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SAG-AFTRA Says Dual Strikes Against Video Games & Film/TV Industry “Makes Sense” As Key Issues Of Wages & AI “Mirror” Each Other

With SAG-AFTRA members already on strike against films and TV shows and voting now underway to authorize a separate strike against the video game industry, the guild’s leaders are saying that a dual strike, if it comes to that, “makes sense” because the issues at stake in both contracts “mirror” each other.

“These are largely the same fight over the same issues, and members are stronger together,” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in their latest message to the guild’s members. “By standing shoulder to shoulder and in solidarity, we multiply our strength and send a clear and unmistakable message to all of our employers: We will not be exploited. Without fair terms that protect our members and respect their contributions, employers should not have the benefit of our members’ services.”

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SAG-AFTRA has been on strike against film and scripted TV productions since July 14, and voting to authorize a strike against 10 major video game companies signed to the guild’s Interactive Media Agreement (IMA) began Tuesday. The guild’s first and only strike against the gaming companies lasted 183 days in 2016-17.

“Though the issues affecting performers who work in video games mirror those issues affecting TV/Theatrical performers, the Interactive Media Agreement negotiations with the video game companies don’t affect the timing or expected progress of negotiations or our strike on the TV/Theatrical contracts,” Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland said in their message to members. “A strike authorization vote on this agreement will not impact the TV/Theatrical strike.”

Two of the main sticking points in the ongoing film and TV strike – wages and artificial intelligence – are also common to the threatened strike against the gaming companies. “With Interactive Media Agreement negotiations, the first two sticking points, in particular, should sound familiar,” the guild leaders said.

With respect to wages, the guild is seeking the same pay raise under both contracts – 11% in the first year and 4% in the second and third years. “This is what is necessary for our members’ wages to keep up with inflation,” they said. “You should not have to take a real dollar pay cut to subsidize the bottom lines of companies making billions in profits by selling your work.”

Last year, the 10 companies signed to the guild’s video game contract “generated over $19 billion in global revenue, yet these employers are also echoing the position of our film and television employers when it comes to wages,” Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland said. “They believe that the best way to deal with inflation is to make their workers poorer while they increase the price of their product. Under the employers’ wage offer – 5% increase effective upon ratification, another 4% increase in the second year and a 3% increase in the third year – our members will likely be making less in real dollars in 2025, at the conclusion of this contract term, than they were in 2020. This is unacceptable.”

With respect to artificial intelligence, the guild leaders said: “Unregulated use of AI poses an equal or even greater threat to performers in the video game industry than it does in film and television. A great deal of our members’ work in this space is voiceover, and the capacity to cheaply and easily create convincing digital replicas of performer voices is already here and widely available. You can find the tools to do it yourself with a simple Google search. Without protections, not only will this be the future of how voices are recorded for video game characters, but your own voice recordings will be used to train the AI systems that replace you.

“Work under the Interactive Media Agreement also includes a great deal of performance capture, where trained professionals, many of whom are stunt performers, provide digitally captured performances used to give expressive movement to video game characters. This work can also be replicated through AI. Without protective contract language, your face, your expressions and your signature moves can become the basis for an unlimited number of characters across an unlimited number of games without your involvement or even knowledge. What career does that leave for you?”

The guild, they said, “is fighting for protective language on AI that will require informed consent and appropriate payment for the creation and use of digital replicas and for the use of our members’ performances to train AI systems. These vital protections are not only righteous and fair – after all, who besides you should own your voice and image? – but necessary to counter the existential threat to member work posed by the unregulated use of AI.”

Safety is another key issue in the video game contract, which guild leaders say “does not provide rest periods for on-camera performers. Our committee is fighting to get our on-camera performers the same five-minutes-per-hour rest period that off-camera performers are entitled to. We need a set medic present when stunts or hazardous work is performed, just like on a film or television set, but that’s not currently provided for in the IMA. Employers should be prohibited from requesting performers to do stunts on self-taped auditions. Right now, the IMA doesn’t address self-taped auditions at all.”

Audrey Cooling, a spokesperson for the video game companies, said: “We all want a fair contract that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA-represented performers in an industry that delivers world-class entertainment to billions of players around the world. We are negotiating in good faith and hope to reach a mutually beneficial deal as soon as possible.”

“It’s been nearly a year since the guild began bargaining for a new video game contract, during which time the two sides have held five separate multiday bargaining sessions.

“Despite these efforts, the companies have failed to address our members’ needs,” Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland told their members. “We have additional bargaining dates set for the end of September, and our negotiating committee and national board unanimously agree that our negotiating committee should have a member-approved strike authorization in hand when bargaining resumes. We urge you to vote ‘Yes’ to authorize a strike should it prove necessary. Given the issues at stake, if we don’t empower ourselves now, there may be no contract left to fight for in the future.”

The guild’s FAQ page notes that “a no vote tells employers that they do not have to make a fair deal in order to keep our members working. Without the threat of a work stoppage, management has no incentive to offer the wage increases, AI protections and other terms that our members need.”

Voting on the strike authorization, which gives the guild’s National Board the authority to declare a strike if bargaining fails to produce a fair deal, will end September 25.

Here is today’s SAG-AFTRA missive in full:

It has been nearly a year since we began bargaining in connection with our video game contract, the Interactive Media Agreement (IMA). Since that time, SAG-AFTRA has held five separate multiday bargaining sessions with an industry bargaining group consisting of signatory video game companies:

  • Activision Productions Inc

  • Blindlight LLC

  • Disney Character Voices Inc.

  • Electronic Arts Productions Inc.

  • Epic Games Inc.

  • Formosa Interactive LLC

  • Insomniac Games Inc.

  • Take 2 Productions Inc.

  • VoiceWorks Productions Inc.

  • WB Games Inc.

Despite these efforts, the companies have failed to address our members’ needs. The main sticking points are artificial intelligence (AI), wages and safety.

We have additional bargaining dates set for the end of September, and our negotiating committee and national board unanimously agree that our negotiating committee should have a member-approved strike authorization in hand when bargaining resumes. We urge you to vote YES to empower our committee to fight for you on these existential issues.

Though the issues affecting performers who work in video games mirror those issues affecting TV/Theatrical performers, the Interactive Media Agreement negotiations with the video game companies don’t affect the timing or expected progress of negotiations or our strike on the TV/Theatrical contracts. A strike authorization vote on this agreement will not impact the TV/Theatrical strike.

With Interactive Media Agreement negotiations, the first two sticking points, in particular, should sound familiar.

Unregulated use of AI poses an equal or even greater threat to performers in the video game industry than it does in film and television. A great deal of our members’ work in this space is voiceover, and the capacity to cheaply and easily create convincing digital replicas of performer voices is already here and widely available. You can find the tools to do it yourself with a simple Google search. Without protections, not only will this be the future of how voices are recorded for video game characters, but your own voice recordings will be used to train the AI systems that replace you.

Work under the Interactive Media Agreement also includes a great deal of performance capture, where trained professionals, many of whom are stunt performers, provide digitally captured performances used to give expressive movement to video game characters. This work can also be replicated through AI. Without protective contract language, your face, your expressions and your signature moves can become the basis for an unlimited number of characters across an unlimited number of games without your involvement or even knowledge. What career does that leave for you?

Our committee is fighting for protective language on AI that will require informed consent and appropriate payment for the creation and use of digital replicas and for the use of our members’ performances to train AI systems. These vital protections are not only righteous and fair — after all, who besides you should own your voice and image? — but necessary to counter the existential threat to member work posed by the unregulated use of AI.

Last year, signatory companies generated over $19 billion in global revenue, yet these employers are also echoing the position of our film and television employers when it comes to wages. Namely, they believe that the best way to deal with inflation is to make their workers poorer while they increase the price of their product. Under the employers’ wage offer — a 5% increase effective upon ratification, another 4% increase in the second year and a 3% increase in the third year — our members will likely be making less in real dollars in 2025, at the conclusion of this contract term, than they were in 2020!

This is unacceptable.

Our committee is fighting for the same wage increases that we are seeking in our film and television contracts: 11% retroactive to expiration of the prior IMA and 4% increases in the second and third years of the agreement. This is what is necessary for our members’ wages to keep up with inflation. You should not have to take a real dollar pay cut to subsidize the bottom lines of companies making billions in profits by selling your work!

Lastly, but certainly not least, there are several key safety protections missing from the IMA. This contract does not provide rest periods for on-camera performers. Our committee is fighting to get our on-camera performers the same five-minutes-per-hour rest period that off-camera performers are entitled to. We need a set medic present when stunts or hazardous work is performed, just like on a film or television set, but that’s not currently provided for in the IMA. Employers should be prohibited from requesting performers to do stunts on self-taped auditions. Right now, the IMA doesn’t address self-taped auditions at all.

Should it prove necessary to strike the IMA, we believe that striking at the same time that we are striking our film and television contracts makes sense. These are largely the same fight over the same issues, and members are stronger together. By standing shoulder to shoulder and in solidarity, we multiply our strength and send a clear and unmistakable message to all of our employers: We will not be exploited. Without fair terms that protect our members and respect their contributions, employers should not have the benefit of our members’ services.

We urge you to vote YES to authorize a strike should it prove necessary. Given the issues at stake, if we don’t empower ourselves now, there may be no contract left to fight for in the future.

Postcards mailed to eligible voters today, Tuesday, Sept. 5, with instructions on how to vote online at vote.ivsballot.com/interactive2023. Voting will close at 5 p.m. PT on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

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