You’d think that in 2020 we’d know everything there is to know about video game voice over rates. But, as it turns out, records are hard to come by, and rates are not even across the board. The simple question “how much do video game voice actors get paid?” doesn’t seem to have an easy, universally applicable answer. Today, we’re going to dig deeper into the video game voice actor salary world and try to come up with some straight answers.
It’s important to know, of course, that not all video game voice actors are created equal, and nor are gigs. Rates are variable depending on the job, and depending on the standing of the voice actor. Therefore, it’s not unusual for video game voice over rates to fluctuate wildly.
As a matter of comparison, imagine being hired by Naughty Dog Studios to voice a character in their next big IP. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve hit the big time and you’ve got it made. But, we don’t really know much about the salaries of superstar video game voice actors at all; this isn’t like Hollywood, where we know the exact paycheck of every major star. The only information available is each major voice actor’s estimated net worth. That’s not much to go on.
Of course, if instead you were hired to provide a voice for an up-and-coming indie project, then you’d rightly expect much less. But what lies in the middle of these two extremes? Is there guesstimate to what a video game voice actor salary is?
Today, we’re going to dive into this mystery. Let’s see if we can work it out together!
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Video Game Voice Acting
So, perhaps you’ve read this far and you’re asking yourself about video game voice acting. In short, it’s the practice of performing character, narrator, and other voices for video games. The technique for recording these performances is called a voice-over.
Voice acting has been around as a profession for a while and has had time to evolve. Think about the incredible Mel Blanc, the man of a thousand voices. He, and other brave actors and actresses, paved the way for the profession to become mainstream. And, not only that, it’s now one of the most lucrative professions you can do from home, with some actors easily breaking $100k a year!
Video games offer a wealth of opportunity for enterprising voice over artists. With an annual take of $25 billion annually, video games are a force to be reckoned with. That’s about 60% of what Hollywood brought in during 2019, for comparison.
And, another great thing about the video game industry is the soaring quality standards. It’s true, though, video game voice acting used to be a haven of mediocrity and subpar performances. There’s a substantial hall of shame where gamers used to lump the worst performances. Fortunately, that’s changed, and video games provide plenty of starry-eyed newcomers with a path towards artistic integrity and fulfillment.
So, what about video game voice over rates?
How much do video game voices actors get paid, then? Like most things in life, the answer is conditional. Video game voice actors are gaining increasing recognition in the industry. In fact, they’re being promoted up-front-and-center in marketing materials for games; the most famous enjoy a celebrity status among the gaming community.
Still, many voice actors and actresses complain that they do not make enough. In a 2017 article, the Washington Post ran an article about video game voice acting and industry conditions. While many actors and actresses are hired by reputable, big-name studios, they’re not treated
Yet voice actors in this industry are not treated like actors in television and movies. This led voice actors to go on strike last year against 11 of the largest video game developers over bonus pay and safety issues such as vocal stress. The bitter labor dispute dragged on for 11 months, making it the longest strike in the history of Hollywood’s largest actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA
This dispute was not just about video game voice over rates, but working conditions. Video game voice acting many times requires characters to bark orders, scream out in agony, or shout for extended periods of time during the game. This can prove harmful for many voice artists, as multi-hour long screaming sessions can be very taxing on vocal cords even with proper technique.
“Video games are the most exhausting, challenging voice-overs you do,” says voice actress Jane Taylor, the voice of Halo’s Cortana. The marathon-long sessions are usually grueling and involve a full display of a professional’s acting prowess. Many games even have the same actor in more than one role, effectively amplifying their workload two or threefold
Video Game Voice Over Rates – It’s an Hourly Thing
After the union dispute, many voice actors were pushing to receive residuals from game sales, just like their Hollywood counterparts. They were also looking to be on retainer, and not be paid as per-hour free agents. Unfortunately, that was not to be, and the matter was settled in favor of the video game companies. Residuals were, for the moment, out of the question. Game companies agreed on a three percent raise to the flat guild fee.
In the end, the estimate came out at around $850 for a four-hour session. There was also a sliding scale for a bonus schedule, maxing out at $2100.
These video game voice over rates are, at the end of the day, pretty good. But voice over rates are not a universal, one-size-fits-all thing. You could conceivably earn more than this (though don’t count on it if you’re a beginner), or way, way less.
Also, you should bear in mind that a video game voice actor is, in essence, a freelancer. That means that a lot of unseen work and personal taxes go into making those $850 happen. Between business expenses and self-employed income taxes, that amount goes down considerably. In the end, it’s hard to encounter “average” video game voice over rates.
So, How Much Do Video Game Actors Get Paid?
The new rules generally stipulate contracts to be around $200-350 per hour, with a minimum of 2 to 4 hours. They also stipulate that stressful sessions should be divided into multiple segments to preserve the health of the vocal professional.
Union contracts, though, stipulate $850 for sessions lasting up to four hours. The new SAG-AFTRA contract from November 2017 also says the following:
(…) every video game is required to pay actors a bonus for each session worked. Don’t forget to keep track of these bonuses and to be sure that your employers pay them to you on or before the release date of the game. Over-scale payments are credited against your bonus unless your representative negotiates for them, so ask for them at the time of booking. IF YOU WORK YOU’RE DUE! 1 Session ($75) $75 – 2 Sessions ($125) $200 – 3 Sessions ($175) $375 – 4 Sessions ($175) $550 – 5 Sessions ($225) $775 – 6 Sessions ($225) $1000 – 7 Sessions ($275) $1275 – 8 Sessions ($275) $1550 – 9 Sessions ($275) $1825 – 10 Sessions ($275) $2100 – 11+ Sessions ($0) $2100.
Turning to Freelancers
But wait, aren’t all video game voice actors freelancers? True, but many who ply their trade in the video game industry already belong to a union or guild. Out-and-out international freelancers are generally less bound by strictures. This can be good or bad for rates, depending on the gigs you land.
I mentioned above that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to video game voice over rates. This applies exponentially to true freelancers; they’re mostly able to negotiate a flat fee with their employer that stays more-or-less the same regardless of the gig. Sure, many game companies will probably try to offer fair rates if they’re needing challenging work. After all, fair rates tend to attract better professionals, and no one likes being short-changed.
So, in a way, it’s even harder to calculate what you’ll be making. If you’re just starting, you might be seeing “reasonable” prices as low as $20 per 1,000 recorded words on Upwork. You may think “I can say that really quickly” but you’re probably not factoring recording time, retakes, editing, and re-dos. No one said it was easy to get your start as a video game guy or gal!
A Happy Medium: Internet Studios
Another way to get great video game voice over rates is by joining a studio. Right now there are plenty of hubs or online platforms that offer constant work for pros new and old. The great thing about these is that you can set your own rates, as long as they’re within reason. The platform will automatically add their commission on top of your rates to round out the total the client sees.
For example, take our own platform, Bunny Studio. We have voice actors set their rates beforehand according to their needs, experience, and ability. Then, the client chooses the actor that suits them most. The process is really simple, and you can see an automatic quote detailing the final cost of the whole thing. You just input the number of words on the script, which are then automatically set for the time.
Let’s take one of our top voice actors as an example. 40 words may amount to around 16 seconds, or $44; 150 words may total around one minute, or $85. Heads up! The more words on your script, the bigger the final cost will be, but with a lower per-word price. $1000 words should be around $213 for this actor.
You should also take note that you don’t just get a voice actor when you pay. You also get two customer satisfaction agents and a QC (Quality Control) professional. In essence, you’ve got a full behind-the-scenes team working to get you a voice recording in record time.
In my opinion, these voice-centric voice platforms work as a happy medium between the high rates of union jobs and the dismal rates on most freelancing sites. If you want to be a happy, well-paid pro, then maybe you should join the fray at Bunny Studio!