Gamers at peace

Rates rise for thesps, but no residuals

Zilch.

That’s how much Hollywood’s actors will get in residuals from the $7 billion videogame industry.

SAG and AFTRA thesps have instead elected to accept the industry’s offer of a sizable 36% increase in the base rate of $556.20 per session for vidgame voiceover work and have voted against a strike authorization.

Deal is a small jump from what the publishers had called their “last, best, and final” offer before talks broke off last month. Final increase in session fees jumped from 35% to 36%, while the initial boost when the contract takes effect July 1 went up from 21% to 25%.

In addition, thesps won payment for reuse of their perfs in promotional material.

Other components are the same as the game industry’s earlier offer, including additional payments for reuse of a single performance in multiple titles and for games delivered over the Internet instead of on disc, a 7.5% increase in contributions to the unions’ benefit plans, and other modest gains.

Deal extends through the end of 2008.

Strike out

SAG/AFTRA’s final proposal in May had included a demand for profit sharing in games that sell more than 400,000 units, a category that includes only a few hits per year, such as recent successes like “Halo 2” and “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,” but on which the vidgame biz makes most of its revenues.

With membership failing to back them up on a strike, though, leaders had to put that goal aside for the next three years.

“Our members clearly support the inclusion of residuals in our interactive contracts,” said SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert, continuing, “However, with great reluctance, our negotiating committee concluded that it is in the interests of the members who work these contracts to make this deal.”

Gilbert added: “We will spend the next three-and-a-half years devoting resources to further organize this industry, and return to the bargaining table with renewed strength and vigor to establish a fair participation in the enormous profits generated by videogames.”

Mutual satisfaction

Leadership on the other side was more modest, reflecting their victory on the crucial residuals issue.

“This agreement is a win for both sides,” said vidgame companies’ chief negotiator Howard Fabrick. “The deal permits continued employment and a generous increase in compensation for voice actors while allowing vidgame publishers to continue working with the union talent they prefer.”

The majority of games produced today are done with non-union talent, with only 10%-15% of games voiced using union thesps. Though they won on residuals, some industryites said the hefty pay boost could drive away other publishers from using union pros.

“So many companies found it too expensive prior to this renegotiation that we’re concerned it could be even more difficult now for them to come over,” said Lev Chapelsky, general manager of Blindlight Prods., which recruits voiceover actors for vidgames.

Most vidgame pros had said a strike would drive the minority of publishers who do use union talent to do without. But unions noted that the industry has become increasingly reliant on star talent ranging from James Woods to Heather Graham to David Duchovny to help sell games and that game creators increasingly prefer to have Hollywood pros work on their games.

Threat of a strike was particularly worrisome to the industry since developers, the technical folks who make vidgames, aren’t even unionized, and the Writers Guild of America allows its members to work on games under an optional contract that includes only a pension and health contribution. A win for the actors could have led other creatives to demand better treatment.

Tentative agreement now must be approved by SAG’s national executive committee and AFTRA’s national administrative committee, both of which will meet in the coming weeks.

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