Voice actors threaten video game strike

Yahoo News article, via Slashdot.

Hollywood throws a tantrum because the games industry doesn’t play their game. Boo hoo.

“It is simply shortsighted to believe that consumers don’t care about the artistic quality of the characters.”

It is simply naïf to believe that consumers even notice voice acting except when it’s intolerably bad. And most of the time these days, it is merely mediocre and unnoticeable, union and non-union alike. Not to mention that it pales beside the other facets of artistic quality that the modellers, texture painters, animators, lighters, designers, audio guys, engineers et al. work so hard to polish.

Where voice acting stands out, many times it isn’t even union work. Part of Hollywood’s argument is that 9 or last year’s top 10 sellers involved union work. Let’s look at the data. Here are the top 10 selling games from 2004, according to the NPD Group. I think most industry bods would agree this is plausibly accurate.

1 Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
2 Halo 2
3 Madden NFL 2005
4 ESPN NFL 2K5
5 Need For Speed: Underground 2
6 Pokemon Fire Red W/ Adapter
7 NBA Live 2005
8 Spider-Man: The Movie 2
9 Halo
10 ESPN NFL 2K5

At a guess, #6 doesn’t involve voice acting. Sports games are all about realism, so they use real-life commentators, who are of course guild members. But at the end of the day they’re also some of the most predictable titles around: 12 month schedule, known fan base, nothing unusual. Marketing can hit targets very accurately on sports titles, Hollywood talent or not. Nothing would change if Hollywood pulled out.

Spider-Man is the one game in this list that (it could be seriously argued) needed Hollywood talent. But there are plenty of talented non-union voice actors out there who I think could have done just as good a job. Even EA, who can afford to hire the “real voices” sometimes draw the line *cough* Pierce Brosnan *cough*.

Is Hollywood seriously suggesting that voice acting had anything to do with sales of Halo, Halo 2 or NFSU? Wake up and smell the pixels! None of these games is an RPG, which is the only genre where voice acting is semi-regularly scrutinised by reviews. Voice acting is about 20th on the list of things an action gamer cares about. Voice actors want a bonus when a game breaks 400k units, and bonus for each 100k after that. I can hear the laughter in the video game publisher boardrooms from here. Do your worst, Hollywood. The video game industry can survive and thrive without you.

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