Are video game voice actors a bunch of whiners or is there justice to be served?
Read about the state of pay in video game voice acting and hear from one very vocal talent, Michael Hollick, star of Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV), voice of Niko Bellic.
Grand Theft Stealing from Voice Actors?
Grand Theft Auto IV has received nothing but fantastic press and reviews thus far, however, the tables have turned of late and the spotlight has shifted from the gaming experience to the voices who give life to the characters who notably play an integral role in the success of the video game.
Many believe the voice acting to be entertaining and of high calibre… that’s not up for debate.
While the voice actors are being praised for their talent, they have failed miserably in the money department to reap any financial rewards from the video game’s gross sales starting with the $500 million GTA IV made in its first week on the market. According to today’s stats, that number is now over $600 million.
Star of Grand Theft Auto IV Speaks Out
Voice actor Michael Hollick, who provided the voice of the lead role Niko Bellic, was paid $100,000.00 for his work over the fifteen month period that he worked on the game.
While it may seem like a lot of money to the majority of people under the sun, it’s peanuts according to those who have seen their work used without further compensation in promos, commercials and via new media applications such as the internet and podcasts.
Recently, Michael was interviewed for an article in the New York Times. When asked about his feelings with regard to the compensation he received for voicing Niko Bellic, he said:
“Obviously I’m incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity,” Mr. Hollick, 35, said last week over dinner in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after performing in the aerial theater show “Fuerzabruta” in Union Square. “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it. I don’t blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it’s the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.”
If you were to tally the unpaid usage at fair market prices (or union scale), you’re looking at potentially millions of dollars of lost income and revenue per project for those whose work is being exhibited in order to increase the bottom line of the gaming companies.
Hollick went on to say:
“For instance, our contracts say nothing about the use of voices for promotional purposes over the Internet,” Mr. Hollick said. “The first G.T.A. IV trailer generated something like 40 million hits online, and that’s my voice all over it, and I get nothing. If that were a radio spot, I would have. Same thing for the TV ads. I recorded those lines for the game, but now they’re all over television. It’s another gray area.”
What most people outside of the entertainment industry don’t know is that in other forms of media celebrities and working union talent are paid residuals for their commercial work. Every time the piece of work they were part of airs, it begins a 13-week cycle of residual payments, a very attractive and self-sustaining means of income for thousands of actors and voice actors.
This is where things get a little bit messy.
Because video games fall under the umbrella of New Media, voice actors who lend their pipes to video games gain only what they are paid for the time spent recording voice overs in the studio via session fees, missing out on coveted residual payments.
Union scale for a session fee is $760 for four hours of work.
Payment varies based upon the number of roles they are portraying and subsequent number of lines that their character(s) voice (dialogue in cut scenes, exertion sounds, etc.). The voice actor only spends as much time as necessary completing their video game voice acting gig and sees not a penny more or less than the standard session fees.
New Media has been a thorn in the side of unions ever since it came into being, starting with DVDs, the internet, podcasts and mobile devices such as cell phones.
No one can seem to figure out how to make anything other than a buyout work with this creature and some have even gone on strike because of it.
Remember the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike? How about when the Canadian union ACTRA went on strike in 2007?
Jumping ahead, how about the potential strike SAG will face over the same issue? It’s not just over higher fees in general, they’re talking New Media and finding a way to capitalize on it.
Is this a battle that will be won around a bargaining table?
Will voice actors ever see residuals for their work in video games?
Tell me what you think and let the debate begin!