The Bayonetta voice actor saga is obscuring an important conversation
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re looking at the controversy surrounding Bayonetta 3, and how the story morphed dramatically over the course of a single week. Also: Reddit’s surprising success with NFTs and Apple’s aggressive App Store policy changes.
The Bayonetta bait and switch
A controversy around video game voice actor compensation engulfed the upcoming Nintendo action title Bayonetta 3 earlier this month. On Monday, the performer at the center of the dispute, voice actress Hellena Taylor, came clean, revealing she was in fact offered more money than she initially let on and confirming a report from Bloomberg last week that poked holes in her viral boycott effort.
The saga has been messy, especially given the fast-moving and chaotic nature of the online gaming community, which favors convenient narratives and easy villains. On one side was a worker who claimed she was exploited, and on the other a large corporate player in an industry with a devastating history and culture of exploiting workers. But the reality was not so simple.
Taylor misrepresented the offer. It’s unclear exactly why Taylor, who voiced title character Bayonetta’s first two installments, chose to take her dispute with developer PlatinumGames public knowing the truth might very well come out. Regardless, she claimed she was offered only $4,000 to reprise her role, a figure that has since been disputed.
- Bloomberg last week reported the number was inaccurate. Sources said Taylor was offered around $3,000 to $4,000 per day for at least a five-day job, more than three times the union minimum under SAG-AFTRA contract rules.
- Taylor’s latest thread, published Monday morning, clarified that she was initially offered $10,000 to reprise the role, asked for more, and was disappointed when Platinum countered with a raise of only $5,000 more.
- She declined the offer. Many months later Platinum offered her $4,000 for a cameo role, which she also declined.
- Taylor claims this was the number she was referencing in her initial boycott thread, although it’s now clear she was deliberately obfuscating the nature of the negotiations.
- “I was paid a shockingly low total of £3000 total for the first game. A little more for the second. I wanted to voice her. I have drummed up interest in this game ever since I started on Twitter in 2011,” Taylor said, adding that she felt her performance was worth more.
Taylor’s misrepresentations have divided the industry. Many notable voices in the gaming community have since voiced their disappointment in having participated in calls to boycott Bayonetta 3 and vilifying Platinum. But despite Taylor’s apparent deception, voice actor treatment remains a real and pressing issue for the industry.
- The studio never confirmed details about the contract negotiations, but it did release a statement of support for Jennifer Hale, the actress it hired as a replacement, who became a victim of online harassment following Taylor’s accusations.
- Hale released a statement of her own days prior, saying an NDA prevented her from discussing the situation in detail, calling for an “amicable and respectful” resolution between the parties, and reminding fans the game was created by a team of “hard-working, dedicated people.”
- Indie developer and industry consultant Rami Ismail said, “it should be notable how easy it was for industry-folks to accept this story,” adding that “it is obviously unfortunate that that means my trust led to a twisted story being broadcast.” Ismail also encouraged the public to lean toward siding with workers in most cases until proven wrong.
- “Regardless of current events, voice actors are often underpaid and undervalued and that’s an important conversation to have,” wrote content creator and game narrative writer Alanah Pearce.
The fight continues. At the heart of the controversy is the treatment of voice actors, and how video game voice actors in particular receive fewer benefits than their Hollywood counterparts.
- SAG-AFTRA declined to comment on the situation to Protocol, citing ongoing contract negotiations.
- The union is currently working to renew a media agreement that sets minimum hourly rates for video game voice actors. The last contract, the result of a major voice actor strike in 2017, helped raise those rates and secure improved benefits for voice actors, but as a compromise did not include residuals. It will expire on Nov. 7 after a two-year renewal in 2020.
- One of Taylor’s reported demands of Platinum during negotiations for Bayonetta 3 was for residuals, which are more common in film and TV and far less so in the realm of video game voice acting.
- Though game publishers and developers in the U.S. pay union rates to secure SAG-AFTRA actors, overseas developers often face fewer pressures to pay higher rates, especially for localizing products developed for the Japanese market.
- Though it’s now clear Platinum offered well over the minimum to secure Taylor and likely paid a comparable, if not higher, amount for Hale, one of the most high-profile English-language voice actors known for her work on Halo, Mass Effect, and scores of animated film and TV works.
Multiple takeaways from this situation can all be simultaneously true, even when they seem in conflict. Voice actors, especially for games, often work behind the scenes, are paid by the hour, and have few benefits. And a lack of residuals means those responsible for bringing characters to life almost never get to share in the product’s long-term success. Many harrowing stories from the worlds of gaming and anime have come to light as a result of Taylor speaking out.
But Taylor’s misrepresentations — and her doubling down, including her attacks on journalists — muddied the waters. Getting paid three times the standard union rate would appear, on its face, to be generous, but it’s hard to say considering how shrouded in secrecy and NDAs these contracts often are. At the same time, Taylor’s entirely justified pleas for a larger chunk of the industry’s enormous profits would likely still have sparked outrage had she been open about the total compensation from the start.
In the battle for fair treatment, game workers are better served by a united front. Instead we’ve spent the last week sifting through social media detritus to find the truth, and no one seems much better off because of it.
A MESSAGE FROM AT-BAY
In 2021, there were 236 million cyberattacks worldwide. If there’s an opportunity to enter a business’s premises undetected, cybercriminals will find it. In the digital age, no organization is safe from cyberthreats. Size doesn’t matter.
“I’m much more interested in attracting a million free-to-play players than, you know, 10,000 rich whales, although we could use those rich whales … I don’t really want to be in the business of selling NFTs.” — Will Wright, designer of The Sims, talked to Axios about his new blockchain game, VoxVerse, and why he’s comfortable with players who might spend exorbitant amounts of money on the game.“None of [the leaders] had any vision. They weren’t very present in day-to-day operations. We pivoted every time viewership was low. We never really gave our content time to gain traction. We were just constantly pivoting.” — A former employee of gaming and pop culture channel G4TV talked to The Washington Post about the network’s lack of direction. G4 was shut down just a year after its revival.
In other news
Apple Music and TV+ are getting more expensive.Apple raised the prices of its entertainment services Monday, the first increase since the Apple Music launch in 2015.
Discord may finally arrive on PlayStation. The chat platform’s integration with Sony’s gaming console has been in the works since May 2021, and leaked screenshots indicate it may be launching soon.
Bono is still sorry about that free iTunes album. Eight years after Apple added a U2 album to everyone’s iTunes library, Bono sheds some light on the backstory.
U.K. regulators open the floodgates on the Activision deal. The Competition and Markets Authority overseeing Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard says it wants public comment on the deal. What could possibly go wrong?
The game console market is starting to recover. While game industry revenue is still down this year compared to 2021, easier-to-find PlayStation 5 consoles are breathing some life into the hardware sector, according to new data from the NPD Group.
Blockchain gaming funding stays strong. Despite player backlash and the ongoing crypto winter, investors still see promise in NFT and blockchain gaming projects and poured more than $1.2 billion into private Web3 ventures last quarter.
Altimeter wants Meta to spend less on the metaverse. In an open letter, Altimeter Capital CEO Brad Gerstner implored Meta to cap metaverse spending at $5 billion a year.
Apple raises the rent
Life in the App Store is about to get much more expensive for certain sellers of digital goods. In a policy update published Monday, the iPhone maker disclosed two major changes to how it collects commissions on in-app purchases.
The first explicitly gives the green light to app developers wishing to sell and manage NFTs on iOS, so long as the app does not link out to or provide purchasing mechanisms other than Apple’s own payment system and "provided NFT ownership does not unlock functionality or features within the app."
- This is, of course, the same rule that governs mobile gaming, and why Fortnite publisher Epic Games sued Apple. (Sidenote: Oral arguments for the Epic v. Apple appeal are slated for November 14.)
- Metaverse expert Matthew Ball pointed out how this policy change means Apple is “devouring all the value” of mobile NFT trades unless the asset appreciates considerably.
- “To cryptocurrency enthusiasts, this means Apple is now adding a 30% tax on your so-called ‘true ownership’ of digital goods,” Epic CEO Tim Sweeney wrote.
The second change, however, is more audacious, and it’s yet another land grab from Apple as it advances further into the advertising industry.
- Apple says it will now require apps with advertising to use its payment system for the purchase of ads, including “boosting” social media posts to promote them on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
- The change, effective immediately as part of iOS 16.1, will entitle Apple to 30% of revenue from boosted posts, already a lucrative market in sectors like dating apps.
- For Meta, this is just the latest in a long line of hostilities with Apple, which punched a $10 billion hole in its rival’s business with the launch of last year’s iOS privacy features.
- Apple seems largely undeterred by heightened antitrust scrutiny in the past few years, though the Justice Department is reportedly mulling over an investigation that could be launched by year’s end.
A MESSAGE FROM AT-BAY
With the amount of our economy now dependent on technology, the lack of government regulation is resulting in major risk to companies, and in the end, our own citizens. In the absence of government action, insurance steps in.
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to email@example.com. Enjoy your day, see you Thursday.