SAG-AFTRA Approves AI Voice Acting For Video Games

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Actor’s union SAG-AFTRA, which also represents voice actors and mo-cap performers in the games industry, has announced a “groundbreaking” agreement with AI voice studio Replica Studios, and voice actors aren’t happy. Many of the industry’s top talent has come out to state that they weren’t consulted on the deal, and don’t know anyone who was.

“The agreement between the leading AI voice company and the world’s largest performers’ union will enable Replica to engage SAG-AFTRA members under a fair, ethical agreement to safely create and license a digital replica of their voice,” SAG-AFTRA’s official statement reads.

“We are so happy to partner with Replica Studios, because this is a great example of AI being done right,” added SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher.

The statement says SAG-AFTRA’s AI deal was “approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community,” but a number of voice actors have responded on Twitter to criticize the agreement, adding that they were not consulted, and don’t know any voice actors who were.

“No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion,” said Elias Toufexis, the voice of Adam Jensen in the Deus Ex series. “From what I’m seeing, no one asked any of my peers either.” Steve Blum replied to SAG-AFTRA’s tweet to add: “Nobody in our community approved this that I know of. Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?”

Replica Studios tweeted the news on its own account, inviting people to ask questions about its process. “We can’t wait to show you what’s possible here for consent, contracts, and compensation,” the company said of its processes. “We’re not only concerned with those 3Cs, but also keen to make creativity and narrative storytelling more immersive and engaging to benefit the voice talent, the game studio, and the consumer.”

SAG-AFTRA has been negotiating on behalf of video game voice actors and mo-cap actors in the past year on issues similar to those faced by TV and film actors–including reasonable wage growth, workplace safety protections, and the use of AI. A strike was authorized last September in case a suitable deal could not be struck, but so far this strike has not been acted on.

The deal with Replica Studios appears to be mostly unrelated to these negotiations, and was announced as part of a CES event this week, but people have been quick to call out the union for authorising AI voice actors when AI was a key issue in last year’s extensive film and TV strike.

The film and TV agreement doesn’t outright ban AI, but requires explicit actor consent for how their digital replicas can be used, and requires studios to notify the union if considering using fully synthesized actors, giving the union a chance to bargain for human actors to be cast instead. “Parties acknowledge the importance of human performance in motion pictures and the potential impact on employment,” one clause of the agreement states.

AI voiceover has already started to appear in major game titles, with free-to-play shooter The Finals seeing criticism for its use of AI voices for its announcers.