Game Developer Resentment Grows towards Prima Donna Voice Actors
For much of the week the internet has been inundated with dire rumblings of a looming video game voice actors strike. Video game voice actors have only ever been payed around the minimum permissible wage allowed for by current union contracts, which is substantially less than the wages earned by their anime voice acting counterparts, and is drastically lower than the money accrued by film and TV actors. Video game voice actors consider this to be a particularly raw deal given the fact that games bring in so much more revenue than anime and Hollywood films.
SAG-AFTRA, the union advocating for voice actors in this stoush, is demanding that voice actors be given a percentage of a game’s profits, along with a stunt coordinator and stunt pay for ‘vocally stressful recording sessions’. They are also demanding that developers not be allowed to hire non-union voice actors. Currently union members are voting on whether to engage in industrial action if their demands are not met, with voting to close on the fifth of October. Here is the thing though: voice actors are among the most unnecessary component of a game’s production. Gamers rarely ever play games for their dramatic component, and voice acting performances usually only stand out if they are bad – in which case they serve to break immersion. Despite grossing more than anime and Hollywood films, games are extremely expensive products to produce, and a single misfire is enough to sink many studios. Thus, in instances of games becoming genuinely profitable studios are loathe to give away multiple percentage points of their profits, given that hitting the jackpot in this sense allows for a little breathing room.
Enter the industry’s notoriously under-paid and overworked based game developers, most of whom are effectively shouldering a huge pay cut in order to work within the medium that they love. Games can ultimately be made without the contribution of voice actors, yet they cannot be made without the contributions of artists, designers, and programmers, many of whom have been working for multiple years on the same project for hourly wages that are comparable to the ones currently earned by voice actors. It is with this mindset that overworked game developers tend to look at the agitation of voice actors, and become incredibly frustrated at the big to-do made about voice actors when they have far less commitment to these projects.
This week Niche Gamer spoke anonymously with several AAA and former-AAA game developers about the prospect of a voice actors strike, with the prevailing mood being a resounding chorus of “do it, faggots“!
“Drop them all. I couldn’t give less of a shit who the actors are that perform game voices. These people are nuts. They already get too much money for what is arguably a pretty easy gig. We’re working years on single projects for, if we are lucky, fair salaries.”
“The problem us devs have is that they are asking for royalties for a day or a week of work when devs work on titles for 2-5 years and get none. Every few years they do this and re-learn that they aren’t that special.”
“And the ONE guy that gets all the jobs so ‘narrative designers’ can jerk off to meeting him”
[One presumes they are talking about Troy Baker]
“There was a time when devs used to get royalties… and you worked your ass off in the hope that when the game made it big you would see a nice pay day. Now, seems that game development is like a labor camp where no matter how hard you work you will never get a big reward for your efforts.”
Ultimately, nobody is forcing voice actors to work within gaming when they could be doing anime or even trying out for film roles. Rather, it is their choice, and they are choosing to work within an industry that has many crippling cost pressures. More money spent on acting means that a game will have less budget to allocate towards art, design, programming, and most importantly testing and polish. If American voice actors push up their costs too far, then they will be in a situation similar to American game composers and musicians, where studios simply opt to get this external component of production done overseas, usually in England. If the proposed strike led to more voice work being done in the UK, then gaming would only benefit from the injection of greater diversity into the voice acting gene pool – though this is likely a boost in competition that America’s voice actors would not relish. More to the point however, if American voice actors are so sorely done by, then how can they even afford to strike?
The bottom line is that the mega-publishers of gaming might be able to absorb this cost, but more modest studios would be priced right out of the market. That being said, even mega-publishers likely could not afford to give in on this issue, as the very last thing they would want is to encourage the prospect of game developers forming their own union to demand more lucrative wages. Ultimately, voice actors do not need to work within this medium if they do not want to, and if they do want to then they should reconcile themselves to the fact that they are a tertiary expense. One would be well happy with a return to text boxes anyway.
Konami up in Flames
Yesterday there was a rumour making the rounds suggesting that the Konami headquarters were on fire – it made for a fantastic metaphor. Sadly, the Konami building was not actually on fire, rather [for some bizarre reason] there was a whole bunch of steam being expelled from the rooftop exhaust fans. The Konami building may not have been literally on fire, yet their software development business has certainly gone up in smoke. Konami was once one of the biggest and best loved video game developers in the world – how long ago those days seem. We have been watching for years as Konami ceded responsibility for developing its franchises to external developers, and then as one franchise after the next was mothballed and consigned to the trough marked ‘pachinko fodder’. For months now we have been hearing reports that Konami were winding up production on console games, a fact confirmed by their decision to shutter Kojima Productions. Then just last week it was confirmed that Konami’s technical director had left the company on account of the fact that PES 2016 is the only console game that they still have in development, with no others planned, and the Fox Engine being put out to pasture. Apparently our senses deceive us however, as Konami claims that everything we have interpreted with our cognitive faculties up to this point has been completely mistaken:
“I can promise you that we’re definitely not leaving Metal Gear behind or anything like that. I know some blogs were claiming that online this morning, but I’m not really sure where they’d be getting that from.
We’re still definitely working on console games and franchises such as Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Castlevania, PES and all the rest.
I know there’s a lot of folks out there that really want us to say it’s otherwise, for some reason, but it’s just not true. Those teams are definitely still working on designing and programming great games.”
Hear that? It is officially Konami’s position that we should ‘don’t listen to the haters’! They must think us very stupid. What has been happening is blatantly evident for all gamers to see. The Silent Hill and Castlevania franchises have not been developed in-house for many, many years now, and a publisher does not simply sack Hideo Kojima and his crew if they intend to produce further games in the Metal Gear series. It is obvious that the reports are all true, and that Konami have substantially divested themselves of the capacity to produce console games, which makes all the more perplexing their decision to dispute what is already common knowledge. They could have taken the opportunity to confirm that they were done with console development, ending the endless maelstrom of rumour and speculation. They could have ripped it off like a band-aid and finally been done with it. Instead Konami has elected to obfuscate, and thus fuel the halo of penumbral negativity that has hung over the company for months. It would have been infinitely better if Konami HQ had burned to the ground.
Retro VGS Was a Stupid Idea Which Has Come to Nothing
One has never been terribly optimistic about the prospects of the Retro VGS – it has always seemed a little conceptually pointless. It was initially designed as an ARM CPU embedded in FPGA circuitry and contained within an Atari Jaguar’s plastic molding. It was designed primarily for collectors who missed the tangibility of game cartridges and 2D sprite-based graphics. The FPGA circuitry would effectively enable the system to perfectly recreate the hardware characteristics of multiple game systems ranging from the Colecovision to the Neo Geo – thus assisting developers to faithfully reproduce the aesthetics incumbent to these retro consoles. According to the people behind the Retro VGS, the system was to inspire a whole spate of indy developers to produce retro cartridge-based games – though it is extremely unclear why this would ultimately be more-so the case for the existence of the Retro VGS, when there is already a far larger existing install-base of SNES and Genesis owners. Any developer wishing to produce a retro game which ships on an expensive cartridge is already free to do so for existing popular platforms, raising the question of precisely who this niche piece of hardware would be serving.
The initial concept of the Retro VGS may have been misguided, but it was at least neat. The concept was novel enough that the project collected a large number of interested followers who wholeheartedly bought into the project. Somewhere along the way this project lost its way however, as the designers decided to lose the FPGA – which was one of the primary features that originally attracted retro gamers to the Retro VGS. Basically the console was now an Android indie console which played games from cartridge, and what is worse is that the incompetence of the console’s designers led to the cost of the system blowing-out massively. The Retro VGS was originally intended to cost consumers between one-hundred and two-hundred dollars, but the use of needlessly expensive components and feature bloat led to the price of the console inflating to a massive $350! That is an Android console that is more expensive than a PS4 or Xbox One!
Hilariously, one of the selling points that the Retro VGS designers are touting for their console is the fact that their games cannot be patched! When asked what the team planned to do in the event that a bug slipped through testing, the designers stated that developers would be instructed to submit bug-free games, which is an absolutely fool-proof plan! Genius! If a crippling bug does happen to slip into the final game then the team plans to stage a mass recall of cartridges so they can fix them and then send them back. One does not even jest!
The former designer of the console’s FPGA board, Kevin ‘Kevtris’ Horton, reached out to NintendoLegend this week to discuss the tumultuous development of the Retro VGA, and what led to his eventual departure from the project. Kevtris painted a bleak picture of ineptitude where costs were massively inflated by nonsensical insistence that gold-plated components produced in the USA [maximum cost for minimum quality]be used, and modest ROMs were to be eschewed in favour of possibly putting small hard drives into cartridges:
“Eric: Was there a single moment when you began to have misgivings about being on the team, or was it a gradual process?
Kevin: It started out seeming feasible until the proverbial kitchen sink was added. When I heard them talk about thinking about using small hard drives on the carts I knew this bird would never fly.
Kevin: It was a lot of talk about what could be done, pie in the sky things such as “100 year” flash ROMs. I tried to talk them down to a more manageable/cheap solution like a single serial flash ROM that could hold an FPGA core and the requisite game to run on it but they wouldn’t hear me out. I also gave other cost cutting measures and explained how the FPGA should be used to do video processing from an ARM system instead of the rube-goldberg arrangement of buffers and transceivers their HW guy wanted. It would’ve saved money and PCB space and wiring.
Eric: Can you remember the original vision for the VGS product in your initial discussions? And, perhaps: How was that vision different from what ended up being represented on the IndieGoGo page?
Kevin: I can’t remember a whole lot. It was originally going to be an FPGA + ARM core I think at first. Then it morphed into an FPGA + ARM core (single chip) into that plus another ARM based SOC (system on a chip- i.e. something you’d see in the Ouya).
When it launched it transformed into a TI SOC of some kind with “3D capabilities” that was so new the data sheet wasn’t even ready, and chips were not going to ship from TI until november of this year. I guess they still are over a month away from having any kind of silicon yet.
Eric: If we were sitting at a bar tonight together, and you had a couple beers in you, and I asked you what you thought of the Retro VGS project, what would you tell me?
Kevin: Haha. It was a dead duck 5 months ago, and it remains a dead duck. Only now the duck has been gold plated and made in the USA and is designed to last 100 years.”
The more that the designers talk about the system, the worse it actually sounds. When asked why there were so few games in development for the system, one of the designers said they deliberately limited the number of games in development, because fewer games is always better, right? Not to worry that there are no games however, as the designers will tell anyone who will listen that they will be getting new games in the Contra and Phantasy Star franchises! So far there is no prototype with no CPU and no FPGA – but not to worry, as the system is not going to be made. The Retro VGS launched its Indiegogo campaign days ago, and for days now has been stranded on 3% funded. The developers have, naturally, resorted to sour grapes, and are accusing any naysayers of being either ill-informed or haters. In reality though, it is very easy to see that this project is going absolutely nowhere, and badmouthing gamers for their ability to see through very obvious falsehoods will not achieve anything good for the people behind the Retro VGS.
Funimation Rocked by Anti-Gamer Prison School Dubbing Scandal
Crunchyroll suddenly became many people’s favourite Western purveyor of anime, perhaps a tad unfairly, this week after the localisation team responsible for dubbing Prison School went rogue in order to insult a sizable chunk of the show’s audience – with echoes of game journalism’s own suicidal ‘gamers are dead’ phase.It will come as little surprise to Lusipurr.com readers that there is a large degree of cross-over between anime and gaming, and this is especially the case with highly lewd content like Prison School. Imagine the surprise of gamers when they tuned into the seventh episode, only to be insulted as perverted GamerGate creepers. Even worse, the line was not used to replace some cultural curio that Western audiences would not have understood, but rather it replaced solid dialog replete with meaning, as it concerned the respect that is due an upper-classman. Moreover, a reference to GamerGate does not even make any sense within the show’s setting, as it is not a movement which has any kind of traction or awareness within Japan. What makes this particularly disappointing is the fact that J.C.Staff trusted these people to translate their show, and it was their job to accurately translate the content within reason. Instead the localisation team decided to inject their own personal politics into somebody else’s creation in order to attack the program’s audience, which is kind of gross.
The dub’s lead writer, Jamie Marchi, is a committed anti-gamer and follower of Brianna Wu, but was not actually responsible for making the changes. Rather, it was a sub writer by the name of Tyson Rinehart. A cursory look at his Twitter feed does not reveal much in the way of overt Social Justice leanings, which makes it seem likely that Rinehart was playing up the anti-gamer shtick in order to meet the approval of his senior colleague. Regardless, when gamers decided to voice their complaints to Rinehart he decided to double down on the insults:
“If you think rape threats against women in gaming are acceptable, I’m glad my script pissed you off. #PrisonSchool #itwasjustonelineyounerds
Who would’ve guessed that guys who couldn’t get a girlfriend would be part of the show’s demographic?”
While Rinehart was responsible for making the changes, it is certainly the case that Marchi knew about the changes, and likely approved them, before the show went to air. It is perplexing as to what the two rogue translators were even trying to achieve by butchering the episode’s script, as this is not the sort of show that a Social Justice Warrior would ever watch. Rather, the move seems designed to deliberately upset Prison School‘s audience of dapper pantsu connoisseurs. One feels a certain degree of sympathy for Funimation in this instance, as they likely had no idea what kind of mischief this localisation team was getting up to. That said, one is of the view that Funimation do owe their audience an explanation for what happened, and an assurance that it will not happen again.