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Fees For Voicing Games: AFTRA
Sets Rates, But Pay Lags For VO
 
By Dave Courvoisier
Voice Actor & TV News Anchor
Feb. 5, 2009

There are rampant rumors in the mist that Video Game Developers and producers are starting to understand the value of having real voice acting professionals contribute to their visually elaborate products.
 
This is good. Now. How to price it?
 
Again those nagging questions:
  • What are you worth?
  • What do THEY think you're worth?
  • Are you grateful to break into the genre, or do you feel you have to educate these guys about the value of your time and talent?
Some astute and highly proficient voice actors chimed in about this recently on the Yahoo VO Forum, and their advice is well worth your review. (Click on the names below for direct access to their comments) ...
ED HELVEY: WHAT'S FAIR?
 
The wise producer/audio engineer Ed Helvey - aka "The Virginia Sound Man" - begins with a discussion on fair pay for our business:
 
The very technology that has provided most of us with the ability to cut the umbilical with recording studios and commuting to them to do VO work, and which has given us the freedom to work from home - anywhere in the world with Internet connectivity, is also the same technology that is changing the fee structures that took us years and years to build up.
 
We think that gaming is going to continue to expand - maybe and maybe not.
 
People have to make decisions between food, housing, fuel to commute (if they have a job), clothes, medicine and buying computer games. Some will buy the games at the cost of other discomfort. But most, I think, will put that at the bottom of the priority list.
 
Mattel, a traditionally profitable toy manufacturer, just announced a 46% drop in profits.
 
FRANK FREDERICK: PAY LAGS
 
Always the thoughtful counterbalance, voice talent and producer Frank "The Voice" Frederick notes:
 
The key to rates for video games is not based upon the same conditions as those for broadcast.
 
Traditionally, broadcast rates were higher due to the immediacy and usually short life of the genre. Voice-overs for "games" WAS in it's infancy, and in times past was relegated to using talent that was available; i.e., the secretary, copy boy, even some of the programmers themselves or their family members.
 
Ten years ago, a video game may have sold 100,000 copies. Video games today may sell 100 million copies, but the pay for voice-overs remains the same - nearly nothing.
 
Today, "New Media" is where attention is being focused. Creative content includes video games, podcasts, Internet news and entertainment, advertising on cell phones, audiobooks, videobooks, webinars, and a myriad of other "New Media" genre.
 
These products are being created by anyone with some basic skills and a little time on their hands.
 
Few have been able to crack the income/residual lock, and fewer still understand the value of quality audio and voice acting.
 
DB COOPER: SESSION RATES
 
The discussion drew out the inimitable Board Mistress and Czar from the highly-regarded VO-BB (Voice Over Bulletin Board) forum, DB Cooper, who happens to have no small experience in this vein:
 
Game rates are session rates. Session only. Here's the AFTRA breakdown:
  • Day Performer (1 voice / 1 hour): $390.90
  • Day Performer (up to 3 voices / 4-hour day): $781.75
  • Additional Voices (each): $260.60
  • 6-10 Voices / 6-hour day: $1,563.55
Most productions will ask for the four-hour, three-character day.
 
This scale rate is the NET amount that will come to YOU. Add about 40% to that and you'll see what the production company would be paying out GROSS with a union job.
 
Nobody gets royalties or resids on a game, and this is a contentious bit of shiznit that is extremely nettlesome. The guys who spend years creating the frameworks, designing characters and environments, programming game physics and mechanics, creating audioscapes and writing sound tracks, do receive bonuses based on milestones (a kind of deadline) met, and sometimes a bonus based on units sold over a certain amount.
 
A bonus on a similar scale to the VO leads when a game is successful would be nice, but for the unions to argue "residuals" will drive game companies away from union talent.
 
None of the suits in the unions seem to understand the way the creation of game audio works. The one-hour, one voice rate is $40 less than the first hour of an industrial read.
 
This is pretty clear evidence that the folks who set that rate have never voiced a game project. Have these guys ever played the games they're making deals about?
 
In general, too often our rates are being negotiated by guys who haven't been in the trenches in years, if ever.
 
BETTYE ZOLLER: ALL OVER THE MAP
 
Finally, Bettye Zoller, also of much experience in the biz, chimed in with this astute contribution:
 
I presume you mean "Video Game Voicings Rates?" Well, they are all over the map!
 
But to get a guideline for yourself, visit the site www.aftra.org because AFTRA - after some trial, toil, and tribulation - set rates for voicing stuff for video games.
 
The "rub" here is, of course, that there are start-up companies that want a voice-over talent to voice a demo or a trial, to see if they can sell their developed game to somebody to manufacture.
 
But on the other side of the spectrum are the giant, rich companies that still often are paying pennies to voice talents while making zillions.
 
It's a hard call. If you book through your VO agents, they'll set your rates whether you're union or non-union. Online, it's a free-for-all game - who knows what you'll get paid? And probably you'll never see a dime in royalties.
 
The other thing about video games is that they often use lots of characters, character voices, making it even more difficult to make money because you may have only two to eight lines total as the "monster" or whatever. And a lot of the time it's grunting and screaming.
 
Check out the new AFTRA rates for games and other interactive media.
 
Dave Courvoisier (“pronounced just like the fine cognac, only no relation”) is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, writer, producer, voice actor, and the main weeknight news anchor on KLAS-TV, Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate. He also writes “Voice-Acting in Vegas,” a daily blog of adventures and observations in a style that’s true to his friendly Midwestern farm roots.
 
 
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