Grand Theft Auto IV Makes $600m, Niko Bellic's Actor Makes $100k


Grand Theft Auto IV will go down as the most successful video ever:

- Sold 3.6 million units in the first day - Sold 6 million units in the first week - Hit $500 million in sales in the first week

Michael Hollick, the actor and voice behind lead character Niko Bellic, will go down as the worst negotiator ever:

-15 months spent on GTA IV - $100,000 salary for his work - that's $0.016 per unit sold in the first week

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on Michael Hollick, "A Video Game Star and His Less-Than-Stellar Pay", and how the video game industry hasn't adjusted its pay scale for actors (despite seeing marked growth and revenue. Like the writer's strike, there is a discrepancy between traditional media and new media (video games and internet).

And Hollick recognizes the gap between his earnings and Rockstar's:

“Obviously I’m incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity,” Mr. Hollick said. “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it. I don’t blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it’s the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.”

Can Michael complain? Sure. But I disagree for a few reasons.

First, GTA IV is not successful because of the actors. In fact, I am pretty confident that you could fill any actor's voice in there and the game would be just as successful and just as fun. Hollick may be a terrific actor (I have no idea) - but it really doesn't matter....

... because the real stars of any video game are the programmers (who enable the 'acting'). And they, like Michael, are salaried. If I was running Rockstar and was asked whether to remove the top few programmers from the team or replace the actors - I wouldn't even blink.

And Hollick agreed to the terms put forth. He agreed to accept $100,000 for the work - regardless of whether the game was an utter flop or a massive success. The entire industry knew it would be a success - so perhaps he should have asked for more? Or perhaps he knew that there were dozens of people willing to do that same job for the lowest available rate... and that Rockstar would be completely comfortable hiring other talent.