Hollywood strikes could soon extend to the video game industry

SAG-AFTRA members voted overwhelmingly on Monday to authorize a strike against the video game industry. The union — which includes video game performers like voice, motion capture and stunt actors — has been negotiating a contract for over a year with a collection of studios, like Epic, EA, Activision and more. Around 27.47% of eligible voters cast a ballot to authorize the strike, representing 34,687 members, 98.32% of whom voted in the affirmative.

“After five rounds of bargaining, it has become abundantly clear that the video game companies aren’t willing to meaningfully engage on the critical issues: compensation undercut by inflation, unregulated use of AI and safety,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland in a statement.

The union is seeking increased safety measures on sets and vocal stress protections for voice actors, as well as wage increases consistent with inflation. But members see protections around AI consent, transparency and compensation to be vital to ensuring the future of their jobs.

“For many performers, their first job may be their last, as companies become increasingly eager to scan our members or train AI with their voices as soon as they show up for work,” reads the SAG-AFTRA website.

These same concerns are present among other Hollywood creatives. When the WGA launched its strike in May, screenwriters demanded clear guidelines regarding how AI could be used when scripting TV shows and movies.

A focal point of the writers’ strike — which is paused after the union reached a tentative agreement with the AMPTP this weekend — was to adjust how writers are paid in an era when streaming is king, yet streaming residuals are dismal. But AI emerged as another big concern in the strike.

“When we first put [the proposal] in, we thought we were covering our bases — you know, some of our members are worried about this, the area is moving quickly, we should get ahead of it,” comedy writer Adam Conover told TechCrunch at the beginning of the writers’ strike. “We didn’t think it’d be a contentious issue because the fact of the matter is, the current state of the text-generation technology is completely incapable of writing any work that could be used in a production.”

Meanwhile, industry-side entrepreneurs don’t see their AI tools as threats to working artists.

“As of today, nobody has lost his job because of what we do,” said Ofir Krakowski, co-founder and CEO at deepdub.ai, at TechCrunch Disrupt. The company automates the process of dubbing media in other languages. “Actually, most of our customers are looking to monetize on content that was not economically viable to monetize on. So we are enabling them to do more work.”

Spotify announced a similar feature this week, which allows podcasters to use AI to dub their podcasts in other languages, using their own voice. But across the industry, creatives have raised concerns about how these kinds of features work, whether they train on data without creators’ consent, and how they could be used to spread AI-powered misinformation.

The strike won’t take effect if the bargaining parties can reach an agreement in this week’s bargaining session. In a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson for the Interactive Media Agreement said: “We will continue to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA-represented performers in video games. We have reached tentative agreements on over half of the proposals and are optimistic we can find a resolution at the bargaining table.”