After reading this article on Yahoo!, this one from nytimes.com and talking with my brother about Michael Hollick's financial woes, I'm left conflicted. Hollick, the voice of GTA IV protagonist Niko Bellic, is complaining because he only made $100K for his efforts. He spoke countless lines of dialogue and performed motion capture work for Niko yet he'll get no residuals, no checks after reaching a certain amount of sales...nada.
My initial reaction was that he was getting robbed. Actors, musicians, writers and other artists receive money for their work based on sales but because the Screen Actors Guild has nothing in its contract covering electronic media, actors in video games get paid a standard daily rate. While I'm certain big name actors like Samuel L Jackson and Ray Liotta got treated like royalty from Rockstar, the average actor is screwed. $100K for 15 months is nothing to sneeze at, but when your work grosses $600 million in two weeks and you were an integral part, that has to suck. It seems that Rockstar would at least throw him a bone and give the guy a little love, right? Once again the corporate "man" makes his money and runs.
But after I talked with my brother (who did some fine impressions of Niko, Master Chief and Solid Snake, but a weak Mario) I started to change my mind and thought about the following things.
- Hollick signed a contract so he knew what he was getting paid, nobody made him agree to it and $100K is good money for a no-name actor. In fact, this should help him get more work in the future.
- Rockstar was playing by the rules, its the Screen Actors Guild that should get with the program. They're hurting their own clients by not having electronic media accounted for in their contracts.
- If you pay Hollick, who did make a strong contribution, when does the compensation end? Do the scriptwriters get more money? The designers? At some point you have to accept that you just get paid for the work you agreed to do.
But the most important reason this is a non-issue is because Hollick is completely replaceable. Niko is certainly a compelling character but the game would have been just as good if I was the one performing his voice overs. The story, GTA's successful history, the setting, and the crazy things you can do in the game are what sells GTA IV - not the voice over work of Michael Hollick. The same could be said for pretty much any game with an iconic character. I can't really see anyone doing a better job than Charles Martinet (the voice of Mario) or David Hayter (Solid Snake) but if Gilbert Gottfried did the voice of Master Chief instead of Steve Downes would anybody really care? Well, yes you probably would. But when my brother does a dead on Master Chief, I realized how relative voice work in a game is. Just like those times when the importance of graphics are discussed about games (usually when new consoles come out), the truth is that when it comes right down to it, its the gameplay that makes a game memorable. That's always how its been and how it'll always be.
So what do you think? Is Hollick being underpaid or does he just need to get over it? Let me know your point of view.