VO for video games: Where can I get some?

Are you making a video game? Would you like some voice overs in it? Here are some ways you can go about it:

Your cast must either be all union actors or all non-union actors. (Side note: Actors can simultaneously do union and non-union work if they are financial core. However your project must cast actors only as all union or non-union.) That also means if you have a union-only cast, you can’t have yourself or fellow developers perform in the game, not even as creatures (though it’s obviously more difficult to detect with creatures when they’re sound designed), unless you and the devs are SAG-AFTRA members as well.

For clients outside of the United States: If you wish to hire American actors, the American actors must be either all non-union or all union. If your cast is also comprised of actors outside of the United States, those international actors do not have to be members of SAG-AFTRA to perform alongside American union actors.

For rates and information on having union talent in your game, go here for the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Media Agreement (aka games).

If your game is non-union it behooves you to match union rates in order to be competitive with union productions and attract experienced talent. Specifically you’re looking to match the “Atmospheric Voices” section. With non-union jobs, the actor is missing out on health and pension benefits which would otherwise be automatically taken into account if the job were union. This means that in order to match union rates you must round up, i.e. matching rates as of 2016 means a four hour session is a minimum of $1,000 USD, and a one hour session is a minimum of $500 USD. If you offer less than union rates, you can expect your talent pool to drop in quality as inexperienced actors will accept less than the union’s minimum wage.

For indie games, SAG-AFTRA does have a separate contract, which when interpreted into non-union fees is about $400 for up to two hours. From three to four hours, you can expect to round up to $1,000, just like a regular union job. Keep in mind that “indie” is an arbitrary, subjective qualifier and the $250,000 budget limit SAG-AFTRA placed on what it means to be “indie” is based on nothing. By my count, an independent developer is one who is not funded by investors or a publisher, regardless of the initial budget of a game. It’s worth noting that games end up costing exactly what the initially proposed budgets were… pretty much never.

Plenty of non-union games will post their projects on websites like voice123.com for example. Like with most things in life, you’ll get what you pay for. Many voice over actors will not work for less than whatever they think they’re worth. If they see your project and your rate doesn’t meet an actor’s personal minimum standard, they will not consider auditioning for you.

I can’t stress it enough, you’re going to get whatever you pay for. For small indie games and devs just starting out, there’s nothing wrong with sourcing for random people on forums and social media or friends to supply you with VO. It’s just like programmer art, everybody starts somewhere and works with what they have.

Aside from going on social media and asking your friends for personal referrals, you can post your project to the website all agencies pull from, which is Voicebank.

If your game has vocally stressful lines, i.e. screaming and dying, factor that into the compensation. If you’re going to put an actor out of commission for the rest of the day, you have to make it worth their while! If the majority of the session will be vocally stressful, limit the session to 2 hours maximum. If only some of the lines are vocally stressful, always save projected or screamed lines for the very end of the session.

If you have the budget, hiring a casting director can be worth it. Casting directors will send your auditions to the agencies and actors they’re buddies with and rely on as workhorses. Casting directors are also used to working with all kinds of budgets and many will accommodate you because like everyone, they love to work. To find casting directors, it’s good to ask actors directly who they’d recommend, as voice actors will develop close relationships with casting and booth directors over time.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for many busy voice actors to also spend a good chunk of their careers being casting directors and booth directors as well! Voice actors can make great booth directors, since you have to imagine they might know what they’re talking about.