Video Game Industry Rush to Unionize Over AI

Video Game Industry Rush to Unionize Over AI

Video game developers are scrambling to create unions to protect their jobs as the threats of generative AI-inspired automation looms.

Spurred by an ongoing tidal wave of layoffs, game developers, animators, voice actors are increasingly banding together to protect their jobs or improve their working conditions in the face of growing AI.

Automation is fanning the flames

The launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022 inspired a wave of generative AI developments and adoption as the market realized its transformative abilities. The gaming industry has not been spared from this wave as they look at ways of leveraging the AI tech to improve the industry.

To date, big gaming companies like Chinese Tencent – the owners of League of Legends and creators of Final Fantasy, Square Enix are also seeking ways of roping the technology to their advantage.

However, there are fears rising within the industry, fears of massive job losses due to automation, pushing industry players to see the need to unionize.

Although there have been job losses experienced in the industry due to other reasons and a major cause for creating unions, the threats of automation are fueling these fears and fanning the flames.

“AI is a huge concern to people working in the games industry, especially to more creative parts like concept artists, animators, writers,” said Chrissy Fellmeth of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

She was speaking to The Independent in an interview at the Game Developers Conference.

“The layoffs have really made people aware of the fact that they do need to have consent over their working lives,” she said.

Fellmeth added “that changes are being made unilaterally without their consent. And they are looking for solutions.”

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A strike to strike a deal

At a Gamers Development Conference held in San Francisco last month, industry stakeholders held talks and panels on best way to unionize, as they sought a “solution,” as described by Fellmeth.

According to The Independent, this battle is spearheaded by voice actors and performers who are represented by Hollywood’s SAG-AFTRA. The Hollywood union last year held a record 118-day strike which forced film and TV studios “to agree on new AI restrictions.”

Now the union sees the need to expand the deal to game studios. The union is willing to hold another strike, if need be, to strike that deal.

“We’re not at that point just yet, but we are awfully close,” the union’s national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told The Independent. “We’re talking weeks, not months.

“The companies have a very simple decision to make: either treat all of your performers fairly and give them equal AI protections, or don’t. And if they’re committed to not doing that, there’s no reason why we should wait.”

These calls come as the actors themselves continue to fall victim to AI, which is forcing them to push for a better deal with studios, from film and television to gaming. Last year, an AI deepfake video of Crabtree-Ireland came surfaced in which he was denouncing the same deal he brokered himself.

Actors have felt AI could cause similar problems to them if unregulated.

Proponents think otherwise

However, supporters of AI in the gaming industry beg to differ, saying the tech may reduce production costs, especially for modern productions with smaller teams.

“Its not always about replacing; sometimes its about creating completely new things,” Russell Harding of Saltwater Games, who gave a talk at GDC entitled ‘Harnessing Generative AI to Create Unlimited Content’.

“It empowers us to do things that we couldn’t.”

But performers themselves are not very happy about it, they are skeptical. A US National Association of Voice Actors survey held recently showed that about 12% of respondents lost their jobs to AI-generated voices.

Of the total respondents, only 10% indicated they agreed to have their voices replicated while 6% were never consulted and their voices used without their consent.

Crabtree-Ireland also says performers in gaming are also being asked to sign away “all encompassing” rights to replicate their voices and movements using AI without any extra compensation.

“They’re being asked to sign a provision that says: ‘I give you the consent to use my image, voice, and likeness in perpetuity throughout the universe, by any means of technology now known or hereafter invented’,” he said. “That’s not okay.”

Now, the union is trying to add some curbs on AI to the next version of its Interactive Media Agreement, first struck in 1993, which now covers around 140,000. It is currently in negotiations with ten major companies like Activision Blizzard the owners of Call of Duty and Warcraft franchises, Electronic Arts (FIFA, Mass Effect), and Epic Games (Fortnite).



Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.