeson, Patrick Stewart, Ron Perlman, Keith David, Samuel L. Jackson, Chow Yun-Fat, and others deliver top-notch vocal performances for audiobooks, film narration and video games, a trend that sees no stop to celebrity voice acting any time soon.
So how much are these actors being paid to lend their real-world pipes to virtual heroes? According to Screen Actors Guild rules, union voice actors can expect to be paid $760 for one four-hour recording session.
That’s just the fee for a professional voice actor with union status.
Now, if you were to talk celebrity voice talent, that figure increases exponentially. Speaking to Reuters, Blindlight production company general manager Lev Chapelsky said that some stars have demanded $750,000 for an hour’s worth of work, and one voice actor actually received $500,000 for a single session. Chapelsky told Reuters that top talent commonly receives “in the high five figures for a single session.”
Videogames have helped resuscitate the careers of many film and television actors, whose distinctive voices can make them a hot commodity in the game world even as their status in Hollywood fades.
Many once-familiar actors have carved out second careers as video-game characters.
Videogamers, will more likely recognize Keith David for his role as the Arbiter, the deep-voiced alien “co-star” in Microsoft’s best-selling “Halo” videogames.
Marty O’Donnell, audio director at Bungie Studios, which created “Halo”, said he stumbled across David’s distinctive voice when listening to a documentary the actor was narrating, and knew he was perfect for the Arbiter.
O’Donnell sees celebrities are a boon for the gaming industry, because there are a lot of great actors out there not currently working on the latest triple-A film.”
Roughly 1,200 to 1,500 lines of dialogue per character are recorded for story-driven games. “Halo 3” had more than 35,000 total lines of dialogue, according to O’Donnell.
With blockbusters like Halo 3, it’s clear that residuals in games will be a major bargaining issue in upcoming SAG negotiations.
Residuals are payments to actors for subsequent showings of their work, such as when a movie is shown on TV.
Currently, voice actors don’t get residuals for games, and it’s an issue that echoes the complaints of Hollywood’s striking writers that they should be paid more for digital distribution of their works.
Photo: REUTERS/Phil McCarten