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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:100k... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @08:42AM (#23503592)
    I wonder if the voice actor thinks that Rockstar wouldn't be able to find someone to do basically the same quality of voice acting for $99,000, or $98,000. Somehow, I think they could.

    Of course, it probably wouldn't hurt Rockstar much to take 3 or 4 percent of the profit and split it up among the whole project team. Assume that they have made ~$100 million on those sales and that there are 10,000 people involved (that's probably high) and each person gets a few hundred dollars, which is better than a few hundred pats on the back.
  • by InvisblePinkUnicorn ( 1126837 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:00AM (#23503824)
    ... then why did he sign the contract? Had he not heard of all the previous GTAs enough to know that GTA IV would be a huge success?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:10AM (#23503954)
    As game developers, we're already bound that way if we use any Screen Actors Guild members. If you use one, you have to use only SAG talent, or you'll be blacklisted and never get to use any SAG talent ever again.

    Unions suck. Please don't get them any deeper into my industry than they already are.

    As far as being paid points off the back end goes, if you're not that central to the project, don't expect a slice of the profits.
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:11AM (#23503972) Homepage Journal
    of the credits DON'T COUNT.

    Amazed people haven't figured it out. These "actors" are the center of the universe, the rarely having completed high school know it alls", the ones who will solve all the worlds problems by jetting there and handing out candy bars"

    The people with the grunt work, the programmers, cameramen, gaffers, q&A, and such, well they are just doing a job any chimp could do.

    Honestly why should we expect any less of a comment from the likes of this guy? It is quite possible he is good person and generally fun to be around, but the number of these dicksperts that get on the tube and tell us how wonderful they are and how special they are and such and such is beyond number. Hell I take many of their recommendations in the completely opposite fashion...
  • by rickkas7 ( 983760 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:13AM (#23503996)
    The guy made $ 1,050 per day for about 95 days over 15 months to make about $ 100,000. Software developers probably made more than that in 15 months, but they had to work about 325 days. I'm feeling no sympathy.
  • by tmalone ( 534172 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:40AM (#23504334)
    Video games are starting to sell like movies. Just look at Final Fantasy. How many times is Square going to trot out the old games? Now, there weren't voice actors in those games, but it does show that older titles do have value. Lunar, originally for the SegaCD was later re-released on the Saturn, and later still on the PS1. That game had lots of voice acting. I wonder who got the money for those releases?

    If the video game industry wants to be taken more seriously, they should start taking their product more seriously. That means respecting the talent that actually creates the games. Programmers shoulld get paid like writers. They need to have a guild. The head of the team should probably be considered the director or producer. As actors become more and more integral to the success of a game,they should be paid like any other actor. Games will never be "art" until the people who make them start considering them to be art.
  • by tRANIS ( 195360 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @09:52AM (#23504482) Homepage
    100k for some voice work is pretty damn good.
    If hes whining because he didn't do his contract right, so what.

    And from the developers view, I would only pay the voice actors like this, makes sense. Your the one taking the financial risk of 100s of millions downs the tube so its your reward. Now if you wanted to give bonuses based on sales thats your own egg, but it would keep things like this from happening.
  • by Caine ( 784 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2008 @10:35AM (#23505086)
    If you think that there's not major programming work to be done on each game, even if you're using an old engine as base (which basically everyone do), you're delusional.

    Games are no longer defined by the stunning graphical advancements made by one genius programmer.

    You'd be suprised how often they are. Epic (who makes the unreal engine, used by many games) had at least until recently (don't know about now) about 40-50 employees in total. And by the way, I've said nothing about graphical programming alone.

    Noone's arguing artists, designers and story writes aren't very important, but if you think the programming is "now handled by Engineers at ATI and NVIDIA, with some finishing touches by the DX team" you are so laughably wrong I don't know what to say.
  • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @11:00AM (#23505504)
    I believe it - the 70% that requires 10% of the effort. I've worked for a company where we had a 6 man team, and 80% of the programming was done by one man. The other 20% required much more effort, though, including debugging and extending his existing work, doing reports for it, minor fixes and changes, etc. The skeleton of the program was built by him, but the majority of the actual effort was done by others.
  • by Reverend528 ( 585549 ) * on Thursday May 22, 2008 @11:13AM (#23505688) Homepage

    Voice actors are a dime a dozen
    Believe it or not, there actually are talented voice actors in the world. People like Billy West and Hank Azaria who can do a variety of different voices. Hell, there are scenes of futurama that consist solely of Billy West talking in different voices.

    Disclaimer: I'm not saying that this GTA guy is a talented voice actor, just that they do exist.

  • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @11:41AM (#23506208) Homepage Journal
    That is grossly untrue. I've worked for 3, including Blizzard, and that was not remotely true. I would guess that no single programmer has contributed more than 20% of the codebase for a AAA title in the last 10 years.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @11:49AM (#23506378)
    Yes, but contractors always make more money up front because of the risk of long periods between work.

    How many 100k voice-acting gigs are there in the Video Game world? My guess is that 100k gig helped to offset the years when he makes 20k.
  • by HiVizDiver ( 640486 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @12:11PM (#23506716)

    I don't give a rat's ass about who plays which role. I just watch the damn film and enjoy it or not.
    Ridiculous. You WOULD if you watched what you THOUGHT would be a good movie, and they had a shitty actor in the lead role. It can and will ruin an otherwise great film. Unless the only films you watch are where things asplode constantly, in which case your original statement may be true. See Transformers for a good example - that kid in the lead sucked, but no one gave a shit. It's really great that they put him in the new Indiana Jones movie. :-/ But actors (at least the GOOD ones) are NOT interchangeable.

    This does bring up an interesting point someone made earlier, however - I don't think we're at the point YET where the actors make or break a game. I've played plenty of games that had shitty voice acting, and it didn't matter much, but as games become more immersive, it may become more critical to not only hire GOOD talent for a game, but the RIGHT talent for each role within the game.

    That said, I think that GTA IV did a great job in all aspects of the voice acting - yes, I do pay attention to this. As a perfect example of my point about good vs. shitty acting, there is ONE ROLE in the entire game that took me out of the experience every time I heard it - there is a stripper at the strip club who has the WORST Southern accent. She's the one who says "You wanna come back with me?" and the word "me" is LONG and DRAWN OUT and sounds more like "may". All the other voices in the game seem well balanced and seem to fit (yes, even Carmen's) except this one, which sounds like a person who has no idea what a southern drawl sounds like.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @12:31PM (#23506996)
    I can understand actors wanting residuals when considering how much the company owners are raking in. $600 million in profits, I'm the voice of the character and I only get $100k? What the hell? Yet at the same time, why shouldn't the secretary get a cut of the overall profits? That coffee doesn't make itself! And then we get into lunacy land.

    Overall, I think long-term royalties are a bad idea, especially because of the corporate greedheads. I think a limited copyright should exist for 15 to 20 years, then it should be dropped. That's enough time for an inventor to make money off his invention, a writer to rake it in off of his book, and then it's done. Why the hell is Jimi Hendrix making executives millions of dollars decades after he kissed the sky? Why in the fucking hell does MLK's family have rights over his name and likeness, up to and including selling it to marketing companies so they can use civil rights to turn a fucking buck selling crap?

    It's the inequitable distribution of income that really rankles me. I do believe that there's a measure of reward that should be had commensurate with risk. However, when the money men are well-secured in their positions of power and are taking very little risk to finance a project, why should they earn a higher return than the people pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into the effort?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2008 @12:34PM (#23507056)
    That's right: the game didn't choose someone as expensive as Brad Pitt because they wanted to save money and only needed an actor of a certain caliber to fulfill the role. You don't hire the New York Philharmonic for your wedding when a local string quartet will do, and you don't pay the local string quartet the million or so that it would have taken to get the New York Phil. to play for you.

    There should be a royalty system. The AFM--musician's union--negotiates video game sound track recordings to pay in ways similar to any published recording or movie. This is a good model because, think about it, musicians performing for movie soundtracks receive royalties and upfront payment, but these payments are all small for individuals--not enough to live off of if you recored a few movies/games a year. Sometimes star players such as Yo-Yo-Ma or Joshua Bell will record sound tracks and will receive much higher payments, but that happens when the movie/game director chooses to have such a caliber of musician.

    At best, this actor received a fair wage to make up for the lack of any substantial residual income. The thing is that if the games don't want high caliber actors, they will always hire the best actor they can afford. He had the option of turning down the job, but didn't; he ignored the union convention of turning down work that pays below scale.

    At least this is just a voice in the wind. At least he made more than almost any musician makes while recording sound tracks for movies and games.
  • by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @12:37PM (#23507092) Journal

    Back when John Carmack gained his fame, entire video games were produced by 3-4 people.
    I know a guy who worked at Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts) in the 80's. He recently went back for their 25th anniversary party, and talked about his experiences there at the time. He worked on some Commodore 64 games at the time, usually with maybe one other engineer. He was responsible for pretty much everything -- writing the memory manager, networking code, graphics, etc. etc.

    At lunch, the kid he sat next to was responsible for wood and ice simulation in the new star wars game -- and nothing else. They said rendering a single pixel in that game required about as much memory as a whole commodore 64 had -- 32k.

    So yeah, game development has changed dramatically.
  • by Cathoderoytube ( 1088737 ) on Thursday May 22, 2008 @02:06PM (#23508606)
    You have no idea.
    I'm a professional animator, and I have to say voice actors can be an extreme pain in the ass. They do about an hours worth of work but make more money than everybody else in the production. The last show I worked on the lead voice actor put well over 300 people out of work for 2 months while he re-negotiated his contract. They're so self absorbed and disconnected from the reality that they think they're the only important aspect of the production. On top of all that when the bleeder finally did agree to come back to work, they had to fire several people just to make up for the extra money they were giving this guy.

    So really, I have zero sympathy for voice actors.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard