Bayonetta and voice acting

I’m not privy to any specific details about the situation between Hellena Taylor and PlatinumGames. The very public discourse around it is going through a very all-or-nothing no-nuance quick-takes cycle, as usual, and while I have personal opinions about Taylor along a number of axes, none of them are particularly relevant to the situation. (I will also not be buying Bayonetta 3, but only because I’m not a fan of the series to begin with, not because of this situation.)

The unfortunate thing is that people started rallying behind voice actors (and video game talent in general — there are many, many problems with how contractors and full-time employees are treated in the video games industry regardless of their role) and then the propaganda machine worked to tear down Taylor’s specific situation and, by proxy, all situations in the games industry.

One common refrain that people keep on bringing up is that she was offered $4000 per 4-hour session, which is an hourly wage of $1000! Isn’t that a lot of money?

The thing is, when someone is voice acting, getting $1000/hour for the session doesn’t mean they’re making $1000/hour by any reasonable metric of employment. A voice actor isn’t spending 40 hours a week doing these sessions; voice acting isn’t something you can do for 40 hours a week without destroying your voice. At most they’re going to be doing maybe 16 hours a week during a particularly grueling week, and this only really translates to, again, maybe 20 hours a month, and that’s for voice talent that’s especially in-demand.

There’s also a lot more to voice acting than the time spent in the recording session itself. The actor is going to spend a lot of time developing the voice and delivery and rehearsing their lines, and their time in the booth is probably going to be at most half of the time they spend on the actual project; there’s a lot more hours that go into the recording sessions that aren’t paid for at all.

Another thing to realize is that these voice actors don’t get any residuals or royalties from the games. It’s actually extremely rare for those to be a thing in the games industry as a whole; in indie gaming spaces sometimes you might see a revenue-sharing agreement (essentially royalties), but that’s more to make up for the lack of up-front funding that is common in indie games. Pretty much the only time you see anything like residuals is, again, in indie spaces, where it’s common for musicians to retain soundtrack monetization rights, so for very successful games with amazing soundtracks, the musician might make a supplemental income off of soundtrack sales or streaming royaties, but even this is generally a pittance, on top of barely-making-ends-meet rates for the initial composition.

Video game talent in general is paid bottom-tier rates for things being a “labor of love,” by studios which then turn around and make craptons of money on the games but still uses every excuse to go into cost-cutting mode. This applies to everyone involved: voice actors, composers, programmers, artists, gameplay designers, sound designers. And even the idea of giving the contributors credit so that things can go into their portfolios or having public recognition is usually weaponized; many studios will withhold credit from contributors who quit (or were fired) before the game shipped, for example. Sometimes there’s no credits to be found at all.

Whatever you think about Taylor and her actions, it’s still very important to have these conversations about the big-picture problems in the games industry.


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