SAG-AFTRA ‘Likely’ to Strike Over Disputes of AI in Video Games

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Announced earlier in the week, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland (SAG-AFTRA’s National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator) spoke during a Q&A at SXSW and warned of a “50-50” chance that a strike will happen (as reported by Variety). This strike follows on the heels of the emerging use of AI across industries, including video games, which raised questions about the threat of AI replacing human performers for voice and motion capture during game development.

The potential strike comes after the 2023 action against major video game developers like Activision, Electronic Arts, and Epic Games that campaigned for fairer wages. A previous strike occurred in 2016-2017 concerning voice actors’ residual payments for games they were involved in. 

However, while both these previous SAG-AFTRA led strikes resulted in a positive outcome, the concerns and worries of this newest action have concerning implications. 

After a year of substantial job losses across the video game industry (most recently with PlayStation laying off 8% of its staff), game development costs have skyrocketed, and developers are turning to cheaper solutions to produce games faster. Most recently, Electronic Arts CEO Andrew Wilson discussed how generative AI tools could streamline EA’s game development process. A troubling implication that followed mass layoffs within EA a week before.

While this potential 2024 strike action does not address the entire use of AI across the video game industry, it does tackle a minor issue that could work towards the impetus of more significant solutions. When talking to the editor-in-chief of Fast Company, Brendan Vaughn, Crabtree-Ireland stated that it’s “… more likely that we will go on strike in the next four to six weeks because of our inability to get past these issues.” 

This move for action follows after SAG-AFTRA acknowledged opinions and oppositions among its members about the best way to overcome the threat of AI tools. Some members reportedly went as far as to call for a ban on using AI technologies in union-covered developers. However, Crabtree-Ireland quickly stated, “We would not have succeeded, any more than any union ever in history has been able to stop technology.” Following this, Crabtree-Ireland added, “The fact of matter is, we’re going to have AI.”

While the strike has not yet been confirmed, SAG-AFTRA has supported solutions to similar issues around the use of AI in film and TV. SAG-AFTRA remains open to negotiations on behalf of its members. Whether talks will happen before strike action is agreed upon is currently being determined.

Words by Sam Pegg


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