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Residual rights for actors in games

By on May 30, 2008

Michael Hollick, the voice of Niko Bellic in Grand Theft Auto IV, has kicked up a fuss about not being paid royalties or residuals for his work on the game.

He was paid $100,000 for his work, which he thinks is nowhere near enough given that the game has grossed over $600 million and rising.

Elsewhere, others have raised the issue about whether the writers, programmers, artists and designers should also get royalties, given how important they are to the game’s success. To quote the GameShadow blog: “To put it bluntly, it’s a f*cking disgrace that someone can be hired for £30,000 a year, design an innovative, award winning and profitable game, and see no more return for his input than if he’d produced a dud.”

Now I feel that this is missing the point. I’ve checked my analysis below with Dinedor Management, a agency which represents top-end technical experts in film and television, including cinematographers, wardrobe, production design and assistant directors. Any mistakes are mine.

In the film world, the technical people get paid upfront, fixed-fees, not royalties. The primary people who get paid royalties are a) those who can open a film, like big-name actors and directors and b) people who put up the finances and take the financial risks, like producers. Other than that, the majority of crew on a film are getting paid cash for their services, and it seems to be the way they like it.

One reason for this is that many films, like many companies, aim to minimise taxable profits. If you are sharing in the taxable profits, and the objective is to have zero taxable profits, you’re sharing in zilch. Better to be upfront.

Additionally, many crew may have been stiffed by taking a share of profits in the past – it often means that there is not enough money to pay the crew well, which, in a circular way, means it may not be a very good film. (I know Star Wars is an exception, but isn’t there always an exception?)

The main heads of department on a film are experts who make an enormous difference to the production. Tthey are technically accomplished and they know their worth. It is fallacy for us to think the film world is populated by royalty earners: the majority of money is earned by hard graft at an agreed rate.

In the games industry, this is even more the case. We have teams more than talent. It remains much harder for people to freelance in and out of projects like in the film industry.

I would definitely like to see better ways of rewarding creative teams for creating fabulous games. Simply demanding royalties for voice actors seems the wrong way to go about it.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: