Video game voice actors and big studios tentatively ink deal to end 11-month strike

Almost a year ago, SAG-AFTRA issued a strike against a round of video game companies following a year and a half of failing negotiation on behalf of the voice actors in our games. Activision, Electronic Arts, Disney, and WB Games were just some of the largest studios selected as targets for the strike, which was at least ostensibly focused on better working conditions and proper compensation, in particular for residual bonuses based on the sales of a title. It got pretty dirty along the way as game companies launched a deceptive spoof guild website intended to confuse actors and acclaimed actors like Jennifer Hale called studios’ obstinance a “war on the middle class.”

Now it appears that strike will finally come to an end, as multiple sites report that SAG-AFTRA and the 11 companies have reached a tentative agreement as of last weekend. It still has yet to be reviewed and signed, but it’s looking likely, as the actors got most of what they wanted, including proper medical care, transparency about the nature of the roles they were being asked to take (if not about the games themselves), and a secondary payment structure based on the number of sessions worked for a game – not based on sales, as originally demanded.

According to Polygon, it was the longest strike in the history of the 84-year-old guild.

Source: Polygon, SAG press release
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PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

11 months? Damn, nearly forgot about that. And the Guild won I guess, that’s something you don’t see every day.

If this lasted any longer, I wonder if there be alot more games that would’ve been affected.

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Fenna

they haven’t won to be honest the companies have won. they wanted royalties and didn’t get it they got increase money based on # of sessions they work. which imho is a major win for software industry

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Armsman

Hate to say this but (seriously) – There was a strike? Because with all the VOand full Cutscenes in new and existing games that came out over these last 11 months, it didn’t seem like it.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

Exactly what I’ve been thinking. The games still got done and voice over was still in them, I didn’t see much of a change in quality one way or another. I didn’t even really notice. I mean I heard about it in news on these sites when it was first reported on, but I had forgot about it and really very little was seen on the consumer side to be different.

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zeko_rena

Abort abort!

styopa
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styopa

OK Melissa’s comment about 401k’s prompted me to RTFA.

Not sure how you assert “the actors got most of what they wanted”?

1) PRIMARY on the actors’ list was secondary payments, so they could get a bite of the massive sales of games like GTA5. They GOT NOTHING. They claim they “did get secondary payments”…it’s based on the number of sessions of recording it takes. That’s not a residual, nor anything CLOSE to a residual. It’s from $75-$2100? LOL, that’s ‘lost in the couch’ money.

2) medical coverage and voice stress: “an employer commitment to continue working with SAG-AFTRA on the issue” = means pretty much nothing.

3) they claim a big issue is transparency – voice actors were apparently being hired more or less blind, without the name of the project, nor the type of voice acting required to be divulged ahead of time. (I’m an employer – that’s just crappy negotiating. Who would take a job where they hired you to “work” without defining what the character of that work was? DESPERATE PEOPLE, that’s who…you know what you pay desperate people? Very little.). The new disclosure rules require: code name of project, its genre, whether the game is based on previously published intellectual property and whether the performer is reprising a prior role as well as releases about unusual terminology, profanity or racial slurs, whether there will be content of a sexual or violent nature and whether stunts will be required – isn’t much of a concession.
They still won’t know if they’re working on GTA6. “Project Aardvark, it’s a sequel, and yes there will be R-rated language” tells you what, again?

4) they claim it’s a win because the studios didn’t get their relatively ridiculous counter demands. The strike was by the actors, HINT: the counter-demands were never a big deal anyway. They were negotiating counter-proposals meant to be thrown away.

This announcement is the UNION PUBLIC RELATIONS trying desperately to spin a general loss into a win. How did Massively OP mischaracterize this as a “win” for voice actors? They got nearly nothing they wanted except some throwaway bargaining points.

@Melissa McDonald – I didn’t see anything anywhere in general coverage about 401ks?

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birini

Nice work. This makes infinitely more sense. You’re right, it doesn’t look like they got much of anything.

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Armsbend

Reading your take makes it defo seem like a huge loss. Especially number 2. Number 2 sounds like the opposite of a win. Lower than a loss.

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Ket Viliano

TYVM for research and reporting.

PS: A duck-duck search for : “401k department of labor” turned up the following:

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-dol-fee-disclosure/department-of-labor-unveils-401-fee-rules-idUSTRE66E78Y20100715

Will a Department of Labor 401k audit cost you?

Department of Labor Regulating Your 401K April 16th, 2017

Turns out 401k rule enforcement is partly IRS, and partly DOL, so I guess this sort of thing is to be expected in some way.

styopa
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styopa

OK my misunderstanding, I thought she was talking about something in the context of THIS agreement that meant they had to have 401k’s managed by government.

What you’re talking about has been floating around since what, the 1990s when someone said “hey, if we just drag all that money under Federal control, look how much more control we’ll have over the market…” – it evaporated in the white-hot light of the dot.com bubble but it’s been sitting there, lurking, ever since.

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Melissa McDonald

Everybody deserves reasonable wage and benefits, sure. But in the entertainment industry, there are a thousand (if not a hundred thousand!) people waiting to take your job if you decide you’re not happy with it. A real market correction would have simply picked new voice actors, of which there are undoubtedly many, who were willing and ready to do the roles.

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Armsbend

Lucky for you Melissa – you can watch your theory fail in this very article. They had 11 months to replace the VAs and it didn’t happen. So much for theories! They can’t all work out.

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Melissa McDonald

Just says to me the “voice acting” business in video games is really small. Or they got replaced and you didn’t notice :)

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Sray

Given the turnaround in game development, it would take a two year long strike for voice actors before most games would be affected to the point of consumers taking notice. Noting that major games of the last year have been unaffected doesn’t really mean anything because of that turnaround time.

Some studios with low turnaround time like Telltale Games pretty much agreed to the new deal back in November, which is why their games seem to have been unaffected. Some major titles have been hit: Ashly Burch (or any of the original cast) did not return for Life is Strange: Before the Storm because of the strike: the entire cast was replaced with non-union actors (and it shows often).

I’m on the side of the VA’s really, but Melissa is not entirely wrong that studios could have just replaced them.

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Armsbend

Well after reading styopa’s run down it looks like the studios didn’t really give any concessions away. So they won more or less.

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Duey Bear

Had they gotten bonuses based on sales, I can assure you, we would see a “retro-renaissance” of games without voice acting for US developed studios. Voice acting does not sell games, gameplay does, voice acting is only the cherry on top. I do like that they received increases based on the number of sessions though, that seems fair. As it is with the current agreement, I suspect there will be fewer domestic studios seeking to do business with SAG.

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Ket Viliano

The only group of people more asinine than the mega-corps, are the unions and their lawyers.

Let a pox be inflicted upon both their houses!

>>>casts spell<<<
/curse

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Ashfyn Ninegold

SAG-AFTRA isn’t a wing of SAG. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) merged a few years back to become SAG-AFTRA. In the past, AFTRA would have been the union that voice artists belonged to but now it is all one union, so voice artists are members of SAG-AFTRA.

It used to be if you did television or radio you belonged to AFTRA. If you did movies you belonged to SAG. If you did both, you needed membership in both unions. Now there’s just the one for all entertainers working in media. Stage actors have their own union, Equity.

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Raimo Kangasniemi

The voice actors deserved a better deal and good that they seem to have gotten most of what they asked – but pity the bonuses didn’t go through.

styopa
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styopa

You’re right, because I would have loved to pay more for video games.
The fact is that voice acting, while a talent, has taken a competitive hit from the internet. Now it’s just as easy to hire/use someone in Birmingham UK as it is to hire someone physically in Los Angeles. Production equipment has gotten so good and cheap, it’s easy to find a studio nearby pretty much anywhere.

The fact is, a broad opening of a market formerly geographically constrained SHOULD result in a reduction of wages, courtesy of Adam Smith (or Bastiat, depending on who you prefer). Unions desperately trying to hold on to boutique privileges formerly protected by geography or capital costs only remind me of one thing:
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ok two things:
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Dystopiq

First of all you’re paying well below the cost for video games. They’re one of the few things that have not gone up with inflation.

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Armsbend

That makes no sense at all friend. If you were paying below cost then they make a negative number.

That’s was a disinformation move by the industry that was to justify the $10 hike during the 360/PS3 era. They commonly touted out the crazy high costs for production in new IPs. 10s of millions of dollars!

But what they neglected to publicize were the games that came out the next five years. Basically reskinned from that first IP – at a minute fraction of the original’s cost. If you have a hit and can make sequels – the money is huge.

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birini

Impossible to be paying well below cost on video games. EA and ActiBlizzard would be out of business not multi-billion dollar corporations.

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Dystopiq

Nope. If it’s too pricey people won’t buy it. Video games have not kept up with inflation.

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birini

You’re assuming constant costs when in fact many video game costs may rise less quickly than inflation as a whole. (And in fact measuring inflation in the computer era is an exercise in futility.) Also, how would games be “too pricey” if their prices simply went up with inflation? The price and quantity are the result of a complicated interrelation between supply and demand, but even if prices went up due to an increase in costs, people would buy the games, just fewer of them. (Maybe a lot fewer if demand is particularly elastic.)

Having said all of that, this is literally true, if a company lost money on every product it sold it would go out of business. Certainly it would not be turning out the level of profits the big video game companies are (without all involved going to prison).

styopa
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styopa

Nobody is worth more than what they can replace you for. If they can get someone to do as good a job as Jennifer Hale for less, they can/should replace her. Or if her voice talent isn’t considered that important to the product, that’s a commercial decision by the producers.

Anything that perverts that is distorting the market and ultimately causing inefficiencies that cost consumers more.

If you think it’s “ActiBlizz and EA and Disney” that are ultimately going to be eating the cost of the increase, I have a bridge to sell you.

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birini

This is a real issue for the studios — they’re going to have to deal with the people who actually make the games wanting more, too. That’s inevitably going to drive up costs. Which drives up prices. I’m surprised the studios didn’t go back to the old days of having developers record the voices.

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Vexia

Oh dear. Now they’ll have to provide for their employees who work inhumanly exhausting crunch hours, get strung along on repeated temp contracts, and have few or no benefits. How droll. Best shuffle the cost to the consumer so as to afford a bigger yacht for Jr.’s seventh birthday between trips to the Alps.

Uncle_Pennybags.png
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birini

Good populist line, and, yes, corporate pay is crazy at points — lousy SEC rules. But the majority of profits — the GRAND majority of profits — go to the investors. EA stock currently costs about $100. Their earnings per share is $2. So for giving up $100 today, you get the right to earn $2 a year. But even that’s unfair because there is no dividend which means the $2 is invested back into the company. So people are giving up $100 today for earnings somewhere off in the future. And those earnings are the only thing that encourages investment and drives the economy. And without investment, the economy goes to hell.

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Utakata

And I thought…

“Salaries up 10%
Sales down 15%.

Yay, unions!”

…was a good populist line. o.O

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birini

You’re free to ignore the laws of economics. You’re also free to ignore the laws of gravity. The result is likely to be equally awful in both cases.

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Utakata

You know, I am likely no more or less an “expert” on the economy than you are. I have my own theories that tend to lend to regulation and redistribution end of the spectrum of course. (Read: The color of the shirt I wear is also pink. <3 ) By like with all politics, economics has menagerie of theories and ideologies to which some claim to being as absolute. Until overwhelming evidence comes along to explain it all a way, I tend to be careful what I say as I don't want to get too comfortable in that armchair. Just saying. :)

Meanwhile the voice actor labor dispute that has been settled is likely a good thing in the long term. As testy employees is never really good for business I reckon.

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birini

This is really the issue with the Internet. So many people talking that expertise can be discounted. In reply to your jab, though, I have a doctorate in economics from a top 50 research university. So I think by almost any definition that makes me an expert.

In terms of your other claims, there are lots of economists — including me — that are concerned with inequality and redistribution. It’s a serious problem and requires serious consideration. Having said that, there is simply no economist that I know of — including Paul Krugman in his best selling undergrad textbook — who would argue that an increase in costs doesn’t, necessarily, pass through to consumers as higher prices.

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Vexia

The point being that while, sure, economists taking an interest in inequality is a comforting thought, it does little to change the fact that said inequality is still growing while worker protections and income earned have not evolved with the times. The system has been made so that “naturally” opposes a good return on investment to what’s good for human beings. The populist approach represents those who, in instances of corporate belt tightening, find that the belt is fastened around their neck. Excuse me, now, for suggesting that the academic world has traditionally been divorced from the day-to-day realities of more vulnerable individuals. Corporations gotta eat, too, I guess.

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Utakata

You are claiming that’s your field of expertise as opposed to being an expert. Commercial art and illustration are my field of expertise, but I am certainly no expert in it. And it certainly doesn’t necessarily make my position or opinion right above anyone else in that area. But you are likely correct in surmising debating stuff on the internet has issues however, as one can never really tell when someone is pulling a leg or a pigtail.

That said, you have not given me any compelling or convincing reason or argument from where I sit this is not a good thing. And it tad reeks of apologetics on behalf of big game developers who would likely keep upping their prices on games regardless.

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Raimo Kangasniemi

They didn’t go back to the old days for the same reason movie studio bosses don’t use friends and relatives to act in movies: The audiences have expectations and many voice actors have real, strong following among gamers and can be a reason in itself to buy a some specific game.

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birini

At what cost? Will they be buying the game if prices increase 40-50% relative to inflation? A $100 cartridge to pay for everyone’s raise?

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Ket Viliano

Half of the people in the USA do not have $500 bux for an emergency, or at all.
One out of three adult male Americans do not have a job.
There is a reason why trading in old games to get a discount on a new one is a thing.
Who is going to buy the games, when half the nation is broke or homeless?

Meanwhile, overseas, the economy is even worse.

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Dystopiq

One out of three adult male Americans do not have a job.

[citation]

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Ket Viliano

Check yer fax, bro.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/LNS11300001

And for unemployment, let’s start here:
http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/unemployment-charts

BLS data is pretty badly skewed, as is most government data, for political reasons. Beware of double seasonal adjustments!

Alternative, private economic data starts with Shadowstats:
http://www.shadowstats.com/

And goes on from there, try Chapwood Index for inflation data:
http://www.chapwoodindex.com/

I left citations out because this is a video gaming blog, not an economics blog.

And, on a more personal note, I see vastly more homeless people on the streets now, than when I was homeless 20 years ago.

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Dystopiq

Shadowstats? The often disproven and debunked Austrian site? C’mon son. Get your bad economics out of here.

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Ket Viliano

You are trying to miss the point: that government unemployment data is highly manipulated, and that all available labor force participation indicates 1 out of 3 American men are not employed.

Again, check the St. Louis Fed.

As for alternative data, I said starts, not ends. Shadowstats largely just reports on the government estimate on what the numbers would be, if the methodology had not been changed. But the methodology was changed, for political reasons, so the govt. numbers cannot be trusted or believed.

Further, Shadowstats is not Austrian at all, that would be:
https://mises.org/
And, being Austrian in philosophy does not make someone automatically wrong on everything, no more so than Marx or Smith, or the oft misquoted Keynes.

It takes a careful mind much duty and labor to sort out correct arguments from propagandistic trash when the subject is economics.

And on another note:

“C’mon son. Get your bad economics out of here.”

I am not your “son”, and ad hominem attacks are against TOS.

Thank you for your kind consideration.

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birini

Honestly, video games are a very minor sector of the economy. If video game prices shoot through the roof, people will simply substitute other forms of entertainment. The industry, as a whole, is suffering from old age and bureaucratization which likely means much slower growth going forward.

The headwinds the economy faces are rooted in a slowdown in productivity growth that occurred in the 1960s. The Internet boom of the ’90s masked the problem and bought us time but now the chickens have come home to roost.

The question is what’s causing it and people will have different answers. My own argument is that over-regulation is finally coming home to roost. Things seem minor when they’re put in place but, the truth is, with the current regulatory environment the Wright Brothers never would have gotten off the ground. Nor would we have had vaccines nearly as early as we did or electric power. Without those products, the efficiencies they brought to production, and the new industries they spawned, productivity would have been significantly slower through the 20th century. Over-regulation has cost us the inventions in the mid-20th century that should be driving growth today. And, as is usual, it’s the people at the bottom of the totem pole taking it on the chin for poor decisions designed to help them.

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Alex Willis

I’m incredibly happy for SAG-AFTRA. I’ve been a member of seven unions in my working career and I understand how exhausting and draining being part of a strike can be. But this was an important recognition for them and I’m extremely pleased it has produced better results. The job force in North America needs to be more assertive, and if that means a resurgence in union activity, so be it.

styopa
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styopa

Salaries up 10%
Sales down 15%.

Yay, unions!

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Utakata

And yay to unsourced numbers! /s

styopa
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Utakata

You said salaries, not prices. There’s actually a difference. And you still haven’t sourced your numbers. o.O

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Melissa McDonald

Oh it goes way deeper than that. Read up on the new rules about 401ks being put under the control of the Department of Labour.

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Utakata

You say that if it where a bad thing. o.O

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Melissa McDonald

Damn right it’s a bad thing. They will decide how much of my saved retirement money I need, and can have. Whilst sitting on it and using it to fund union pensions!

styopa
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styopa

Heaven forbid people control their own money.

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Utakata

No one here is trying controlling their money though, rather taking cuts where it is due. You are free to live your life as a hermit on some remote island if you still have an issue with that. /shrug

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Ket Viliano

Can’t let that happen.
Heaven knows, they might spend it all on video games!
:P

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Utakata

…or the hyperbole for the internet points! :b

styopa
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styopa

Wait, what? Seriously?

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Armsbend

I think the problem Unions have today is we don’t have our scary enemy any longer in the USSR – showing workers better possibilities. I truly believe workers were empowered during the cold war as a method to stem the growing tide of communism.

Once communism was out corporations got back to turning the screws on the workforce again – we are in it right now. It will get worse before it gets better.

anyway, /soapbox off

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Melissa McDonald

Ah, no, Unions were created in USA as a necessity in the 1800s, long before Lenin and Marx. It’s an industrial revolution phenomenon in the West, one that went far beyond the concept of guilds.

Manufacturing jobs were low-paid and often performed in dangerous conditions. That’s what led to the rise of labour unions in USA. Had nothing to do with a non-existent-at-the-time Communist regime.

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Armsbend

Like I said – workers were EMPOWERED during the cold war as a response to the threat of communism. Before that Unions were treated like a largely immigrant plague. i.e. violent Union busting, etc.

I am meaning to say Unions were not accepted until the cold war. They were a non-factor in the 30s due to the fact people just needed work; any work.

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Ket Viliano

Deregulation and globalism kicked off in the late ’70s, under Carter. The USSR was very much around back then, and was no paradise for workers.

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ChaosConstant

“War on the middle class”? In what way does getting paid $200 an hour qualify you as “middle class”?
Honestly, this isn’t too bad. The transparency they’re talking about all sounds like good things (as long as voice actors can be secretive about what they’re working on/in talks for), and a bonus based on the amount of actual work done makes a lot more sense than boxes sold.

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Raimo Kangasniemi

It’s not $200 per hour for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year salary.

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Alex Willis

If you think $200/hr is a lot when you freelance, you’ve obviously never freelanced. Contracts are not 40 hour weeks. They might be 40 hour months, in a good month.

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ChaosConstant

Even at 40 hours a month, that’s still twice what I make in a year for 40 hours a week (granted, I have good employer insurance, but still), and I can’t imagine Jennifer Hale is normally that desperate for contracts. But, as I said below, I was thinking Jennifer Hale was talking about herself, but after I thought about the average voice actor, I can see that this is realistic.

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Utakata

You make it sound like this is a 9-5 job they do everyday. I wasn’t aware that voice acting was so prolific in the industry to be entirely supportive and sustainable that way…as opposed to being intermittent and arbitrary when available. o.O

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ChaosConstant

You make a good point. I was going to try to argue with you, citing the average number of appearances Jennifer Hale made over the last couple of years, pulling an arbitrary number of hours worked out of the air, then adding in con appearances, but then I realized that most voice actors aren’t Jennifer Hale. I honestly don’t know a ton about that industry, and, now that I think about it, the average Joe voice actor, if voice acting is their only job, probably would be considered middle class.

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Vexia

This is a blessed comment that reinvigorates my faith in humanity. :)

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Utakata

Even low class and/or below the poverty line if they’re not used that very often. :(

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Armsbend

Don’t forget that the true middle class has all but been destroyed in the United States. There is lower class, the pretty well off and the fantastically wealthy. Yesterdays middle class is now two parents working and having your kids take on $100K in debt for college. All funds being drained for healthcare or having to become a wage slave for insurance. New world from the boomer’s parents!

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Hirku

* Something something about the impact this will have on the industry blah blah blah * Oh, who am I kidding, all I care about is my Jedi getting Kira back.

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Armsbend

Dern – I had completely forgotten about it.

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Tobasco da Gama

Nice! I’m glad this finally got sorted out, and it seems like the VAs are getting a pretty good deal out of it.

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