Video Game Voice Actors Face Challenges in an Anti-Union Industry
By Christian Decker
It has been recently become known that in the gaming industry there have been a serious amount of infringements on worker rights. In order to deal with the demand of gamers constant demand for new content, games, or new characters and DLC, game developers have been working overtime and order to deliver a polished finished product. A few months ago news broke that the development team for Red Dead Redemption Two was worked to the bone to produce the now award-winning game. In similar fashion there were complaints that NetherRealm Studios was being too demanding of workers time for the newest edition the in Mortal Kombat series, Mortal Kombat 11.
It’s no surprise that people form all levels in the industry are starting to demand change. It’s perhaps been the most prevalent with the voice actors from some of our favorite games. Much of the trouble surrounding voice actor treatment culminated in 2017 when voice actors from various companies and games went on strike.
One of the new companies under fire for their anti-union activities is Gearbox Software, the company behind the popular video game series Borderlands. It came out a few months ago that the original voice actor for the character Claptrap, a popular, adorable but also frustratingly annoying robot character, David Eddings, was not returning to play Claptrap in the newest game, Borderlands 3. Eddings revealed on Twitter that The CEO of Gearbox, Randy Pitchford, had physically assaulted him, in addition to asking him, and other employees to take pay cuts with the promise of royalties later on. Of course, Pitchford has since denied the incident but there is an ongoing investigation into his conduct.
The newest chapter in the story concerns Troy Baker, a popular voice actor playing such characters as the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins, and Joel in The Last of Us. Baker was planning to reprise his role as the character Rhys, from the game Tales from the Borderlands, a popular spin off game from developer Telltale Games. Fans were excited to see the return of this character because it would mean that the Tales from the Borderlands game was now canon. As it turns out however, Gearbox was not accepting the talent of unionized voice actors.
According to Baker, the reason he did not reprise his role was that Gearbox “wouldn’t go union.” , according to IGN. Baker went on further: “So they came to me, and they were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’, Which I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And then they made it impossible for me to do the role. It had nothing to do with money, it had nothing to do with money. They just simply would not go about doing it the way that we needed it to be done. So, then it was like, I never said no.”
Gearbox later release a statement to IGN reading: “Troy is an exceptional talent and we were disappointed that he declined to partner on after being offered the part. We wish him the best and hope he knows the offer to collaborate with him still stands. Gearbox is a Texas company and is bound by Texas law – which means that a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labor union or other labor organization.” Gearbox denies that Baker was not allowed to work with the original cast because of his union membership and that according to Texas law they are required to hire both union and non-union workers in order to keep up with this law.
SAG-AFTRA however, has contradicted with this statement, stating that the company could indeed, in accordance with the law hire Baker, and still be in compliance with these laws. Gearbox has not offered a comment since.
The issue points to a long-standing problem that has affected the gaming community. Baker is just one voice actor who has come forward publicly to talk about these kinds of incidents. In many cases, as with Gearbox, companies will just give another reason for why they refused to work with certain talent, whether it be personal issues or to claim that the talent wanted more compensation for their work. Although there is an investigation looking into gearboxes practices, it’s unlikely that it will accomplish anything significant. Of course this is just one company, considering the recent revelations with employees other than the voice actors, it’s not likely that these issues will go away soon.