The gamer in me constantly asks, “Why are video games so expensive?” There are many factors in video game production, but it comes down to a simple formula. The higher the cost to make the game, the higher the game costs. What costs the most during game development varies from game to game. Wages take up a large portion, which explains why game companies lay off staff after game releases, regardless of its success. Another high cost is all the “bells and whistles” games have nowadays. One bell we will cover here is celebrity voice actors.
Let’s talk about GameSpot’s Spot On
GameSpot released an episode of their short-form video game critique Spot On where their hosts spoke about how big-name actors as video game voice talent may not be the right choice. Gamespot Managing Editor Tamoor Hussain and Senior Producer Lucy James cited Megan Fox and Ronda Rousey of Mortal Kombat 1 and Mortal Kombat 11, respectively, and Idris Elba of Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty as examples of Hollywood actors dropping the ball when it comes to video game voice acting.
The comments on this one were not on GameSpot’s side. Many referenced famous actors who lend their talents to video games and do an incredible job. They also stuck up for Idris, claiming he did a fabulous job in the much-anticipated DLC.
What does this have to do with anything?
I disagreed with the Spot On piece but for different reasons. I felt the idea wasn’t taken far enough to illustrate why celebrity voice actors are unnecessary in many circumstances. The hosts made a great point about the video game industry not fostering homegrown talent. Instead, they rely on press-grabbing actors to drum up buzz for the game. This point was the road I hoped they steered the conversation down. Instead, most of their argument took umbrage with the quality of the celebrity voice acting.
Fostering homegrown talent
I’ve worked for a number of startups and small companies. The one thing those companies, and many large corporations like the NFL, understand is that young people are cheap. It’s not a knock on young talent; experience garners larger paychecks. That being said, startups and NFL teams will try to build their businesses around homegrown talent—people they can get early and mold into the ideal employees.
The video game industry could take a lesson from them. Another good point the Spot On hosts made was breaking into the voice-acting business is notoriously difficult. In many cases, hiring famous actors means you lose out on discovering new talent. This is very true. For every Gina Torres or Mark Hamil, game companies miss out on young, hungry talent. A group of people ready to work for much less and much harder.
So why are video games so expensive?
Let’s circle back. The formula was the more expensive a game is to make, the higher the cost to sell it. Game companies have to make that money back somehow. How much do you think it costs to hire these famous actors? Don’t forget to factor in digital face scans, voice acting, and a press tour. Probably a ton of creds. Who do you think pays for that in the end? We do.
The cost of these famous actors must be hefty enough to warrant them doing the job in the first place. Especially the celebrities who have no idea what a Read Dead is. Those same roles Megan Fox and Ronda Rousey played could go to new, enthusiastic voice actors. Ones who come at a much smaller rate. I am not advocating for hiring cheap talent or underpaying people. I am rallying to give those hungry young talents a shot at making a mark in the business.
Expensive games are here to stay.
Just to be clear, we live in a $70 US per game world now. There is no going back, and it will only get higher. But, if by some miracle, there was a reckoning and video game companies needed to cost cut to stabilize the price of games, big-name Hollywood actors would be a good place to reevaluate the ROI.
Personally, I have not liked a game more because I knew the voice actor was Samuel Jackson or Idris Elba. Half the time, it’s pretty distracting from the narrative. It is a strange thing to say given it’s all acting, but there is something to the fact that it’s a digital medium that I am participating in rather than passively consuming that makes famous voices feel out of place. I want to immerse myself in this world completely, but a certain NPC sounds an awful lot like Jules Winnfield. When the celebrity voices work, you tend to forget about them and get that desired immersion, like Sam Jackson in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, in fact. But when it’s bad, all you can think about is how much money this famous person was paid to sleep through a recording.
Hopefully, I’ll have zero interest in video games when they cost $100 US for a standard edition featuring the entire cast of The Office. You can support Secret Identity with a kind word and a share. Check out Design Behind The Mask for pop culture design talk, and reach out through our form below if you are in need of creative services!