SAG-AFTRA strikes deal for AI voice acting licensing in video games at CES 2024

The deal with Replica Studios will allow actors to license their "digital voice replicas" to game studios.

PATRICK T. FALLON via Getty Images

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing thousands of performers, has struck a deal with an AI voice acting platform aimed at making it easier for actors to license their voice for use in video games. Under the deal, which was announced during a press event at CES 2024 in Las Vegas, SAG-AFTRA members will be able to work with Replica Studios to license their voice to game studios.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union's top negotiator, said that the agreement “paves the way for professional voiceover artists to safely explore new employment opportunities for their digital voice replicas.” The agreement comes as Hollywood is still grappling with the use of AI. Last year, SAG-AFTRA reached a deal with Hollywood studios that included AI protections following a months-long strike. As a result, studios are now required to pay actors (and obtain their consent) before using an AI-generated version of their likeness.

SAG-AFTRA’s latest agreement with Replica Studios seems to follow a similar framework. According to Crabtree, the agreements cover the creation of so-called “digital voice replicas” and how they can be used by game studios and other companies. The deal has provisions for minimum rates, safe storage and transparency requirements, as well as “limitations on the amount of time that a performance replica can be employed without further payment and consent.”

Notably, the agreement does not cover whether actors’ replicas can be used to train large language models (LLMs), though Replica Studios CEO Shreyas Nivas said the company was interested in pursuing such an arrangement. “We have been talking to so many of the large AAA studios about this use case,” Nivas said. He added that LLMs are “out-of-scope of this agreement” but “they will hopefully [be] things that we will continue to work on and partner on.”

Even so, some well-known voice actors were immediately skeptical of the news, as the BBC reports. In a press release, SAG-AFTRA said the agreement had been approved by "affected members of the union’s voiceover performer community." But on X, voice actors said they had not been given advance notice. "How has this agreement passed without notice or vote," wrote Veronica Taylor, who voiced Ash in Pokémon. "Encouraging/allowing AI replacement is a slippery slope downward." Roger Clark, who voiced Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2, also suggested he was not notified about the deal. "If I can pay for permission to have an AI rendering of an ‘A-list’ voice actor’s performance for a fraction of their rate I have next to no incentive to employ 90% of the lesser known ‘working’ actors that make up the majority of the industry," Clark wrote.

SAG-AFTRA’s deal with Replica only covers a sliver of the game industry. Separately, the union is also negotiating with several of the major game studios after authorizing a strike last fall. “I certainly hope that the video game companies will take this as an inspiration to help us move forward in that negotiation,” Crabtree said.

Update January 10 2024, 12:45PM ET: This story was updated to include reactions from voice-over actors.

We're reporting live from CES 2024 in Las Vegas from January 6-12. Keep up with all the latest news from the show here.