Guild behind actors' strike fears video game workers also at risk from AI
Authorizes strike for voice and motion capture talent at major game studios
The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has authorized its members employed in the interactive media industry at giant games studios – including Activision, Epic Games, and Electronic Arts – to strike.
Interactive media workers already have their own agreement with Big Content, but it expired in 2022 and was extended while negotiations on a new deal continued.
The disease of greed is ready to burn humans out of their usefulness
Those talks have stalled.
In its announcement, Guild president Fran Drescher said AI is partly to blame for the impasse. The statement explains that plenty of work covered by the Interactive Media Agreement is "performance capture" in which artists, some of them stunt performers, "provide digitally captured performances used to give expressive movement to video game characters."
Using AI to replace those performances "poses an enormous threat to these artists' professions," the Guild asserts.
The Guild's national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained the situation in a little more depth. "Voice and performance capture AI are already among the most advanced uses of AI: the threat is here and it is real. Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods."
Drescher asserted that the timing of the impasse in talks for interactive media – which overlaps with the actors' strike – is not accidental.
"The overlap of these two SAG-AFTRA contracts is no coincidence, but rather a predictable issue impacting our industry as well as others all over the world," she's reported as saying. "The disease of greed is spreading like wildfire ready to burn workers out of their livelihoods and humans out of their usefulness. We at SAG-AFTRA say NO! Not on our watch!"
The Guild wants AI protections for its members, and an initial wage rise of 11 percent dated to the expiration of the current deal, plus four percent increases in the second and third years of a new deal. The Guild argues those hikes are "necessary for members' wages to keep up with inflation."
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Authorizing the strike doesn't mean it will happen – the Guild's announcement simply means members head into their next round of negotiations, from late September, with approval to withdraw labor.
A representative of the games companies whose staff could strike told CNN the outfits she represents want to reach a fair deal that reflects the value Guild workers bring to games – and sort it out soon.
If the strike does go ahead and extends to the 53-plus days for which the current actors' strike has endured (or the 125 days and counting for which the Writers Guild of America has been striking), it has the potential to disrupt production of many big-name videogames – or perhaps to accelerate the big game studios' use of AI.
The concurrent strikes by actors and writers are already kicking holes in broadcasters' and streamers' schedules. Some shows have been suspended indefinitely and others – like the planned Apple TV series Metropolis, based on the classic sci-fi film – have been cancelled outright.
If games suffer the same fate, that could make for a poor holiday season – the peak sales period for game publishers – if not this year, then perhaps in 2024 given the long development cycle required to produce premium games. ®