Voice actors demand better terms as first studio pledges new standards for UK gaming

In 2018, freelance voice actress Karina walked into a recording booth in London to perform lines from a hit video game. Under the supervision of several male developers, he was asked to record a sex scene on location.

“I felt so vulnerable. He was a huge game developer. I didn’t have a line manager to talk to, it’s hard to talk to, ”she said.

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

Her background is one of many that have led the Performing Arts Union Equity to draft new rules, after years of negotiations with game studios, which set a professional standard for voice actors who stand out. occur in games.

The proposal, the first of its kind in the UK, includes commitments to inform actors in advance of the nature of the game they are in, any sensitive content and the type of character they are playing.

When a game is produced, developers hire studios to recruit voice actors who run the script and often play multiple characters in a game. This can 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 different race than their own, with stereotypical accents and religious slurs.

The cast also said they were asked to carry heavy weights to create the sound of being tense while screaming for hours without interruption, or screaming while gargling water to represent electrocution.

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

Any potential damage to actors’ voices must be identified by studios and actors should be given a break of at least five minutes per hour, the agreement says. Studios should also try to limit vocal stress to “a maximum of two hours per day.”

Hourly rates for actors are also set, depending on the size of the studio. For a standard game with a minimum budget of £ 5million, performers should be paid at least £ 600 for their first hour and £ 300 per hour thereafter.

The document also includes rates for overtime, late payment fees and an effort to include actors in credits.

The deal brings the UK into line with arrangements for voice actors in the US, who went on strike over terms and wages until a similar deal was reached in 2017.

MKO, which has worked on Horizon Zero Dawn and Game of Thrones, is the first studio to join the deal, which runs until 2023, when prices will be revised based on inflation.

Equity said other studios are interested in signing up next year. Side UK and Liquid Violet, the main London studios that worked on Assassin’s Creed and World of Warcraft, welcomed the deal but said more consultation was needed on fees and factors such as payment for tapes- ads and promotional content.

Laurence Bouvard, chair of Equity’s screens and new media committee and an actor who has worked on titles such as The Witcher, said salaries have fluctuated “extremely” in the past as the industry has grown rapidly without no guidelines in place.

“The industry is constantly changing and businesses are constantly springing up. Studios want to know the rules because they have to budget for that, ”she said.

UK consumer spending on games hit a record £ 7bn in 2020, up almost 30% from the previous year and up over £ 1bn since 2018, according to analysis by Ukie, the UK games industry body.

As new game publishers have flooded the space in recent years, the industry has become more competitive, with some studios slashing actor rates and trying to attract top publishers by offering the lowest package for voice services, said Mark Estdale, voice director and general manager of MKO.

“Actors have become pawns in the auction game,” he added. “You have found that this price competition is becoming part of the culture. “

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