Roger Clark, the voice of Arthur Morgan, isn’t happy with a new AI deal for voice actors. Picture: Rockstar
A ‘groundbreaking’ agreement regarding the use of AI voices in video games has been met with widespread criticism from voice actors.
Following the Hollywood actors and writers’ strikes last year, the ethical and financial concerns around the use of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry has been thrown into the spotlight.
The issue extends to video game voice actors too, with the idea of developers having access to a digital voice replica of their performances potentially reducing demand for their work and, in turn, affecting their livelihoods.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) union and AI voice technology company Replica Studios announced a ‘groundbreaking AI voice agreement’ on Tuesday, which claims to help actors ‘safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas with industry-leading protections tailored to AI technology’.
According to the announcement post, the agreement will allow Replica to ‘engage SAG-AFTRA members under a fair, ethical agreement to safely create and license a digital replica of their voice’ – citing it for use in game development and ‘other interactive media projects’ from pre-production to final release.
While the announcement states that the deal was ‘approved by affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community’, many prominent voice actors have since called out the actor’s union for not informing them at all.
Steve Blum, who has voiced characters in Mortal Kombat and God of War, wrote in response on Twitter: ‘Nobody in our community approved this that I know of. Games are the bulk of my livelihood and have been for years. Who are you referring to?’
Yong Yea, who is the new English voice actor for Kiryu Kazuma in the Like A Dragon series, wrote: ‘Every voice actor I know not only didn’t approve this, they pretty much heard about this for the first time today on Twitter.’
Elias Toufexis, perhaps best known for playing Adam Jensen in Deux Ex, was similarly baffled. ‘I would humbly consider myself one of the top voice actors working in games. No one asked me about this. No one reached out for my opinion. From what I’m seeing, no one asked any of my peers either.’
The issues raised by the deal were outlined by Veronica Taylor, who voiced Ash Ketchum in the Pokémon animated series. “Why can’t the actual actor be used for the video game?! Every job brings a unique opportunity for an actor to… act. Encouraging/allowing AI replacement is a slippery slope downward.’
Although AI is a controversial topic, with most games publishers only dabbling in its use so far, there have been some titles, most notably PC shooter The Finals, that uses AI voices on their own, with no human voice actors at all.
The game has been widely criticised for doing so but the developers claim it was a cost and time saving consideration – one that, despite a minor outcry, does not seem to have affected its popularity.
Red Dead Redemption 2’s Roger Clark further elaborated on the issue, adding: “If I can pay for permission to have an AI rendering of an ‘A-list’ voice actor’s performance for a fraction of their rate I have next to no incentive to employ 90% of the lesser known ‘working’ actors that make up the majority of the industry.’
GameCentral has reached out to SAG-AFTRA for comment regarding the responses.
The post announcing the deal makes no mention of how much digital replicas could be sold for, only that the deal ‘ensures consent and fair compensation for their contributions’.
Following the Hollywood actors’ strike, which concluded in November last year, the SAG-AFTRA union said it had reached a deal with the AMPTP (who represent companies like Netflix, Warner Bros. and Disney), which included ‘unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI’.
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