Starting on July 14, 2023, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) voted to strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The strike has been ongoing and, along with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, has brought Hollywood to a complete standstill. Now, the WGA strike has ended, but SAG-AFTRA has decided to add the videogame industry to its list of industries with which they have complaints.
What is SAG-AFTRA?
The Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is an American labor union that represents approximately 160,000 media professionals worldwide. It was formed on March 30, 2012, following the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG-AFTRA is a member of the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. It is also a member of the International Federation of Actors (FIA).
SAG-AFTRA has a diverse membership consisting of actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, disc jockeys, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other media professionals. Membership in SAG-AFTRA is often procured after getting hired for their first job in a studio that has a collective bargaining agreement with the union. SAG-AFTRA work is considered to be substantially more prestigious than non-union jobs, though that is up for debate.
SAG-AFTRA Hollywood strikes
Following shortly behind the WGA, SAG-AFTRA initiated a strike against AMPTP. This meant that actors could not participate in any productions happening under that expired agreement. Shows like Stranger Things came to a complete halt, whereas previously no new scripts were being produced but filming could continue. The actors guild strike ended any hope of a timely release for many productions.
One of the most contentious points in negotiations has been over the use of AI. In particular, studios are interested in being able to digitize actors, including their voices and their appearance. Actors have been understandably nervous, as the combination of a digitized version of them and the more powerful modern AI technologies, could mean that they could be agreeing to replace themselves with a less expensive version of themselves.
SAG-AFTRA videogame strike
Now, the organization has voted to strike against the videogame industry. The guild and the various videogame companies were incapable of reaching a deal before their previous agreement expired. The guild maintains that they are an essential part of the videogame experience, but there might be some debate over that point.
While the guild was worried about being digitized and replaced by themselves, the likelihood of that happening was low. However, in the videogame industry, the ability to use existing digital voices could prove to be just as easy, or potentially easier, than hiring voice actors for their characters. And, if the videogame industry were to invest a little money into the technology, it could get even better.
Therefore, this strike could backfire on the guild. It could drive the studios to investigate the effectiveness of AI voices to continue development of their games. If they discover that it is as good or better than voice actors, they might tell the guild their services are no longer needed. Now, some games will always need and use proper voice actors, However, for many productions, digital voices could get the job done. We'll have to see how negotiations proceed.