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Actors Out of the Game

19 May, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

Talks between video game makers and the unions that represent movie and TV actors have collapsed, with no apparent hope of winning residuals and profit-sharing for actors.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) had been bargaining with game makers since Feb. 15.

Previous contracts expired at midnight May 13, and there are no plans to resume talks, according to a SAG statement. Both unions have received strike authorizations from their members, even as game companies are announcing movie-themed games and touting star-powered voice talent. Union members in “key cities” will caucus to decide whether to strike. Final strike authorization requires the approval of each union's elected leadership.

“Game revenue exceeds domestic box office receipts,” said SAG national president Melissa Gilbert. She blasted producers for having rejected “even a modest proposal of a residual structure that would cost them less than 1 percent of the revenue generated on only the highest-grossing games.”

“There is only one way to describe their position: completely unreasonable and lacking in any appreciation of the contributions made by actors to the enormous profits enjoyed by this industry,” Gilbert said.

Producers' unwillingness to explore any revenue participation options for actors, even in the most successful games, was the key obstacle to a deal, according to SAG. Game makers rejected a union proposal to share in profits on games that sell more than 400,000 units, which, in 2004, would have impacted fewer than 30 games, according to SAG.

In the early 1990s the unions struck deals that included lower rate structures for actors and no back-end obligations. But as the game industry has grown and thrived — some games now gross more than $100 million — the unions have lobbied for new agreements to include a share of the profits generated by their work through a profit-based residual model.

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