Ninja Theory, other developers using AI voice technology instead of humans

A new report from Good Luck Have Fun reveals that several triple-A game developers are using an AI program for voice acting instead of human talent. The company behind the technology is Altered AI, which features a library of vocal performances, including around 20 professional voice actors.

Although it shares similarities with text-to-speech, which reads sentences back into audio, AI voice acting is considered more ethically discreet. Since there are tools that can change a voice actor’s tone and voice type, there have been concerns that the technology could be used to replace voice actors entirely.

NDAs mean that only two developers are explicitly mentioned in the report: Hellblades developer Ninja Theory reportedly has a partnership with Altered. Additionally, Neon Giant reportedly used Altered for the voice acting in their 2021 game, The climb.

The technology is typically used for prototyping purposes, according to Altered CEO Ioannis Agiomyrgiannakis, who argued that his company did for voice acting what YouTube has done for video.

“When you have dialogue, you have a level of imagination. But when you take the dialogue to the voice actors, it comes back and doesn’t sound as dynamic as you wanted it to,” Agiomyrgiannakis explained. “We provide an intermediate step where they can prototype the dialogue and have a checkpoint before they hit the studio.”

Video games have had a rocky relationship with voice acting, with the Screen Actors Guild of America SAG-AFTRA going on strike in 2017 in the name of better pay and benefits for video game voice actors. Several titles were noticeably affected during that strike, including Life is strange prequel Before the Storm and Mortal Kombat 11. An agreement was eventually reached, which ends in November this year.

The argument has been made that voice AI is particularly useful for indie developers and can be used alongside established voice actors. But both The horizon Ashly Burch and Yuri Lowenthal by Marvel’s Spider-Man argued that there are easier ways to avoid this.

“SAG-AFTRA has a low-budget agreement to address this issue,” Burch acknowledged. “It is specifically designed so that indie developers can access quality VO without breaking the bank. […] if you’re looking for something human and nuanced and alive, AI isn’t going to cut it.”

What does AI mean for voice actors and their image?

For Lowenthal, the concern is expressly that software like this is being used to exploit actors’ talents in games they would not otherwise be compensated to appear in.

“I know an actor who does a lot of recording and voice work, and she’s seen her very specific movement appear in games she’s never worked on herself,” he said. “This is a scary precedent that has already been set, and I want to start a conversation with AI companies about how we could protect actors and, again, the storytelling ecosystem.”

In a statement, SAG-AFTRA wrote that it would adapt its contracts to match the evolution of technology and protect voice actors from having their performance used against them.

“These new technologies offer exciting new opportunities, but can also pose potential threats to artists’ livelihoods. It is crucial that artists control the use of their digital selves, are properly compensated for their use, and are able to provide informed consent,” SAG-AFTRA wrote.

“We know change is coming. SAG-AFTRA is committed to keeping our members safe from unauthorized or improper use of their voice, image or performance, regardless of the technology used. The best way for a performer to venture into in this new world is armed with a union contract.”

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