Actors union SAG-AFTRA has announced an agreement with AI voice studio Replica Studios outlining how AI voices can be used in video games.
With AI voice cloning improving exponentially, it seems inevitable that the financial and logistical benefits will see the tech taking over from humans. SAG-AFTRA has the unenviable job of finding a way to protect its members as AI disrupts the industry.
The union’s statement said, “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.”
The “experimental” agreement is valid for 1 year as a trial of the agreed terms. The contract outlines conditions and payments to voice actors during the creation of the digital voice and the licensing of the subsequent use of the AI voice in video games.
SAG-AFTRA said the agreement was unanimously agreed upon by a committee “made up of actors who regularly work in the video game industry.”
Even so, some of the union’s top voice actors were surprised by the announcement and said they hadn’t been consulted.
Elias Toufexis, who has worked on blockbuster video games like Deus Ex and Assasin’s Creed, tweeted, “No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion. From what I’m seeing, no one asked any of my peers either.”
If they were going to get input from some of the big names in video game voice-acting you’d think they might have asked Steve Blum who voiced characters in games like Call of Duty and God of War.
Blum tweeted, “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?”
Excuse me? 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. Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?
— Steve Blum (@blumspew) January 9, 2024
This agreement is separate from the film and TV agreement that is still seeing details hammered out after the months-long strike came to an end last year.
It’s also separate from the Interactive Media Agreement that the union is still negotiating with leading video game makers. The union has since voted to approve a strike for its members involved in the video game industry but it has yet to go into effect.
Most of the criticism of the agreement has been related to a lack of consultation, and not that it’s necessarily a bad deal. However, if you make a living from voice acting in the gaming industry you’re probably not excited at the changes that are happening.
SAG-AFTRA acknowledged that “member viewpoints on AI vary greatly, from those who would like to ban it to those who are excited about the opportunities it presents.”
Banning AI voices is unlikely to happen and, for now at least, human voice actors are still required for the initial recording process.
In the longer term, it looks like AI voices will save video game publishers a lot of money while talented voice actors may struggle to find work.