Heading into 2024, one issue that looks to define the next year (and beyond) in the video game space is the role of Artificial Intelligence in making games. As other industries have also begun testing the water with AI, workers are starting to get concerned that the new technology will hurt their ability to work. One contingent that has been outspoken over concerns of AI in the gaming space is voice actors. With a new deal between SAG-AFTRA and an AI voiceover studio, the voice actor community continues to raise concerns over what the future will hold with AI.
On January 9 at CES, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artist (SAG-AFTRA) — the labor union representing actors including those doing voicework — announced a deal with AI voiceover company Replica Studios.
An official statement from SAG-AFTRA and Replica states that “this new agreement paves the way for professional voice over artists to safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas,” and assures that the agreement has been “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community.”
However, that last part has proved to be a complicated issue with voice actors, as many have taken to social media to share that they are learning about this new deal at the same time as everyone else. Prolific voice actor Steve Blum claimed on social media that, “Nobody in our community approved this that I know of. Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?” Many others in the industry shared similar sentiments.
“To my knowledge, most of us weren’t even made aware at ALL prior to the updates on social media,” voice actor Abbey Veffer tells Inverse.
Inverse reached out to SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studio but did not receive comment by the time of publishing.
SAG-AFTRA approved strike authorization for video game performers in September of 2023 amid ongoing negotiations over a new Interactive Media Agreement. While a strike has not been called, heavy emphasis has been placed on the concern over AI voiceover.
The deal itself was aided in bargaining by the Interactive Negotiation Committee.
“I have faith and trust in these folks,” says Veffer, “They’ve repeatedly demonstrated their dedication to our cause as performers. Knowing now that they provided guidance on this agreement brings me a little comfort. But it still feels like there’s so much up in the air.”
Much of the “up in the air” feeling comes from the fact that the details of the deal haven’t been shared. “We have not seen the contract and can’t speak to the specifics but our support for informed consent, control, and fair compensation remains the same,” Tim Friedlander, president of the National Association of Voice Actors said in a statement to Inverse.
The voice acting community seems rightfully cautious about the new deal between SAG-AFTRA and Replica, but even with cautious optimism, there is a larger issue at play that the voice acting community raises. “Contracts only go so far,” states Friedlander, “and our goal remains the same: Prioritize human artists and enact laws and legislation to protect all of us from unethical AI and synthetic voice creation, not just those working under a Union contract.”
For voice actors like Veffer, they say it would be nice just to be informed. “We need better communication from our union, and they need more hired staff to better manage the influx of inquiries sent their way,” adds Veffer, “We need improved structure so that crucial updates don’t just come from Twitter at the very last minute.”