Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Grand Theft Audio? Videogame Voice Actors Making Some (Unpaid) Noise

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

May 26, 2008

Comments (13)

Grand Theft Auto

Are video game voice actors a bunch of whiners or is there justice to be served?

Read about the state of pay in video game voice acting and hear from one very vocal talent, Michael Hollick, star of Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA IV), voice of Niko Bellic.

Grand Theft Stealing from Voice Actors?

Grand Theft Auto IV has received nothing but fantastic press and reviews thus far, however, the tables have turned of late and the spotlight has shifted from the gaming experience to the voices who give life to the characters who notably play an integral role in the success of the video game.

Many believe the voice acting to be entertaining and of high calibre... that's not up for debate.

While the voice actors are being praised for their talent, they have failed miserably in the money department to reap any financial rewards from the video game's gross sales starting with the $500 million GTA IV made in its first week on the market. According to today's stats, that number is now over $600 million.

Star of Grand Theft Auto IV Speaks Out

Voice actor Michael Hollick, who provided the voice of the lead role Niko Bellic, was paid $100,000.00 for his work over the fifteen month period that he worked on the game.

While it may seem like a lot of money to the majority of people under the sun, it's peanuts according to those who have seen their work used without further compensation in promos, commercials and via new media applications such as the internet and podcasts.

Recently, Michael was interviewed for an article in the New York Times. When asked about his feelings with regard to the compensation he received for voicing Niko Bellic, he said:

"Obviously I'm incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity," Mr. Hollick, 35, said last week over dinner in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after performing in the aerial theater show "Fuerzabruta" in Union Square. "But it's tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they're making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don't see any of it. I don't blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it's the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies."

What Gives?

Here's what:

If you were to tally the unpaid usage at fair market prices (or union scale), you're looking at potentially millions of dollars of lost income and revenue per project for those whose work is being exhibited in order to increase the bottom line of the gaming companies.

Hollick went on to say:

"For instance, our contracts say nothing about the use of voices for promotional purposes over the Internet," Mr. Hollick said. "The first G.T.A. IV trailer generated something like 40 million hits online, and that's my voice all over it, and I get nothing. If that were a radio spot, I would have. Same thing for the TV ads. I recorded those lines for the game, but now they're all over television. It's another gray area."

Residuals

What most people outside of the entertainment industry don't know is that in other forms of media celebrities and working union talent are paid residuals for their commercial work. Every time the piece of work they were part of airs, it begins a 13-week cycle of residual payments, a very attractive and self-sustaining means of income for thousands of actors and voice actors.

This is where things get a little bit messy.

Because video games fall under the umbrella of New Media, voice actors who lend their pipes to video games gain only what they are paid for the time spent recording voice overs in the studio via session fees, missing out on coveted residual payments.

Union scale for a session fee is $760 for four hours of work.

Payment varies based upon the number of roles they are portraying and subsequent number of lines that their character(s) voice (dialogue in cut scenes, exertion sounds, etc.). The voice actor only spends as much time as necessary completing their video game voice acting gig and sees not a penny more or less than the standard session fees.

New Media

New Media has been a thorn in the side of unions ever since it came into being, starting with DVDs, the internet, podcasts and mobile devices such as cell phones.

No one can seem to figure out how to make anything other than a buyout work with this creature and some have even gone on strike because of it.

Remember the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike? How about when the Canadian union ACTRA went on strike in 2007?

Jumping ahead, how about the potential strike SAG will face over the same issue? It's not just over higher fees in general, they're talking New Media and finding a way to capitalize on it.

Is this a battle that will be won around a bargaining table?

Will voice actors ever see residuals for their work in video games?

Tell me what you think and let the debate begin!

Stephanie

©iStockphoto.com/Izabela Habur

Related Topics: ACTRA, Celebrities, grand theft auto iv, how to, industry, michael hollick, New York, niko bellic, radio, TV, union, video games, videogames, voice actors


Comments


    What debate?

    Unless there was a gun pointed at his head, Hollick understood the agreement he was signing.

    There were no residuals.

    There were no bonus clauses.

    The fee ended with a one time payment. That right there is the end of the story.

    Well, I suppose actually the other part of the story will be told when they cast GTA V and if his character is in the game, whether or not they'll cast him after all this chatting with the NYT.

    Also, blaming the union isn't much of an argument. The unions are, for a variety of factors, becoming weaker. That’s not a pro/con union statement but rather my view from the sidelines. As such, I believe their ability to negotiate stronger deals is dying.

    Now if you wanted to make an argument, if his circumstances warranted that his agent could have negotiated a better deal, that I would be willing to consider.

    Thanks Steph.

    Best always,
    - Peter

    Posted by:

      Sounds like Michael Hollick signed a very bad contract. If he's playing at that level, then he should have his own lawyer, who should have been looking out for his best interests and protecting him from unfair use of his voice.

      Posted by:

        I thought the point of this article was unfair practices in general, not one actor’s contract. And, if you nay-sayers would’ve bothered to read the article, you would’ve seen that his contract said nothing about using his voice for the internet. That shouldn’t mean his voice could be used with reckless abandon without him seeing any profit.

        I’m a game fan, and I can’t even begin to recount how many times I saw the GTA IV trailer(s) the weeks before and after the game’s release. The actors are owed something.

        Though, I agree that unions need to take a stand and fight for what they feel is right. I’ve read that some game developers and even game critics don’t properly respect voice actors. Meaning, they view us as expendable and not valuable to the overall gaming process. Games like GTA are heavily story/dialogue driven. If they don’t want to pay us what they owe, let the game developers cast themselves as the actors. Then watch the game’s overall quality rapidly decline.

        Posted by:
        • Jakari
        • May 26, 2008 6:27 PM

          Hi Peter, David and Jakari,

          Thank you for commenting and getting a rough and tumble start to this discussion! I'm enjoying it thoroughly and wish to see the animated comments continue.

          I can see your point of view, Peter and David, but I also see where Jakari is coming from. This article used the current goings on of GTA IV as a basis for the larger picture of voice acting in video games in general with regard to potential residuals.

          Over the past year and a bit, I've kept a very close eye on how gamers perceive voice acting in the games that they play. It's come to my attention that if the voice acting in a game is of professional quality, gamers generally don't have issues with the voice acting, however, if a cast of inexperienced or ill-prepared voice actors was hired for the job, the mockery and callous comments come fast and furious.

          It really comes down to how developers cast their talent and the budgets they set aside for voice actors. If the writing is good, voice actors have more to work with, and if the pay is adequate, professionals will voice the roles and the game will not be gossiped and griped about to no end in the forums.

          Voice acting needs to be taken seriously. Although it is only one element of the game, it has become one of the most prestigious and emotional components that adds to the gaming experience and elicits the most response, especially negative response, if done poorly.

          As an industry we need to step up where others are decidedly stepping back and raise the bar. This may mean knowing your limits in some cases as a talent all the way through to the educating of those in a position to make decisions as to why audio (including voice acting of course) deserves to be budgeted for equitably.

          Maybe it takes a review of terrible, even horrendous voice acting, just to make a developer change their tune and hire a cast of professionals. It happened last month to developer Reality Pump after their first effort Two Worlds was sunk into an abyss of criticism. The sequel Two Words : The Temptation saw many changes implemented, including the hiring of professional voice actors.

          http://tinyurl.com/4efmyo

          I'd love to hear from more of you so please continue :)

          Best wishes,

          Stephanie

          Posted by:

            I agree with the others, and think it's very poor form indeed for two guys to so publicly crap on the money they made. Read the contracts you're offered, and sign the ones you can live with. Bitching about such things in such a bold way will only put a mark against you the next time a good job like that comes up. You talk into a mic, guys. It's not like you're hauling wood on your backs or scrubbing septic tanks. A hundred thousand bucks is a pretty good deal for spending a year involved in such a high-profile project, and they've gone and buggered all the good exposure they had with their whining.

            Posted by:
            • Pete Rockwell
            • May 27, 2008 3:27 AM

              Some interesting thoughts whirling around here...

              I happened upon an article that provides the perspective from a game developer's point of view. You can read it here.

              http://www.gameanim.com/2008/05/24/voicing-complaints/

              I replied to the article and left my two cents there. It's an interesting argument.

              For those of you who want to stay here and not read the other article, my comments were:

              Hi Alsoran and Paolo,

              I think you both make good points.

              @alsoran - I appreciate hearing your side of the argument. I believe all creative people who work behind the scenes, whether they be designers, animators, developers, script writers, or voice actors long to see their work recognized and be paid an adequate fee for the end use of their efforts. All elements in the process are important and add their own significant contributions. I respect the fact that these games are years in the making before a voice actor enters on the scene and that the core team of developers has a lot invested in the fulfillment and success of their project. Perhaps if voice actors were perceived as members of that team as opposed to four-hour contractors there wouldn't be hard feelings and detrimental battles over whose voice or whose creative team is at the heart of the project.

              @paolo - Paolo, I'm with you on many of the points you made, however, the way that some voice actors are acting or I should say reacting to what is going on with regard to pay or residuals is giving the profession a reputation that won't easily be shaken. That's something that I am saddened by and wish to see resolved. While the human voice is the most powerful, persuasive and distinctly human aspect of the game itself, don't discredit the pre-fabricated attributes that gave voice actors the material to base their interpretation of the character upon. Good characters are effective because they are exceptional on many levels, not just in how they sound.

              If there is ever to be equity or a sense of fairness, developers, their crew, and voice actors need to act as a team working together, not against each other. Synergy is the answer here and the more it is sought out, the better the relationships will be between those who work together on a project resulting in better games and better PR, period.

              Best wishes,

              Stephanie Ciccarelli
              Co-founder of Voices.com

              Posted by:

                This is the very same issue that caused the Unions to form in the 1st place. IE The "creators" (business people) are out to make money on their product and do it as cheaply (and whenever they can get away with it-without respect to labor) as possible.

                1st to whomever said "it's not like we're diggin ditches here" (paraphrased). True. BUT... would you hire someone to "dig your ditch" who is experienced at it, or someone who is just familiar with the process? Especially if the quality of that ditch was a linchpin to the success/profit of your product? This is the same detrimental mentality that has undermined the value of our work (across the board) and hurt EVERYONE in the business. I don't know about you, but this work is how I pay my bills.

                It's not a hobby.

                That said, I do agree that, Mr Hollick's "business people" dropped the ball on this one. Thank you David. Right on.

                I cite as an example the "stars" who get paid a hell of a lot more than scale to lend their talent to a project. I heard of a major "star" that was aksed to narrate an industrial project and his agent quoted 200 grand for 4 pages of copy and only if it never went to air. That producer passed and got some nobody to do it for 85 bucks.
                With the industry literally saturated with talent, if the unions don't get their act together and make it more affordable for people to join and then the rank and file becoming more committed to fighting for each other, or at least simulate that mentality apart from the unions, we'll all be doing 85 dollar industrials. All the folks in LA and NY notwithstanding, of course.

                Posted by:

                  Well, I don't have the union experience yet, and I have never done a job that paid $100K, but I would not sneeze at that chance. I also take away the lesson that you should always read the contract before you sign it. We don't know what the contract said though. Is it just an unwritten assumption that there are no residuals for "new media"? - and was the contract written badly? I once won a lawsuit because of a poorly written contract. I would be happy with the one time $100K, but then again, I'm hungry!

                  Posted by:

                    This guy sounds like a whiner to me. $100,000 is a lot of money to make in 15 months for merely having your voice recorded. If he is really that hellbent on collecting every bit of money he can possibly get from his voice acting, he should have hired a lawyer to review the contracts he signed. Did he not think of the fact that they would use his voice in commercials and trailers?

                    Posted by:
                    • Alex
                    • May 29, 2008 4:52 PM

                      Alex,

                      Reading the NYT article, it's pretty clear that Hollick knew his voice would be used for promotional purposes. And even with the aid of a lawyer --- who very likely would have steered him away from the deal as written --- the simple fact is that the unions' current agreement with the studios doesn't provide for residuals to game VO actors.

                      $100,000 is a lot of money in and of itself, but not in the context of GTA4's multi-million-dollar sales figures. It's easy to think of Hollick as "whining" or "greedy" until you realize that residuals aren't "bonuses" or "extra money"; they're delayed payments for promised income. Essentially, the studio is saying "your work is worth X, but that's too large an amount for us to pay up front, because we're already taking a financial risk to produce this game/movie/show etc. Therefore, we'll pay you a smaller percentage of that amount up front, and if/when the project is a success, then we'll pay you the remainder of that value over time." Film actors get weekly checks for their movie roles not because their performances are stellar, but because their client (the studio) is on an installment plan.

                      This is one reason why the studios, long ago, agreed to the royalties system proposed by SAG; it places a risk on the part of the actor --- he stands to lose 80% of the value of his work if the project flops --- alongside the financial risk incurred by the studio on that project.

                      Finally, phrases like "merely having your voice recorded" imply that voice acting for games is "easy" and not worth much in the way of compensation. It requires a specific set of skills and more than a little talent to accomplish well.

                      Posted by:

                        Hollick never whined. Ironically, much of the backlash over all this comes from real whiners.

                        It took very little research on my part to uncover direct quotes from the actor and a 20 minute radio interview that he did where it was explained, in detail, that he performed motion capture and very demanding voice talent for Niko's character. His work lasted nearly two years. In fact, his so-called easy voice overs were also facially motion captured, requiring him to hold his head still for every line he delivered.

                        This man worked his ass off for this role for nearly two years and the bad rap he gets for politely pointing out his raw deal is to be branded a whiny actor who wants more than he deserves by people who likely haven't even done the research to back up their accusations.

                        That, frankly, is lazy and shameful.

                        Posted by:
                        • Paolo
                        • May 31, 2008 2:34 AM

                          One more thing: a hungry actor will sign just about anything to get work. Most people would do the same. That does not make the terms of any given contract instantly fair or professional.

                          I could sign a contract that says for 1000$ Mr. X gets to punch me in the mouth and laugh. Sure, I'd be foolish to sign on to that kind of agreement but it certainly doesn't absolve the person doing the punching and the laughing. He's still a jerk.

                          Posted by:
                          • Paolo
                          • May 31, 2008 3:04 AM

                            Hi Paolo,

                            Thanks for joining the discussion over here on VOX Daily. I too listened to the 20 minute radio interview and there was a lot of work outside of voice over that Michael Hollick did for his role.

                            Out of curiosity for those in the know, would that be rolled in with the voice over sessions or treated as something completely different with separate fees?

                            The publicly facing issue is over the amount of money he received for the voice over in comparison to the gross profits that Rockstar is seeing post-game release, not over the additional body work he did to help flesh out Niko's physique, facial movements and emotional responses, although it was a significant part of the overall process and a neat twist in this story.

                            Does anyone have anything to add about how this same kind of scenario plays out in general with regard to payment for voice actors whose characters are modeled after themselves using motion capture?

                            Best wishes,

                            Stephanie

                            Posted by:

Leave a Comment



Recent Articles

YouTube Hits The 60 fps Gas Pedal

Toy Story 4 Set for June 2017 Release

Where Does Pixar Find Its Animators?

Feast On Disney's New Short

DreamWorks, Marvel Studios Play Release-Date Bingo

Audition Improvements Feature Helps Talent, Raises Project Quality

London Poppy Day 2014: Using Voice To Honour

Big Hero 6 = Big News For Animation

SpeechMasterPro Helps Pros Speak Better

When Famous Actors Voice Video Games

   

Animation Solution Center

Radio Advertising Solution Centre

Learn why video animation is more important than ever, how you can use it to gain competitive advantage and what tools are out there to help you make it happen.

Animation Solution Center

Subscribe by Email

About Vox Daily

Vox Daily offers a daily dose of voice acting news, articles, tutorials, interviews, intelligent conversation and business ideas for voice talent and voice actors.


Follow Us

   

Our feed & social options update you with special offers and news as it happens.

New YouTube Video

Watch videos on YouTube