Voice actors demanded better conditions as the first studio signed up to new standards for the game in the UK

In 2018, freelance voice actress Karina walked into a London record booth to do lines for a blockbuster video game. With several male developers watching, she was asked to record a sex scene on the spot.

“I feel very vulnerable. This is a big game developer. I don’t have direct management to talk to, it’s very difficult to speak up,” she said.

Karina – not her real name – said that if she had known about the scene in advance, she would have requested a closed set where she could perform comfortably.

Her experience is one of many that has led the performing artists union Equity to draft new rules, after years of negotiations with game studios, to set professional standards for voice actors. performances in the game.

The first of its kind in the UK, which includes commitments to inform actors in advance about the nature of the games they’re in, any sensitive content and the type of characters they’re playing.

When a game is in production, developers hire studios to recruit voice actors to do the scripts and often play multiple characters in a game. This could involve over 100 hours of dialogue.

The voice actors involved in drafting the proposal said they were uncomfortable being asked to play characters of a race other than their own, with stereotypical voices and religious slurs.

The actors also said they were asked to wear heavy weights to make a tense sound while screaming for hours on end, or asked to scream while rinsing their mouths with water to depict an electric shock scene. .

“If you lose your voice, you can’t continue to perform,” said Trevor White, an actor who helped negotiate the deal. “You can cause permanent damage.”

Any potential harm to actors’ voices should be determined by the studio, and actors should be given a break of at least five minutes an hour, the agreement states. Studios should also try to keep vocal tension at “two hours a day at most.”

Bar chart of hourly pay rates for voice actors by game studio size (£)

Hourly rates for actors are also determined, depending on the size of the set. For a standard game with a minimum budget of £5 million, the artist must be paid a minimum of £600 for the first hour and £300 per hour thereafter.

The document also includes overtime rates, late fees, and efforts to put agents on credit.

The deal brings the UK into line with agreements for voice actors in the US, who have been on strike over pay and conditions until a similar deal is reached in 2017.

OMUK, which worked on Horizon Zero Dawn and Game of Thrones, is the first studio to join the deal, which will run until 2023 when fees will be reviewed in line with inflation.

Equity said other studios are interested in signing up next year. Side UK and Liquid Violet, leading London studios that have worked with Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft, welcomed the deal but said further consultation was needed on fees and factors such as payment for trailers and content. advertising content.

Laurence Bouvard, chairman of Equity’s New Media and Screens Committee and an actor who has worked on titles like The Witcher, said in the past salaries have changed “violently” as the industry has grown rapidly. without specific instructions.

“The industry is constantly evolving and companies are constantly springing up. Studios want to know the rules because they need to budget for it,” she said.

According to analysis by Ukie, the UK’s gaming industry regulator, UK consumer spending is £7 billion in 2020, up almost 30% year-on-year and up over £1 billion since 2018.

Mark Estdale, voice director and chief executive officer of OMUK.

“Actors become pawns in the bidding game,” he added. “You notice that this price competition has become part of the culture.”

https://www.ft.com/content/bebe9513-5b0f-4b2d-8b4e-9875bb9612dd Voice actors demanded better conditions as the first studio signed up to new standards for the game in the UK

Huynh Nguyen

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