Will There Ever Be Residuals in Video Game Voice Acting?

You may have heard the news in recent weeks about Grand Theft Auto IV's lead voice actor Michael Hollick's interview in the New York Times and how he feels about the unpaid use of his voice in online promos.

Yes, New Media strikes again!

I wrote about it here on VOX Daily "Grand Theft Audio"

At any rate, what do you think about the issue?

Looking forward to hearing your opinions ;)

Best wishes,


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Comment by Marc Biagi on May 30, 2008 at 4:19pm
Having done a lot of games, I know that the script is often one of the LEAST considered elements and that VO budgets are often quite small for the projects. Scripts are often written by people with no writing background who don't understand the spoken word and dialog well at all. They are sometimes rushed through as a last component to get a product to market.

And, no matter how self important some of us would like to think our parts are, voice acting is not what most gamers are focussed on. They want the game play, the interaction and activity; not really the passive viewing that our major work appears in (the cutscenes and level intros/outros). Players usually skip through our cutscenes after playing the game for the first time and focus on the action only (where they only get expletives and reactions). Don't believe me? Sit and watch some kids as well as adults play any game for awhile. In fact, they get highly impatient when they CAN'T easily skip through cutscenes. In fact, sometimes, they are so annoyed with the repetition of certain voiced lines in gameplay that they mute the voice channel! So once purchased, it's not like the players are really "watching" our program again like they are with more traditional forms of broadcast media.

A lot of hard work by developers, artists, and coders go into these video games. Way more hours than our paltry few hours that we're booked. They don't get royalties, and their work is FAR MORE of the product than is ours. They are the ones getting the real short end of the stick.

To use an analogy, is a consultant who's brought on-board by a corporation to help work on a commercial product entitled to some of that company's profits? No, they're not, and the contract states that. Voice artists are artistic "consultants" in this regard and how the gaming industry views us.

Video games also have a more limited product life due to the fact that they'll get "played out" by the person purchasing them, and eventually new tech comes along and something else and they become blaise and old school (although some will still have strong cult followings...like with Starcraft in Korea).

I think that fair use should mean that if they use it in advertising or other medium than the original game, there should probably be some form of compensation. That's a valid contract issue (and why one should look over their agreements). However, I'm not sure I'd take that to the papers. I'd just call my agent and have them discuss it with the company.

I'm not sure that residuals make market sense here or are the correct model. Nobody truly knows what the next hit will be or how much it will make. We don't take any of the risk that these companies are, who deserve the benefit of making a good game.

That said, great scripts and acting can make the cutscenes and game very enjoyable and something players will want to see again. And in Adventure Games, VO is much more critical and an essential part of the gameplay. It would be nice if scripts and VO budgets were increased for many games. It is part of the overall immersive play experience. Good scripts and acting can result in an incredible gaming experience that can only help a product sell. Encouraging this path is far more productive than wanting a big piece of the sales pie.

Besides, start involving residuals and making it too lucrative and you'll this VO market niche dwindle as more "big name celebs" get involved thinking this work is easy money and taking even more of our market away from us, as they have with animation.

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