Voice Acting in Video Games
It’s good to be back from vacation everyone! (Yeah right…) Admit it, you missed me almost as much as I missed you.
While I was on my road trip with my girlfriend I would read books to her while it was her turn to drive because I can’t afford books on tape on this blog’s budget. But reading a story in character voices got me thinking about another important medium with voices: the our beloved video game industry.
We oftentimes hear a lot about the graphics and gameplay of our favorite games, but rarely hear much about the very important voice acting process in video games. The voices can give the characters a sense of life that they just couldn’t have otherwise.
There are some awesome protagonists that don’t speak; I don’t want to diminish how awesome Gordon Freeman is. However, imagine a Half-Life that didn’t feature fantastic voice acting for all of the characters that Gordon runs into. Quite simply, giving our most beloved characters voices gives them a personality and spirit more than almost anything else in the development process.
How important is it?
SodaHead.com held a poll of 257 of their readers to see how important they thought voice acting in video games was. The result is that a clear majority of 221, 86%, of the readers thought that voice acting was important in video games. However, many held the belief that great voice acting alone can’t make a game good any more than great graphics can. Many gamers cite that the voice acting of games like the Uncharted series or Mass Effect series draw them in and make the game world seem much more real to them.
Voice acting used to be on the back burner for the video game industry. Voices would be provided solely by amateurs and the designers themselves. But times have changed. Gamers have spoken and decided that voice acting is important to new video games. So important in fact, that the highest profile voice actors can make millions. Speaking of which…
How much does the average voice actor make?
Voice Actors in the News blog shares the following salary statistics pulled from Careerbuilder.com:
- Voice Over Actor: $50,506.
- Voice Coach: $58,109.
That seems like a solid amount of money to a schmuck about to graduate from college like myself, but the reality is that many voice actors can’t get enough work to reach these median pays of those that can. For example, eHow states, “In 2009, voice acting agent Shomu Shirogane, who represents 1,600 voice actors in Japan, estimated that only 10 percent of his actors were able to make a living via voice work alone.”
Although there are many struggling video game voice actors, there are also plenty of vocal superstars. Higher paid voice actors can make $90,000 a year with the top paid actors making hundreds of thousands more. Celebrity voice actors appearing in small roles can receive up to $750,000 for one hour’s work, according to eHow.
Interestingly enough, this salary is not enough to entice most A-list Hollywood actors, so most video game movie tie-ins feature actors that can do good impersonations of the movie actor. It is also important to note that note that most video game voice actors don’t not get paid royalties. This means that whether a game grosses $500 million or $10 the voice actor is paid the same for their work. (Although higher profile games obviously pay much more before royalties.)
This potentially a lot of money. Sounds like it’s time to get involved with a…
There is no specific union for voice actors in video games, but if an actor is in a union it is generally the Screen Actors Guild or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG and AFTRA actors can sometimes be paid more because they demand more consistent rates.
For example, most AFTRA video game voice actors make $780 per session. (A session is a four hour work day.)
Union actors are definitely a minority in video game voice acting. 80% of the voice acting are non-union projects which make them a good starting point for amateur voice actors, says video game voice actor and coach Kevin Delaney on his website. Sounds good, there can be good money and some opportunities to get into video game voice acting, but…
What does voice acting work entail?
Raise Your Voice Acting has anonymous voice actors explain their experiences. They share that video game voice actors have little, if any, preparation before reading a script. Most of their direction comes straight from the director as they are in the recording process. Voice actors generally sit or stand and speak into a stationary mic, but some games like the Uncharted series has their actors act out the actions of the game in order to better capture the real urgency of the actions in the actors voice and help to better motion capture the action to link it with the words being spoken.
Uncharted is in a clear minority in how it is voice acted. Many projects have an actor read from a script with just a director present. Oftentimes, the other actors aren’t present. Sometimes, the other characters lines aren’t even provided to the actor to provide context on what the conversation is.
Because the actor is expected to read lines from a sheet of paper with sometimes little context and on the fly, the actor is greatly aided by a strong imagination and the ability to make bold vocal choices on the spot and in the moment.
There are some dangers associated with voice acting. The video game medium has a lot of characters that get harmed, die, or yell, so naturally there is a lot of screaming that can be rough on your voice. This is another reason why some actors in other mediums of acting avoid video game voice work.
Famous Voice Actors in Action
Here are some videos of some of the most famous video game voice actors performing:
Check out this video matching the voices of Batman Arkham City to the actors that voiced them. After the video plays links to tons of YouTube videos of high profile games with pictures and names of all the voice actors appears. Check out your favorites!
These are all high profile performers and titles, so they are not the norm. As the videos explain, actors rarely have nice prompters, rarely do their own motion capture, and rarely are even recorded in the same room as each other.
Now that we know some more about the awesome industry that is video game voice acting, we can give it a go ourselves if we want. Heck we can even try it out on websites like Voices.com. Give it a go! The worst that can happen is you help add to the long list of historically bad voice acting.
You might want to listen to that twice.