Amid Tense Negotiations, SAG-AFTRA Expands Indie Video Games Coverage With New Contract

As SAG-AFTRA remains locked in tense negotiations with video game giants, the actors union has released a new contract designed to cover a larger number of indie and lower-budget gaming projects and create “pressure” in the bargaining room with major companies.

The union’s new Tiered-Budget Independent Interactive Media Agreement, announced Wednesday, contains provisions — especially on AI — that major companies involved in SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing Interactive Media Agreement talks have resisted, according to SAG-AFTRA national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. He compared the new deal to SAG-AFTRA’s interim agreements, which allowed members to work on independent projects during the union’s 2023 film and television strike. “I think it’s really going to highlight, like the interim agreements did last year, the unreasonableness that some of these video game companies are bringing to our attempts to negotiate a deal that provides just basic fair protection to our members who are working in video games, as it relates in particular to AI,” he said.

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SAG-AFTRA is pushing for “transparency, consent, and compensation” in its ongoing talks with major video game companies over AI, adds Interactive Media Agreement negotiating committee chair Sarah Elmaleh (an actor who has appeared in God of War: Ragnarok and Halo: Infinite). In the Tiered-Budget agreement, those values are encapsulated by language that requires performers who have done voice work to be paid a minimum session fee for every 300 lines that are re-used. For on-camera movement or a performance that is re-used, performers would be paid 125 percent of their base salary for the initial performance.

The new contract, which will replace the union’s current Low Budget interactive agreement, offers union coverage to gaming projects with production budgets between $250,000 and less than $15 million. The Low Budget agreement previously capped projects at a production budget of $1.5 million, so this new contract aims to “capture even more of this work,” Elmaleh said in an Instagram Live for union members Wednesday.

No projects have signed on yet, per the union, though Crabtree-Ireland said that developers had previously asked SAG-AFTRA for an agreement of this nature.

Though the Tiered-Budget agreement has been in the works for some time, the union is hoping it will put additional “pressure” on companies currently involved in testy negotiations over the latest Interactive Media Agreement, Elmaleh says. Companies including Activision Productions, Blindlight, Disney Character Voices, Electronic Arts Productions, Epic Games, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Take 2 Productions, VoiceWorks Productions and WB Games have been negotiating with the union since October 2022. On Sept. 25, over 98 percent of participating union members voted to authorize a video game strike should union leaders decide to call one, with union president Fran Drescher calling on the companies to “stop playing games.”

According to Crabtree-Ireland, the companies are currently preparing their latest response to the union, with AI remaining a sticking point. “What that response will probably determine is the path that this process goes down,” the union leader said. “Because if that response is something that indicates that they are hearing and acting on the message that’s been delivered in so many forums…then there will be a path to reaching an agreement without having to go on strike. If on the other hand, they either refuse to act on that, they don’t hear it, or there’s a positional bargaining reaction of just trying to stonewall on these issues, then that’ll take us down a different path.”

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