Bayonetta 3 Boycott
Image: Nintendo

Note. Since this article was originally published, new claims have emerged which offer a different version of events leading to this dispute. Read more here:

You'll no doubt have seen your social feeds ablaze with controversy around Bayonetta 3 this weekend, with specific debate over the value of voice actors and their work in video games and beyond. To many gamers and assorted onlookers, it's been an eye-opener into the business realities behind the biggest names and games in the industry.

To recap the story which first broke on Saturday, original Bayonetta voice artist Hellena Taylor released a series of videos on Twitter giving her reasons behind not reprising the role in the upcoming sequel. In the videos, she claims that she was offered a flat rate of $4,000USD to return and voice every line in the game. Citing her years of training, her history with the franchise, and the amount of money it has generated, she called the offer "insulting" and has called on supporters to boycott the game and instead donate the money to charity.

The project's director, Yusuke Miyata of PlatinumGames, had previously said that "various overlapping circumstances" were to blame for Taylor being unable to reprise the role she first voiced in 2009. As far as Taylor is concerned, her absence is the result of the insufficient remuneration offered for her work. In one video she explicitly calls out the company for lying, saying, "Platinum had the cheek to say that I was busy, that they couldn't make it work...well, I had nothing but time."

In perhaps the first indication that negotiations for her return weren't going smoothly, back in September 2021 Taylor responded to a tweet that said "I can't imagine Bayonetta without your amazing voice" with the line, "Well you might have to."

The voice artist's decision to break her NDA, call for a boycott, and provide specific payment details is a highly unusual move and has led to plenty of debate online, with onlookers from both in and outside the industry offering opinions, context, support, and more opinions. Broadly speaking, while many consider the $4,000 figure surprisingly low given the game and character's status, online opinion generally appears to fall into one of two camps: those who support the voice artist (and some who have spoken out providing some extra context), and those who see the proposed pay as the industry standard and therefore nothing to complain about.

Taylor's video has helped demystify the business realities for many fans who assume everyone involved in a successful game is making five figures from it

It's a thorny issue, and one not helped by a lot of unknowns, specifically on Platinum's side. Was this an entirely reasonable offer from the company's point of view? Is this just the standard VA rate that some bean-counter manager applied unthinkingly? Was this a deliberate 'lowball' offer, a ruse to oust the original voice actor for some unknown reason? As we said, opinions have been flying thick and fast online, and we're very unlikely to hear anything official on the matter from Platinum, far less Nintendo.

Predictably, Hideki Kamiya — who was called out specifically in one of Taylor's videos — has been active on Twitter, posting a series of tweets alluding to the situation and citing an "attitude of untruth" before having his account suspended, then apparently removing it of his own volition...before returning once again. Despite his brashness online, we suspect we won't be hearing much more from him on this one, either.

The weight of fan expectations is another factor that complicates the situation. An eager core group has been waiting a long, long time to get their hands on Bayonetta 3, and even players who might broadly support better remuneration for artists who contribute so impressively to the games they love may not appreciate being told they shouldn't play it. For a select few, the call to boycott will be heard as a licence to pirate the game. On the whole, it feels unlikely — to us, at least — that a great many players will give up on a game they've been wanting for so long. That said, the replies to Taylor on Twitter show many people who have cancelled pre-orders, so it's difficult to say with any authority how much this will truly affect sales.

One of the most enlightening sources of information has been voice actor Ben Diskin, who has contributed voice work to a large number of animated projects and video games over the last two decades. Shedding some light on "typical" SAG-AFTRA (the Screen Actors Guild union) rates for video game voice-over work, Diskin said in a tweet that "it's approximately $1000 for a session that can last up to 4 hours."

Elsewhere, Sean Chiplock — who voices Revali, Teba, and the Great Deku Tree in Zelda: Breath of the Wild (and Age of Calamity) — revealed in response to a question that he was paid "approx $2,000-$3000 overall" for his contributions to each game.

Looking at the going rates, it appears that, assuming the recording sessions were efficient and otherwise uneventful, $4,000 wouldn't be out of the ordinary as remuneration for this type of work. Given the high profile of these particular games, though, it still comes as a surprise to hear that an artist who has been so integral in defining a character for millions of players isn't compensated more generously.

Sean Chiplock Tweet 15th Oct 2022
Image: @sonicmega

Taylor's singling out of Nintendo's presidents and "other fat cats" indicates that her issue here is with the short shrift given her by Platinum, and the profits the game will bring others who are involved. Taylor enjoys a more intimate relationship with the audience, who associates her directly with the character, even if they don't know her by name. The notion of being casually or callously replaced and feeling undervalued has evidently caused a rupture in her relationship with Platinum, and she's chosen, understandably, to use her platform as 'The Voice of Bayonetta' to highlight the issue.

As Chiplock outlines, royalty options for sales of the game appear to be rare when it comes to compensating voice work. For instance, Chiplock says he earned more from his work on Freedom Planet than Zelda due to being "generously" given a cut of royalties on Galaxy Trail's indie hit. Once again, given the profile and success of a Bayonetta or a Zelda, it feels strange to see artists with passionate fan followings being paid what many of us might consider far closer to a 'regular' wage. If nothing else, Taylor's video has helped demystify this for many fans who assume everyone involved in a successful game is making five figures from it and, possibly, banking meaty royalty cheques every few months, too.

Hellena Taylor's replacement in Bayonetta 3 — veteran video game voice artist Jennifer Hale — had refrained from commenting online due to her own NDA (although her liked tweets have been analysed) until just before this article went live when she issued a statement via Twitter addressing the situation. Citing specifically the NDA preventing her from discussing the matter further, she draws attention to the many people who have contributed to the project, asking "that everyone keep in mind that this game has been created by an entire team of hard-working, dedicated people," and saying how she hopes that "everyone involved may resolve their differences in an amicable and respectful way."

Given the countless fingerprints left on any large video game project by the many people involved, from concept to QA, it's unsurprising that Hale should want to highlight the collaborative nature of development, especially given the credits controversy that seems to pop up again and again where people who worked on a game struggle to get even a courtesy namecheck when the credits roll. It's tough to imagine that any of Taylor's supporters who have decided to boycott wish to 'punish' the other creatives who contributed, but what recourse is there but to vote with their wallets?

Both Taylor's pulling back of the curtain and Hale's carefully worded response expose the precarious situation that voice artists can find themselves in. It seems they are caught between a skewed perception from some fans, who assume every high-profile booking pays for a new swimming pool and an extra wing on the mansion, but also not jeopardising their main source of income by rocking the boat with employers. "How can Bayonetta *herself* only be pocketing four grand for the entire game, before tax!?", is a totally understandable sentiment given that Taylor, from the fan's perspective, has a much more evident claim on the character than, say, an animator who worked on her transformations, or the artist who textured her infamous pistol shoes.

Which brings us to the sad fact around this entire debate: Creatives across the board in this industry (and others) are consistently undervalued and — compared to the profit generated off the back of the biggest successes and banked by the parent companies — underpaid. Voice artists for the biggest games in existence enjoy a public profile that greatly outweighs the pay packets they take home from these projects. Charles Martinet, for example, probably doesn't have to worry about making rent, but he's also likely not making the sort of life-changing bank the majority of fans might think 'The Voice of Mario' (well, in the games, but that's another article) takes home.

The most recent trailer showed multiple Bayonettas featuring in the upcoming game

It can also be tempting to look at that one-off $4K figure, look at one's own monthly take-home pay, and think, 'yeah, I'd take four grand for a few weeks of work, eight hours a day, in a comfy booth with a mic. Sounds alright!' However, that seriously undersells the expertise and professionalism that creatives across the industry bring to the table and the sheer amount of work that goes into their craft. A startlingly small number of people reading these words would be able to produce the kind of work Taylor did in the previous games, or that Hale has done in this one (if the trailers are representative of the whole). There's a reason these artists produce such excellent results to which fans react so positively: They're really really good at what they do.

It's tempting to look at that one-off $4K figure and think, 'yeah, I'd take four grand for a few weeks of work, eight hours a day, in a comfy booth with a mic. Sounds alright!'

It would therefore follow that, given their specialised skill set, they should be paid well, right? The real issue, at least in terms of public perception, is that for many people $4,000USD will sound not only fair, but generous, and there's a far bigger societal issue at play there which, unfortunately, won't be resolved over some gamers deciding not to play a particular video game over another.

There are other historical factors, of course, with Japanese companies in particular not having the best reputation when it comes to valuing workers or a healthy work-life balance, and corporations the world over doing their utmost to discourage unionisation or making public the realities of working within their walls. As we said previously, although Taylor's revelations have brought the conversation to the fore — which in itself is valuable for bringing to light more facts about the industry — a proposed boycott seems unlikely to affect the long-term success of this game. However, we wonder how many people have decided to cancel pre-orders following the events of the past weekend.

With that in mind, please let us know in the poll below if the recent revelations have changed your Bayonetta 3 purchase plans.

Will you be boycotting Bayonetta 3?