Over 45 days after it went on strike against Hollywood studios, the Screen Actors’ Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is preparing to possibly go on strike against a group of 10 video game companies over issues relating to AI, compensation, and workplace health and safety.

How We Got Here: The 2016-‘17 SAG-AFTRA Strike

Rally for 2016-'17 SAG-AFTRA video game actors strike

SAG-AFTRA has separate contracts for Hollywood and the video game industry. The latter is known as the Interactive Media Agreement, and it covers jobs like voice acting in the gaming industry. Currently, 10 video game producers, including Disney and Activision, are signatories to it; these would be the companies facing SAG-AFTRA negotiators across the bargaining table — and potentially facing a strike.

After the resolution of the 2016-‘17 video game actors strike launched by SAG-AFTRA, their renewed video game contract was set to expire in 2020; it was extended twice, with the latest extension ending soon. This strike authorization vote, which will take place from September 5 – 25, comes over 45 days after SAG-AFTRA struck against Hollywood studios on July 14.

The Reasons for the Strike Authorization Vote

Reasons for recent labor actions (better pay and health/safety top the list)

The current negotiations, according to SAG-AFTRA’s National Board, are stalling over video game companies’ unwillingness to provide basic protections and raise pay. Voice actors are facing many of the same issues, like AI and fair compensation in residuals, that SAG-AFTRA members are currently striking over in Hollywood.

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Plus, they’re literally not getting rest breaks during the workday; or medics on-set for when they do dangerous stunts for motion-capture. Similar such health and safety provisions, such as vocal stress and dangerous stunts, were actually reasons for the 2016-‘17 strike, too. (The immediate reason behind why labor protections lag behind in video games compared to TV and film, is that the gaming industry has no history of unionization. More on that below.)

The purpose of the vote is to give SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating team a powerful bargaining chip to use when negotiations resume on September 26.

What Can We Expect If A Strike Occurs?

2023 SAG-AFTRA actors on strike against Hollywood studios

These are the 10 companies that may end up facing a strike:

  • Activision Productions Inc.
  • Blindlight LLC
  • Disney Character Voices Inc.
  • Electronic Arts Productions Inc.
  • Epic Games, Inc.
  • Formosa Interactive LLC
  • Insomniac Games Inc.
  • Take 2 Productions Inc.
  • VoiceWorks Productions Inc.
  • WB Games Inc.

The 2016-‘17 strike, launched after the breakdown of contract negotiations that started about two years earlier, didn’t cause any significant delays in game releases. Compared to the consequences of a strike in Hollywood, overall, the 2016-‘17 strike in the video game industry had little impact on the games and their production schedules.

However, the strike was also authorized by 96% of those who voted; and it lasted for 340 days, twice as long as nearly every Hollywood strike in history, and several months longer than any previous SAG-AFTRA strike. And even after that much time, many SAG-AFTRA members expressed disappointment with the resulting contract; they felt the union had conceded too much.

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There’s a very good chance that that won’t be a problem this time around.

Gaming Unions & Workers’ Resolve

“We cannot wait, we cannot stop, we cannot be weak. One way out!”

The 2016-‘17 SAG-AFTRA video game strike was the first ever unionized strike in the video game industry; it was the immediate inspiration that kicked off the United States’ first-ever wave of gaming industry unionization, which has been sweeping companies like Activision Blizzard and Sega in the last five years. But solidarity labor actions, especially solidarity strikes, are tough to carry out; there’s no updates yet on how other gaming industry unions are reacting to the news that the massive, 160,000-member SAG-AFTRA might go on strike in their industry.

However, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have been notably militant, and garnered an impressive amount of public support, in their current strikes against the Hollywood studios. There’s every reason to think that video game execs are watching that militancy and support grind Hollywood’s money-making machines to a halt — and that they know the history of how an actors’ strike can reshape the labor relations in gaming.

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The contract negotiations may carry on for a while longer — the vote authorizing the 2016-‘17 strike took place a full year before the strike began. But SAG-AFTRA’s current strike authorization vote is pretty much guaranteed to result in a resounding “YES!”

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