Are Video Game Actors Undercompensated?


In this NYT piece, the lead voice acting and motion capture star behind GTA 4 is a little upset that he doesn’t receive royalties or residuals like movie stars do.

“Obviously I’m incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity,” Mr. Hollick, 35, said last week over dinner in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after performing in the aerial theater show “Fuerzabruta” in Union Square. “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it. I don’t blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it’s the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.”

That’s because Mr. Hollick was paid only about $100,000 over roughly 15 months between late 2006 and early this year for all of his voice acting and motion-capture work on the game, with zero royalties or residuals in sight, he said.

Welcome to the real world, voice actors.

Salaries, royalties, and residuals, and other compensation arrangements are negotiated between two parties. Workers negotiate for high comensation and are free to work for whomever will give them the best deals. Employers are free to hire whomever they want and search for the best workers for the least compensation. That’s how supply/demand and capitalism works in all industry that isn’t heavily unionized or government regulated.

Many of the workers behind GTA 3 were able to negotiate much better compensation after the huge success of the series. Hopefully now that Mr. Hollick has helped deliver a successful product like GTA 4, he has more bargaining power in negotiating future employment contracts.

So, do voice actors deserve more favorable terms? How about game artists, programmers, middle managers, and other studio roles? Should the industry unionize to get labor more bargaining leverage?


Written by: Darrin - Contributing Editor


  1. #1 by Mike on May 21st, 2008

    The game already cost $100 million to make. If they start spending even more money on this stuff they’ll go the Nintendo route and have all voice bubbles like we’re still in the early 1990’s of the game prices will go up more and lose sales as a result. Enough already.

  2. #2 by Trigga_Tybalt on May 21st, 2008

    i think kotaku raised a good point in that everyone from graphic designers to animators will want to get in on the royalties act.

    voice acting is not the hardest work ever and 100,000 for a short amount of work (time wise) is pretty awesome. and i’m sure he can find plenty of other jobs. don’t blame him for having a moan though…

  3. #3 by Henning on May 21st, 2008 [ 0 Points ]

    I can’t believe you uttered the word “union” on my website. Blech. I hate unions.

    A friend of mine is an honest electrical worker who’s self-employed and therefore not part of a union. This causes him all sorts of trouble with unions not wanting him onsite etc. It’s a free world. He should be able to bid on contracts and do work just as well and easily as non-unionized workers.

    My uncle’s shop unionized, and it basically put him out of business.

    Unions = Yuck

  4. #4 by Darrin on May 21st, 2008 [ 17143 Points ]

    :) I think almost everyone thinks unions are a bad idea. That concept has fallen out of fashion decades ago. However, I’m extremely sympathetic with industry laborers like myself.

    Trigga is right: the voice actor is wrong on this, but everyone needs to complain a little now and then. It’s not like he took it too far. I complain about my job. And I really enjoyed his voice acting in the game.

  5. #5 by Paranoimia on May 21st, 2008

    I hate unions, but I do feel for the guy. I mean, some voice acting lately (most notably Uncharted) has been truly awesome – better than many TV shows, in fact, despite having ‘less’ to work with.

  6. #6 by Segitz on May 21st, 2008 [ 1470 Points ]

    I agree Henning…

    Unions in Germany ARE a plague… a REAL plague!

    Being a student nowadays, I can say that (i.e. I don’t have any business at all with unions, but I have friends, you know^^), but still, I heard enough…

    Thing is, I don’t know, if 100k USD is much money or not (63000 Euros is quite some money, even for 1.25 years… including health insurance and the like), but since GTA4 is a MULTI million dollar selling game, a 50k Salary per year (which is what a usual engineer gets per year in his first year) is quite low for a high “knowledgable” role like voice AND mocap…

    Problem is most likely, that games STILL aren’t consired “adult entertainment” like movies are and thus are payed lower, no matter the expectations of the game (we ALL knew GTA4 will sell shitsloads of units).

    Compare it to a movie like “The Incredibles” or “The Simpsons” (well, Simpsons IS bigger), the voices do get MUCH more money than he did, although the end product (the movie or the game) did gather the same amount of profit in the end.

    Thx if you read this ’til the end… I am quite drunk :P

  7. #7 by tBuggR on May 23rd, 2008

    If you read the full article, his complaints are with the Union. The Screen Actors Guild specifically determines the rates for compensation and when SAG is involved you either agree or you don’t. He was smart to agree, just wishes the inequities in pay were levelled. While Rockstar did pay him more than the baseline, it was still less than many other forms of very similar entertainment. Radio rates, for example, are about 1.5 to 2x more than Internet and gaming rates – even though more people are likely to hear you on such a successful videogame franchise as Grand Theft Auto.


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