In a surprising turn, the recent agreement between the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Replica Studios, a prominent AI voice technology company, has left numerous video game performers disappointed and concerned.
The agreement, announced on January 19, 2024, during CES, aims to facilitate the use of professional voiceover artists’ digital voice replicas within the gaming and interactive media industry. Despite being touted as an innovative step forward, it has ignited a wave of criticism and skepticism within the voice-acting community.
The controversial agreement
SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios unveiled their partnership, which is set to enable voice actors to explore new opportunities for their digital voice replicas. The agreement promises “industry-leading protections” tailored to AI technology, making it easier for AAA video game studios and other companies to access SAG-AFTRA talent through Replica Studios. Licensed voices can subsequently be employed in various phases of video game development, from pre-production to final release.
Following the announcement, several prominent voice actors took to social media platforms, particularly Twitter, to voice their grievances and skepticism regarding the agreement. They expressed confusion and disappointment, asserting that they had not been consulted or informed about the partnership, despite the union’s claim that it had been “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community.”
Voice actors’ dissatisfaction
Steve Blum, known for his work in titles such as Diablo 4, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, and The Last of Us Part 2, questioned the assertion that the agreement had been approved by the voiceover performer community, stating,
“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?”
Elias Toufexis, renowned for his Deus Ex and Starfield roles, echoed similar sentiments:
“I would humbly consider myself one of the top voice actors working in games. No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion. From what I see, no one asked any of my peers either.”
Melissa Medína, another respected voice actor from Starfield, characterized the announcement as a “betrayal” and told her fellow actors not to lend their voices until they know how and where their voice replicas will be used.
Thomas Mitchells, known for his work in Baldur’s Gate 3 and Dying Light 2, expressed his disappointment with the agreement, suggesting that studios might prioritize convenience over creativity, potentially negatively impacting artists in the industry.
Union’s future negotiations
Although the agreement currently pertains to SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios, there are indications that the union’s executive director, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, is actively engaged in negotiations with a coalition of major video game studios. This suggests that the scope of the agreement may soon extend to a broader spectrum of developers and actors, further amplifying concerns within the voice-acting community.