About a week ago, I got an e-mail regarding voice-overs for World of Warcraft. They were looking for men 25-55, able to do accents.
But what was interesting about this was that it was non-union work.
It's hardly news that video game work for actors isn't very lucrative. Take a look at this NY Times article from 2008, about the dude who provided the voice & movements for GTA IV's Niko Bellic:
Mr. Hollick was paid only about $100,000 over roughly 15 months between late 2006 and early this year for all of his voice acting and motion-capture work on the game, with zero royalties or residuals in sight, he said.RTWT, because there's a lot of great stuff in there.
Now, $100,000 isn't a bad salary, but it is spread out over the course of three different years (altogether 15 months), and the sticking point is royalties. He put a lot of time and effort into a character in a game that has enjoyed both critical acclaim & commercial success.
And one of the areas video games have traditionally had problems with is voice acting. Rock Star, the games company that put out GTA IV are known for their careful work on characterization and voice-casting. But as that linked Guardian article suggests, Rock Star is the exception rather than the rule. And considering that even Rock Star treats actors as session players, the mentality isn't surprising.
But Rock Star was paying the going union rate for some of supporting cast ($730 a day). Hellick made $1030 a day.
The posting for World of Warcraft set the minimum day rate at $200. $25 an hour doesn't sound too bad IF they keep it to an 8 hour day. However, if it's non-union, they aren't restricted to an 8 hour day.
And context is important here. Remember, Rock Star paid $730 a day for work on GTA IV. WOW is paying just barely above a quarter of that.
Further context: in a recent on-camera class in Chicago, a freelance casting director (who works on commercials all the time) said to not bother booking non-union work if you were getting under $400 a day. That's for regional and local commercial work that's maybe seen over a couple of states. Not a video game which sold 4 million copies within the first month of release.
In other words, a Chicago-based restaurant chain could be paying actors more for a thirty second ad than one of the most popular MMOs is paying someone for recording pages and pages of dialogue.
This is why unions matter.