SAG-AFTRA Signs Deal With Voiceover Studio for AI Use in Video Games

SAG-AFTRA signed a deal on Tuesday with an AI voiceover studio that sets terms for the use of artificial intelligence in video games.

The union announced the deal with Replica Studios on Tuesday at CES in Las Vegas. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s executive director, said that the terms include informed consent for the use of AI to create digital voice replicas, as well as requirements for the safe storage of digital assets.

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At a press conference, Crabtree-Ireland said the union wants to channel emerging technology to benefit performers — rather than trying to stand in the way.

“These are the kind of terms that producers can agree to without disrupting their ability to make content,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “This is an evolutionary step forward. AI technology is not something we can block. It’s not something we can stop. That’s not a tactic or a strategy that’s ever worked for labor in the past.”

AI was a major issue in the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. The union ultimately reached a deal with the major studios — represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — that established consent and compensation requirements for the use of AI to replicate actors’ likenesses. The deal did not block studios from training AI systems to create “synthetic” actors that bear no resemblance to real performers.

SAG-AFTRA is now engaged in a similar negotiation with a coalition of major video game studios. The union has obtained a strike authorization vote, though talks continue.

Crabtree-Ireland said that agreement with Replica Studios could help spur those discussions.

“I hope the video game companies will take this as an inspiration to help us move forward in that negotiation,” he said. “I’m hopeful we will be able to reach agreement with the video game studios imminently.”

Replica Studios launched its AI platform in 2019. The company sells AI voices to video game developers from its library of “ethically licensed” voices. Last year, the company announced a new iteration of “Smart NPCs” — non-playable characters — that could use OpenAI or other language models to interact with video game players.

Shreyas Nivas, the CEO of Replica Studios, said at the press conference that the firm has been working for years on standardizing contract language for AI voice licenses.

Crabtree-Ireland said the agreement will open up new employment opportunities for voiceover performers who want to license their voices for use in video games.

The deal pertains only to “digital replicas” — using AI to re-create the voice of a real performer, living or dead. It does not apply to AI training to create synthetic performances.

In December, SAG-AFTRA members voted 78% in favor of ratifying the contract with the AMPTP. The opposition centered on the AI provisions, which the detractors felt did not go far enough to protect actors from losing their livelihoods to AI replicas.

Crabtree-Ireland highlighted the provision for safe storage of voice assets in the Replica agreement, which was not included in the deal with the AMPTP.

“That’s the kind of thing we’ll see evolving over time,” he said.

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