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The Almighty Buck Entertainment Games

Video Game Actors Say They Don't Get Their Due 573

Dekortage writes "The New York Times reports today about Michael Hollick, the actor who provided the voice of Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV. Although the game has made more than $600 million in sales for Rockstar Games, Hollick earns nothing beyond the original $100K he was paid. If this was television, film, or radio, Hollick and the other GTA actors could have made millions by now. Hollick says, 'I don't blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it's the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.' Is it time for video game actors to be treated as well as those in other mediums?"
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Video Game Actors Say They Don't Get Their Due

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  • Re:Wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by Da Fokka ( 94074 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:41AM (#23503588) Homepage
    With the notable exception of Day of the Tentacle...

    Tentacle 1: I don't think you should drink that, it looks bad for you!

    Tentacle 2: Nonsense! It makes me feel great! Smarter... it makes me feel like I could... like I could... TAKE ON THE WORLD! (cue ominous organ music)

    Then again, I wouldn't have a clue who were the voice actors.
  • Re:100k... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Squapper ( 787068 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:43AM (#23503600)
    Indeed. I am a senior 3d-artist working in the game industry, and my salary for a game is nowhere near 100k
  • by mario_grgic ( 515333 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:43AM (#23503602)
    I would make a bet that he got paid more than the creative developers working 16 hours a day on the game implementation, and developers don't even have a union either.
  • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:48AM (#23503676)
    What about all of the creative programmers that create the interaction that drives the sales of these video games? What about their millions of dollars?

    Yeah, everybody is entitled to life + 100 years of profit from every piece of work that they do. Thats what I get, don't you?

    The thing is that the guy can't say this after the fact. If he wants a cut, then that needs to be in writing before he accepts the job. I mean, $100k is not bad for what I would imagine is a part time job for a while. I don't know the game, so I don't know the scale of his dialog skills in it, but I doubt it was 2,000 hours of work over a year of time (1 FTE in manager speak).

  • by QuantumPete ( 1247776 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:57AM (#23503786) Journal
    Voice actors are unionised. So he can't haggle for his own contract, but he has to agree to one that the industry and unions have worked out previously. If he wants percentages, he'd have to leave the union (and then be fairly unemployable) or get the union to renegotiate its contracts (which I guess is what the whole point of the article is).
  • by Cowardly Anonymity ( 1104529 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:57AM (#23503796) retrospect my statement about '"ordinary" talk' is confusing. By that I mean the everyday chatter you hear on the streets, the lines Niko yells out when he hits a pedestrian, etc.
  • Re:oh please (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:10AM (#23503960)
    Not russian, serbian. I am serbian. His accent is ok. They need to tone it down otherwise no one understand him!
  • by Critical Facilities ( 850111 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:26AM (#23504170)
    That's it exactly!

    This guy has the nerve to complain that he was ONLY paid $100k to essentially do voice over work. Apparently, he has absolutely no frame of reference for the entertainment industry (or at least, no frame of reference that's grounded in reality). Furthermore, the comparison in the article which says:

    Had this been a television program, a film, an album, a radio show or virtually any other sort of traditional recorded performance, Mr. Hollick and the other actors in the game would have made millions by now.

    That is such crap. By that rationale, eveyone who had ever done voice-over work for documentaries, or was a guest on a radio show would be a millionaire. The problem here is that this person a) maybe didn't negotiate well at the onset of the project and b) is confusing the success of the game with his success. These games didn't succeed and become wildly popular BECAUSE of this person's voice (or simulated gait for crying out loud). Rather, this person gained popularity due to the game's success (due to the design, art work, marketing, R&D, etc etc). This just sounds like a whiney guy who can't find other work....maybe because he isn't that great as a "voice actor".

    By the way, before you flame me or mod me troll, I am a composer for TV and movies, and am fully aware of each deal I enter into. If I make a choice to negotiate a set price for a project, and that project subsequently takes off and becomes wildly successful, I have no one by myself to blame for not negotiaitng a piece of the back end and making sure I get residuals/royalties. This guy need to learm the business if he's going to progress any further.
  • by Kamineko ( 851857 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:47AM (#23504424)
    GTA games aren't really big on the whole 'advertising real products' thing. Pretty much every product in the game is fictional, or a fictitious parody of an existing product.

    For example, in Need For Speed underground, you'll get race text messages on your Cingular cellphone/PDA. In GTA IV, you get text messages on your 'Whiz' phone.

    Maybe you were thinking of Crackdown?
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:49AM (#23504436)
    I would hate not to have a choice on what Union I join. In Belgium there is no union per profession. You have different unions who have different branches.
    Also each company with more then 50 employees MUST have a union representative(s) who everybody (even non-union workers) can vote for.

    Nobody in the company care whether I am a member of a union or not.

    So if I would not like how one union represented me, I would be able to go to an other. Choice matters.
  • Re:oh please (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:49AM (#23504446)
    Maybe it's because Nico Bellic is not russian but from ex-Yougoslavia?

  • by Starky ( 236203 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:00AM (#23504592)
    To those who suggest the actor is a whiner, reread the post. He appropriately blames the union for not including these kinds of positions appropriately in their collective bargaining efforts.

    Basically, many companies in the video game industry, a young(ish) business currently more or less an oligopoly, are making well above what would be considered normal profits. Barriers to entry are high, so I would anticipate they will continue to make above-normal profits for some time.

    The music industry, movie industry, and sports industry, among others, have gone through the same dynamic and the video game industry will doubtless see many of the same growing pains they have and be subject to the same kinds of bargaining dynamics. And in situations like this, with well-above-normal profits being generated, those who add significant economic value and don't use collective bargaining to claim a share of the pie are simply giving money away.

    Sure, with the exception of some rock stars, the coders in the trenches aren't being paid millions, but that's not a reason the actors shouldn't be paid more. If anything, it simply indicates the coders in such industries should strive to self-organize as well as actors and athletes.

  • by Aquitaine ( 102097 ) <> on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:03AM (#23504646) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I am a member of one of the acting unions (a sister union to SAG, which is who this guy is blaming).

    Before all of you hate this guy for wanting more than $100k, consider one very important aspect of actors' salaries that is usually why they get both a high daily rate and a percentage on a big project:

    They don't get a salary. Once the project is over, so is their income. Their health insurance and retirement only gets contributions while they're working, and in the case of health insurance, if you don't work enough weeks out of the year (and it's a lot right now, since the health insurance funds are all in the toilet) then your boss is still paying for your heath insurance (money he could be paying you with) but you aren't getting it.

    The saying goes that Actors work about 1/4 as much as regular people, but in that 1/4 of the time, they work 8 times harder. There is absolutely zero 'veg out at your desk' as an actor. You probably think it'd be a blast to have a job like voicing Nico Bellic, and in a lot of ways, it probably was - but you will tear up your voice doing the same dialog over and over again, particularly the pages and pages of 'you are caught on fire' and 'you fall off a building.'

    This guy earned $100k for 16 months of work. That's pretty good, but not great. This isn't a young noob, either. He's mid-career. $75k a year for Nico Bellic?

    Several people have rightly pointed out that people don't buy video games 'because of an actor' like they go see movies because of an actor. This is partially true. You don't buy a video game because a particular actor is involved (usually, though I expect Splinter Cell would be wildly unpopular if they axed the gravelly voice dude, Ironsides?). You do buy a video game because the acting & storytelling is extraordinary. Most games suffer from bad writing AND bad acting; a game that has both will review & sell well.

    Obviously it's not such a large factor that these guys should get the same slice a movie star is going to get, and I'm not even sure if residuals is the way to go for video games - there's a very good case to be made that the 3d artist/lead programmer or whatever is just as important or more important. In some studios, I imagine the lead guys have shares of stock in the company and so do get residuals in their way - but even if they don't, they get a salary. They get to work on every game. The actor doesn't.

    Having said all this, the unions will probably ask for too much. The actor who did Nico sounds like he's got his head on straight - he doesn't want to piss off Rockstar and he's not personally whining about it; he's allowing his case to be used to bring attention to the subject, which is pretty harmless. The question of 'when GTAIV makes a bazillion dollars, who should get what?' is a tough one and it -should- take a lot of haggling to figure that out. Even if you give Nico residuals, what about Roman? McLeary? Where do you stop?

    However you solve it, keep in mind that actors typically make a crapload of money on a daily basis because they work so little of time. Last I checked, at any given time, under 5% of my union is employed.
  • Re:oh please (Score:2, Informative)

    by zhevek ( 147623 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:06AM (#23504682) Homepage
    Except Niko is not Russian, he's Serbian. Did you play the game and listen to the dialogue? If you had, this point was pretty well made.
  • by Jimmy King ( 828214 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:09AM (#23504724) Homepage Journal
    If you weren't already +5 you'd be getting modded up more. This is exactly what I came here to say. I'm a developer. Some projects I work on end up earning the company nothing. Others are worth 10s and occasionally hundreds of thousands of dollars per month - ongoing for years. I don't get paid more just because the project I worked on earned a ton of money for the company even though any 2 (and many single) projects more than pay for my yearly salary each month.

    Come yearly raise time, I'll be pointing out the things I've worked on and how much of my contribution allowed them to be a huge success - not just that they were a success, but that they were a success specifically because of things I did and likely would not have been if I were not involved, and why that means maybe I should get a bit more money. Then I'll hope my boss sees it the same way. He's free to do the same come raise time for himself - his next contract.
  • by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <> on Thursday May 22, 2008 @11:10AM (#23505624) Journal
    Trust me perfecting the art of programming/modeling and constantly updating yourself with the new tools of the trade is at least as hard as preparing to be an actor if not harder. Sure there are thousands of low level programmers out there just as there are thousands of low level actors out there, but the creme of the crop in both spent countless hours perfecting themselves.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @12:35PM (#23507064)
    DreamWorks for crying out loud.

    Former DrewmWork(er).
  • by JebusIsLord ( 566856 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @03:11PM (#23509630)
    Actors are NOT overpaid (ever met an Actor?). I remember reading something a while back that said the average (Canadian) actor makes $20k/year. 0.0001% of actors (ie, the ones who've made it) are overpaid.
  • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @03:23PM (#23509790) Homepage
    Especially since these 'game actors' aren't usually all that great at what they do. Game developers are, typically, "the best of the best".

    Case in point, Max Payne's voice actor/facial actor was one of the developers. Max Payne 2 replaced him with an 'actor' - and the presentation was pretty bad in all respects. MP wouldn't have been half as popular as it was if it'd had had an 'actor' in the leading role...

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein