Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid – the character’s voice artist, David Hayter, has come out in support of striking actors.

Voice actors’ union takes strike action over royalties and safety

Representatives of video-game publishing brand the move self-defeating

After almost two years of negotiations, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has declared a strike against the video game industry.

The organisation, which is the leading labour union in the US for video game voice actors, declared the strike in a statement released late last week.

The union is asking for, among other things, royalty pay and better safety concerns for actors. Unlike film actors, video game voice actors aren't always getting more money if a game sells especially well.

The process of recording voice overs for video games can be physically strenuous. Recording sessions can be long and demanding on a voice actor’s vocal chords, especially if screaming is involved. Plenty of games incorporate performance capture into the process as well, meaning voice actors sometimes have to physically act out their scenes rather than stand in a recording booth. 

The strike is not all-encompassing. According to Polygon , the union represents about 25 per cent of video game voice actors.

The is also only protesting against a select group of major video game companies, including Electronic Arts and Disney. Union members are not to work with these companies on any games that started production after February 17, 2015.

David Hayter, the voice of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid, supports the strike. Photo: Alamy

Some of the more prominent voice actors to publicly support the strike are Jennifer Hale (a prolific actress who was the female protagonist in Mass Effect and many other games) and David Hayter (who voiced Solid Snake in the Metal Gear Solid series).

Hale, who has also performed in World of Warcraft: Legion, reportedly broke down in tears when she spoke of colleagues who are under great financial strain. She described voice actors more as “Hyundai people” than Mercedes people, according to LA Weekly. Some, Hale said, could lose their homes. “There are a lot of people getting squashed,” she said.

Representatives of the video game publishers, on the other hand, have responded negatively to the strike. They’ve called it self-defeating, pointing to the union’s already small membership as being in danger of decreasing.

Prolific voice-over actor Jennifer Hale spoke emotionally of the plight of her struggling colleagues. Photo: AFP

As far as how much of an impact this has on the games industry and consumers, only time will tell.

It’s a reality of labour that there will always be voice actors who are willing to work with the offending game companies during the strike, so it might be unlikely that development will be significantly hindered for any game right now.

Widespread consumer backlash might put pressure on game companies to accept new contract terms, but video game voice actors aren't as widely recognised by the average consumer as film actors. It’s possible players might not even notice anything is different.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Voice actors strike over game royalties, safety