SAG-AFTRA signs deal with AI voiceover studio for video games


The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA announced a new deal at CES 2024 — one that shows the union isn’t as against AI technology as you might have expected after its epic 2023 strike.

The union’s agreement is with Replica Studios, a generative AI voice company. And it provides a new set of standards to protect voiceover talent in the video game industry.

SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director & Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Shreyas Nivas, the co-founder and CEO of Replica Studios, officially inked their deal at the Las Vegas event.

“We have a chance to ensure technology does what its supposed to do: Make life better for all of us,” said Crabtree-Ireland.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Shreyas Nivas shake hands.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Shreyas Nivas at the CES 2024 event.
Credit: Mashable

The union sees a number of safeguards in the deal. It requires performer consent in their voice being used for AI-generated voiceovers. It also set fair compensation rules and puts limits on the number of time an AI voiceover can be used before further payment is required.

It’s a notable agreement for the union, given that studio use of AI was a major factor in the actors’ strike that dominated its agenda last year. But this deal has been in the works a lot longer than that.

SAG-AFTRA has been looking into generative AI threats — as well as opportunities — since 2018, Crabtree-Ireland says, “anticipating what protections need to be put in place for technological and social shifts.” He added that the deal has unanimous support from the union’s member bodies.

AI voice technology has improved greatly over the years and now sounds fairly indistinguishable from human voice, Nivas says. But until now, there hasn’t been a major contract governing use of this technology, causing both talent and studios to hesitate when exploring AI opportunities.

The agreement covers both currently working actors as well as the estates of deceased voice talent. LLMs, or large language models, which can be used in the gaming industry to power in-game NPCs, are not included in this agreement.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Shreyas Nivas

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland and Shreyas Nivas sign the deal between SAG-AFTRA and Replica Studios.
Credit: Mashable

Asked to envision how “ethical” AI technology would work, Nivas points to voice recording for the hit video game Red Dead Redemption 2 — which took all of 5 years to complete. He hopes Replica Studios’ AI can help studios create such immersive games in a smaller time frame, while still respecting the voiceover artists behind the characters.

SAG-AFTRA believes this agreement is a first step in the right direction when it comes to AI in the entertainment industry, Crabtree-Ireland says. Next up, he hopes, is an agreement will be made with the video game studios themselves.

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