SAG-AFTRA could strike against the games industry soon

Contract negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and major video game companies have reportedly broken down.
Image: SAG-AFTRA video games logo

SAG-AFTRA is reportedly 50-50 on initiating a strike against the largest companies in the games industry, due to negotiation failures around the use of artificial intelligence (AI). As reported by Variety, SAG-AFTRA chief Duncan Crabtree-Ireland recently took the stage at SXSW in Austin, Texas to confirm the AI issue in video game contracts has not yet been resolved.

Answering a question during a Q&A session, Crabtree-Ireland stated it was “50-50, or more likely than that we will go on strike in the next four to six weeks because of our inability to get past these issues.”

For months, SAG-AFTRA has been in negotiation with video game companies to better regulate the use of AI, and provide actors who perform in video games with better control of the use and replication of their likeness and voice.

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

Major companies involved in the negotiations include Activision, Blindlight, Disney Character Voices, Electronic Arts, Epic Games, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Take 2 Productions, VoiceWorks Productions, and WB Games – all of which have utilised the services of SAG-AFTRA actors in previous video games.

“It’s time for the video game companies to stop playing games and get serious about reaching an agreement on this contract,” Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA president, said of the negotiations in September 2023.

“Our membership understands the existential nature of these negotiations, and that the time is now for these companies – which are making billions of dollars and paying their CEOs lavishly – to give our performers an agreement that keeps performing in video games as a viable career.”

It has now been several months, and several rounds of bargaining, and it appears a new agreement has not yet been penned. Per Crabtree-Ireland, AI remains a core sticking point, and the reason why SAG-AFTRA cannot strike a new deal with the major video game companies.

“We want to make sure the implementation is human-centred and focused on augmentation [of production], not replacement of people,” Crabtree-Ireland said at SXSW. SAG-AFTRA is not trying to stop companies implementing AI, but attempting to negotiate a better relationship with the technology going forward.

With a strike already formally authorised within SAG-AFTRA, we could see this go ahead in the coming weeks. For major video game productions utilising SAG-AFTRA union members, this would mean a temporary halt to development – a bugbear which may hopefully lead to change in contract negotiation status.

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.