Video Game Makers Are the Next Target For Actor Strikes, SAG Chief Says at SXSW

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland warns of 50-50 chance of a SAG strike against the video game industry.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland
Duncan Crabtree-Ireland attends the 30th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on February 24, 2024 in Los Angeles, Calif. Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) was a huge sticking point behind the Screen Actors Guild (SAG or SAG-AFTRA)’s strikes against Hollywood studios last year. The creative industry’s ongoing clash with the technology could trigger another SAG strike in the video game space within the next four to six weeks, according to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG’s national executive director and chief negotiator. 

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“We have strike authorization in that contract, and it is at this point at least 50-50 if not more likely than that,” Crabtree-Ireland told Fast Company editor-in-chief Brendan Vaughan in an onstage interview today (March 9) at SXSW 2024 in Austin, Texas.

“I really hope that we are able to avoid that,” Crabtree-Ireland added. “We don’t want to go on strike, but we are not going to make deals with these companies that do not protect our members from abusive exploitative uses of A.I.” 

Though SAG has been negotiating with video game companies since 2022, the actors’ union voted to authorize a strike against the video game industry in September 2023, a few months before it finalized its contract with Hollywood studios. “Between the exploitative uses of A.I. and lagging wages, those who work in video games are facing many of the same issues as those who work in film and television,” Chief contracts officer Jay Rodriguez said in a statement at the time. 

Crabtree-Ireland said that, while some video game companies have been cooperative with the actors, many of the major game studios are pushing back. In January, the union came to an agreement with gaming company Replica, allowing it to engage SAG member for voice work “under a fair, ethical agreement.” Some voice actors openly criticized the deal, but Crabtree-Ireland called it “groundbreaking” and “the next evolution of protections for performers.” 

Some of the major gaming studios named in SAG’s statement include Electronic Arts Productions, Disney Character Voices and Activision Productions. These companies are not fully on board with the protections SAG is asking for, including one against abuses of A.I.  According to Crabtree-Ireland, the independent gaming studios are much more accepting of the terms, which are the same standards major game makers are being held to.  

“The only people who are saying we can’t work with this are the big game companies. Why? Because they aren’t willing to get where we need to be to just treat people fairly as relates to A.I.” he said. 

The union leader is hopeful that the 118-day strike against Hollywood studios and streamers has shown the gaming industry that SAG is willing to do what it takes to make its point. He mentioned that the major film studios had thought they could get a deal without having to address A.I. concerns and they were proven wrong. 

“The film and television agreement has helped the strike, certainly I think it demonstrated our seriousness,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “But I don’t know if we’ll be able to get this across the line without having to do it again.” 

Video Game Makers Are the Next Target For Actor Strikes, SAG Chief Says at SXSW