Voice actors speak out against SAG-AFTRA deal with AI voiceover company

SAG-AFTRA claims the deal was approved by "affected members of the union's voiceover performer community."
Image: SAG-AFTRA video games logo

SAG-AFTRA recently announced a major deal with AI voiceover company Replica Studios to enable voice actors to license and control use of their AI voice replica in interactive media – but while SAG-AFTRA claimed “affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community” approved the deal, the resulting online backlash has suggested otherwise.

Across social media, prominent voice actors have spoken out against SAG-AFTRA’s move, alleging the union went ahead with the deal without proper consultation or care for its voice acting community. Per details revealed by Variety, SAG-AFTRA penned the deal in order to control and moderate potential use of AI voices in video games and other mediums, and to ensure “informed consent” is part of the voice acting process.

But many voice actors believe the deal will only encourage exploitation, actively take jobs away from established voice actors, and prevent emerging actors from making a mark in the industry.

Read: SAG-AFTRA pens deal with AI voiceover studio for video game work

Steve Blum, a voice actor with over three decades of experience in high profile cartoon, anime, and video game projects (Digimon, Naruto, X-Men, Mortal Kombat, Diablo IV, Psychonauts 2, and much more) claimed “nobody” in the voice acting community approved the deal.

“With all due respect… you state in the article ‘Approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community.’ Nobody in our community approved this that I know of,” Blum said on Twitter / X. “Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?”

Veronica Taylor, best known as the English voice of Ash in Pokemon, shared similar sentiment. “How has this agreement passed without notice or vote? ‘voice to be used as a training data set’? Why can’t the actual actor be used for the videogame???” Taylor asked. “Every job brings a unique opportunity for an actor to …act. Encouraging/allowing AI replacement is a slippery slope downward.”

Erika Ishii, the voice of Valkyrie in Apex Legends, also expressed doubt about SAG-AFTRA’s review process, and who was consulted for this deal. “Approved by… WHO exactly??” Ishii asked. “Was any one of the ‘affected members’ who signed off on this a working voice actor?”

Per Melissa Medína (Starfield, Aliens: Fireteam Elite, Valorant), the largest issue is that while SAG-AFTRA claims to have consulted its voice acting community, it appears a significant number of members were not informed. In a Twitter / X post, she called on SAG-AFTRA to be more transparent about its deal, what the agreement entails, and what controls have been put in place.

Other voice actors have encouraged those impacted to attend upcoming union town halls to discuss the deal with Replica Studios, how the consultancy process took place, and why no formal vote was held amongst the wider voice acting community.

In response to ongoing concerns, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator for SAG-AFTRA, told IGN the AI deal was “an important step in ensuring the ethical application of these technologies in a way that ensures the use of members’ voices occurs only with informed consent and fair compensation” and served as a “model” for the industry – but this has seemingly not quelled overarching debate about the disruptive potential of AI voice work.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.