Bayonetta controversy sparks discussion about voice actors

Photo by: Jacek Dylag

On Oct. 15, voice actor Hellena Taylor took to Twitter calling for her fans to boycott the upcoming video game Bayonetta 3, leading to conversations about voice actor compensation.

Taylor, who provided the English voice for Bayonetta’s titular character in all previous appearances, claimed that she was offered $4000 USD to reprise her role, which was an insult to her reputation as an actor and to the effort that job would require. She says she turned down the offer, and PlatinumGames, the developer behind the Bayonetta series, had lied and told the public that she could not return due to scheduling conflicts.

Three days later, Bloomberg uploaded an article claiming to have insider information on the negotiations between Taylor and PlatinumGames. According to these sources, PlatinumGames was prepared to hire Taylor for five recording sessions, with a rate of between $3000-4000 USD per recording session. 

Taylor had reportedly declined and requested a “six-figure sum” (unspecified by the sources) as well as residuals on Bayonetta 3—residuals being compensation for actors when sales of a game outperform expectations. When Bloomberg reached out to her, she called this account, “an absolute lie,” and stood by her original accusations.

While the details behind Taylor’s situation are unclear, her accusations opened up the discussion voice actors had been having to a wider audience: voice actors are rarely compensated nearly as well as other actors are. Video game voice actors such as Breath of the Wild’s Sean Chiplock, Xenoblade Chronicle 2’s Skye Deva St. John Bennett and Grand Theft Auto V’s Ian Scott McGregor have all shared stories of the pay struggles voice actors experience. 

Ironically, the figures which these actors have shared are often lower than Taylor’s dubious $4000 offer, meaning that even if she lied about being underpaid she was listing a figure higher than what other actors are usually paid. 

Much of the discussion has revolved around the idea that voice actors are not getting paid relative to the success of the games they voice in; a common sentiment among Twitter users was the idea that Taylor’s claimed $4000 pay would have been equal to 66 copies of Bayonetta 3, a game in a series that sells millions of copies per game. They argue that this is money that developers will make back almost instantly, and undervalues the worth that these actors bring to their games.

In 2016, the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike, with one of their focuses being on rectifying the disproportionately low pay voice actors get. Their initial approach was to ensure actors could receive residuals, as these would provide extra pay for actors once a product is successful. This was ultimately dropped in favour of bonuses for actors based on the number of sessions they work. 

Additionally, these residuals may not have helped video game actors. Voice actor Alex Weitzman described on Twitter how residuals are generated through the money earned via repeat broadcasts. Since games are single-purchase, non-subscription goods, there is no money to be generated on repeat broadcasts. Residuals may aid voice actors in movies and in television, but not in video games.

While residuals wouldn’t help video game voice actors, royalties could. In 2021, the trade union Equity UK attempted to get outsourcing companies to sign better deals, to little success. Liam Budd, one of the industrial officials at Equity UK, claims that this sparse compensation is unique to the video game industry.

“Royalty payments are the norm in most creative sectors, where the creative contribution of the artist is significant,” he said in an interview with The Guardian. “However, there is a systemic problem in the games industry, with the digital giants and publishers hiring voiceover artists, performers and other creative freelancers at the lowest rate they can get away with.”

While it remains unclear whether Taylor was offered a low wage, her story has inspired other video game voice actors to speak up about the low standards in their industry. The video game industry is worth over $300 billion, over three times as much as the movie industry, yet their actors are compensated far worse than the other fields.

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