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So An Award Winning Videogame Composer Is Being Fined $50,000 For Recording Against Rules His Union Never Even Voted Into Place…


To be very clear, this piece is in no way intended as an general defamation of unions, or as any kind of statement regarding unions and their overall usefulness. 

Regard the following as…purely situational.  Intended to spotlight a circumstance which is rather distressing, and directly pertaining to two subjects about which we often speak here on AICN:  video games and their scores (the musical kind, not the gameplay kind).  

Meet Austin Wintory...

Austinv Wintory

...a successful composer who brought music to titles like THE BANNER SAGA and  JOURNEY, along with a number of other projects of varying natures (films, shorts, etc.).  He’s won one BAFTA and been nominated for another.  He’s received the “Outstanding Achievement in Organic Music Composition” Interactive Achievment Aware and was nominated for another.  He was Grammy nominated in 2013 for his work on JOURNEY.  And now, he’s being fined $50, 000 dollars for recording a game score  - thanks to fiercely limiting regulations which members of his union never even voted into place.

Here’s an embed from Wintory explaining more.  This embed has gained quite a bit of traction in the relatively brief time it’s been online - so I suspect this matter won’t be dissipating anytime soon. 


THIS article at VentureBeat expands upon the matter a bit further:  

It should be noted that Mr. Wintory began working on the music for The Banner Saga prior to the AFM’s blocking of its union members from working on video games. He believes that his being an outspoken opponent of the block has made him a target for the AFM.

So, there you have it.  There’s a rather insightful discussion currently unfolding on the video’s YouTube comments - including substantially more input from Wintory himself.  Like: 

A secondary market-based royalty is rejected by the game industry because there is no secondary market. In film, if you're released in theaters the subsequent DVD release would be  the secondary market, and AFM musicians (under the motion picture contracts) make 1% of those secondary market grosses. But games sales are the one-stop transaction. One might try to argue that ports or remasters are secondary markets, but I'd actually disagree. More like parallel primary markets. There is no equivalent in games to a film coming out in theaters and then, say, airing on cable a year later. As a result, the upfront risk for game studios is MUCH HIGHER than for film companies because all their eggs end up in one basket (this is a definite weakness in the business structure of the game industry, as reported by the rampant post-released layoffs lately). Given that there are many, many viable options for royalty-free recording (including very high-end expensive options in London which are regularly used), there is no need to for publishers to deepen their already-huge risk so they refuse to accept these mandatory royalties.

Re-use fees are payments made to the players if the music is taken out of its original context and reused somewhere. So if, say, I wrote a theme for The Banner Saga and then a TV show heard it, liked it and decided to license it for their show. Under AFM contracts, this constitutes a re-use fee and the musicians all get paid get (which by necessity drives the cost of the license sky-high, especially for big orchestral works featuring many musicians).  The game industry often creates sequels, DLC, and other ancillary works for their games and re-usage of the music across any of those would incur re-use fees. This makes it cost prohibitive for them, and makes no sense to accept given a wide variety of viable recording options


1) The secondary market issue hurts players because because the game companies won't sign the agreement as long as that language is in there. So the work goes elsewhere. They aren't getting paid for the original recording because it never took place to begin with. Only if a buyout option is provided will they get hired. In that case, yes, they'll get paid for the session as per normal.

2) Yes, if another entity / IP / franchise wants to license they would pay for it, but the rate wouldn't be terribly negotiable because the STARTING rate would be astronomical. It could easily be tens of thousands for a single track, because you have to re-pay the entire orchestra. It ties the hands of the licensor

The above quotes are answers to questions from viewers, but should illustrate both the complexity of the matter, and how paralyzed composers (and, collaterally, the musicians unable to work due to diminished recording opportunities) are at the moment.  

Seems tragic that as E3 celebrates the bright hope of video games for the upcoming years, this darkness is drifting just beneath the surface.  Hopefully, all of this can be worked out in a way which satisfies all involved.  More as we know more…





Glen Oliver




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