(Bloomberg) -- A pay dispute between the creator of a critically acclaimed video game series and its star voice actor reignited a long-simmering debate over wages in the industry. As is often the case in these sorts of disagreements, the details surrounding negotiations and casting for the upcoming game, Bayonetta 3, are more complicated than what has been portrayed publicly.
The feud spilled out into the open over the weekend, when Hellena Taylor, the star of the first two Bayonetta games, said she would not appear in the next iteration, set to be released for the Nintendo Switch on Oct. 28. She posted a series of videos Saturday on Twitter, accusing Nintendo Co. and the game’s developer, Platinum Games, of offering her a total of $4,000 to reprise her role. She said she rejected the lowball offer and asked fans to refrain from buying the game. “If you’re someone who cares about people, who cares about the world around you, who cares about who gets hurt with these financial decisions, then I urge you to boycott this game,” Taylor said in one of the videos.
The videos went viral, racking up more than 9.5 million views on Twitter. Taylor’s story touched a nerve among gamers. Voice actors are beloved by fans but fail to command anywhere close to what a Hollywood actor makes. Game actors have long complained of being underpaid and under-appreciated. Some have said they receive little information about their roles until they show up in the recording booth. The industry operates in such clandestine ways that actors sometimes won’t even know what game they’re recording lines for until it’s released.
The tensions last crested during contract negotiations in 2016 when the union representing many voice actors, the Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, orchestrated a strike that lasted nearly a year. One of the sticking points was residuals, meaning compensation for actors when sales of a game outperform expectations. Voice actors gave up that fight in exchange for receiving bonuses based on the number of sessions they work.
In the case of Bayonetta 3, the developer appeared to be determined to rehire Taylor, according to two people familiar with the negotiations as well as documentation reviewed by Bloomberg. Here’s where their accounts differ: Platinum Games sought to hire Taylor for at least five sessions, each paying $3,000 to $4,000 for four hours in the studio, said the people, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to discuss private contract negotiations. That would make the total for the game at least $15,000. In response, they said, Taylor asked for a six-figure sum as well as residuals on the game. Platinum declined and, following lengthy negotiations, took auditions for a new actor. Platinum later offered Taylor a cameo in the game for the fee of one session, which she turned down, the people said.
In an email, Taylor described this account as “an absolute lie” and said Platinum was “trying to save their ass and the game.” She said she stood by everything she said in the video. “I would like to put this whole bloody franchise behind me quite frankly get on with my life in the theatre,” she wrote. Representatives for Platinum Games and Nintendo didn’t respond to requests for comment. Hideki Kamiya, the executive director of Bayonetta 3, called Taylor’s allegations “sad and deplorable” in a Twitter post.
Regardless, Taylor’s comments resonated widely, dominating headlines on gaming websites and even gracing the digital pages of TMZ. Several of Taylor’s peers spoke out after her videos. Bryan Dechart, who acted in Cyberpunk 2077 and Red Dead Redemption II, said he was offered $4,000 to work on a nonunion project for a big-budget game. Sean Chiplock, who voiced three characters in the Nintendo blockbuster the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, said he was paid about $3,000 for that job.
The Bayonetta series is beloved by fans and critics but has never been a big commercial success. The Nintendo Switch version of Bayonetta 2, released in 2018, has sold just over a million copies, far fewer than many of Nintendo’s other offerings. For Bayonetta 3, the acting costs were higher than other projects because the studio relied on union performers, said three people familiar with the game’s production, which meant a minimum of about $900 for a four-hour voice session plus bonuses. Prominent actors or franchise stars like Taylor usually make more.
In her videos, Taylor mentioned Jennifer Hale, the prolific voice actor who took over the role of Bayonetta in the new game. “I wish her all the joy in the world, I wish her all the jobs, but she has no right to say she is the voice of Bayonetta,” Taylor said. “I created that voice. She has no right to sign merchandise as Bayonetta.”
Hale faced some vicious online harassment as a result. She wrote Monday on Twitter that she had signed a non-disclosure agreement and couldn’t elaborate on the situation. “I sincerely ask that everyone keep in mind that this game has been created by an entire team of hard-working, dedicated people, and I hope everyone will keep an eye open about what they’ve created,” she wrote. A few hours later, she retweeted a Twitter thread from another voice actor saying, “If you only hear one side (or part of one side) of a story, you haven't heard the whole story.”
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