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Actual play creators respond to questions over SAG strike, future episodes

Critical Role and Dropout express solidarity with SAG-AFTRA, while Glass Cannon’s CEO focuses on business

Piles of gaming dice in different colors Image: Shutterstock via Polygon
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The Hollywood actors’ strike will likely have very little short-term impact on the most popular actual play series currently in production, say creators, who live in a more independent content arena than traditional films and television. Polygon reached out to several troupes, including Critical Role, Glass Cannon Network, Dimension 20, and others. Those who have responded say that the streaming shows, video-on-demand archives, and related podcasts will not be impacted. But reactions to the strike vary.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, better known by the acronym SAG-AFTRA, is the union that represents working actors in Hollywood and elsewhere in the United States. Its strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) began at midnight on July 14 over issues such as residuals and the use of artificial intelligence. In joining the WGA, the union representing writers that is also striking over contract negotiations with AMPTP, the move will stop production on hundreds of movie and television projects around the world as a show of action against Hollywood studios.

Actual play, which has grown in popularity since well before the pandemic, has often pulled in Hollywood types to fill seats at the table. But neither SAG-AFTRA nor AMPTP is regularly involved in the productions that Polygon spoke with, and therefore they will not be affected.

“We fully support the strike and stand in solidarity with our fellow actors,” Critical Role told Polygon in an email Friday morning. “Currently, our release schedule is not impacted by the strike, but we will continue to evaluate and take the necessary steps should it be impacted in the future.”

Troy Lavallee, CEO of Glass Cannon and a member of SAG, provided a somewhat more measured response:

We are extremely grateful that actual play podcasting and streaming does not fall under the purview of anyone as of yet and hopefully it will stay that way in perpetuum. There are enough rules in RPGs that the last thing we need is outside forces coming in to try and regulate how we gather together to play games. At the end of the day, we are all gamers who want to share their love of gaming with others. It is a miracle that we were able to turn that passion into a business and we are proud that independent organizations, such as ours, who operate on far smaller budgets and shorter timelines than mainstream media companies, are able to offer dignified and equitable spaces for gamers who also happen to be performers, writers and producers, to express their passion and creativity in the still burgeoning art form that is actual play entertainment. With a small, but ever growing stable of full-time employees who rely on the success of our content to survive and to have access to health care, there is nothing that would ever stop or slow down the content creation machine that we’ve worked so hard to become.

Polygon has reached out to other troupes, and will update this article with their response.

Update (July 17): Prior to the publication of this story, Polygon reached out to Dropout TV to inquire about its actual play series, Dimension 20. They didn’t respond directly to us. Instead, Dropout CEO Sam Reich wrote a lengthy Twitter thread explaining his position.

“I stand in complete and utter solidarity with our striking performers,” Reich said. “I myself am SAG-AFTRA, as are others on our executive team, having come from the world of working actors. [...] Dropout production is right now on hold. Because we aren’t associated with the AMPTP, it’s possible we may be able to reach an interim agreement with SAG that allows us to continue to produce content during the strike. But we’ll only do that, obviously, if we get the blessing of the union and the buy-in of our performers. If not, we have enough content in the can to last us a little past the end of the year.”

Reich also noted that his company has made a $10,000 donation to the Entertainment Community Fund “in solidarity with the WGA.” That was followed by another personal match of an additional $10,000.

Glass Cannon CEO Troy Lavallee also reached out to Polygon to add additional context to his previous statement. We’ve adjusted the article to reflect that. He also made a clarifying statement on Twitter:

Good buddies: Earlier today, I was asked to give a statement on how the strikes would affect the production of our content. Answering that question in a way that would assure our fans who depend on our content that we’re not going anywhere was my goal. In my haste to reply, I should have considered that people who don’t know me, the GCN and my sense of humor would be reading and been more clear in my response. I am obviously not some wealthy corporate overlord. I’m just a guy that started a podcast with his friends that turned into a still very small business that now supports several families and individual lives. I’m also a 20+ year card carrying member of SAG and another one of our executive team is WGA. I apologize for being glib in my response and not answering more thoughtfully. Anyone who knows us knows the good we do not only in the gaming community but beyond. I personally have had a very complicated relationship with the acting unions over the past two decades and I would be disingenuous if I said that didn’t color the vagueness of my initial response, but I fully support making sure the little guy isn’t taken advantage of by the big guy.

Update (July 26): Free League Publishing, which has a project based on The Walking Dead franchise in the works with AMC, said it’s still not clear on how the associated actual play series will move forward during the strike.

“It’s simply too soon to tell,” said Free League founder Tomas Härenstam in a statement. “We’re 100% focused on shipping a top-notch game at the moment, and when it comes time to address any actual play events, we’ll carefully review the rules governing the use of any SAG actors during a strike and proceed accordingly.”

Update (Aug. 9): Following consultation with its legal team and SAG, Dropout has elected to resume production on all of its programs — including the Dimension 20 actual play series. The announcement was made Tuesday on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The reasoning, explained owner Sam Reich, is fairly straightforward — the contract which Dropout’s talent works on is not impacted by the strike.

“Dropout is not associated with the AMPTP, who negotiates on behalf of the majority of studios and streamers,” Reich wrote in the thread. “We assumed Dropout’s contract — the New Media Agreement for Non-Dramatic Programming — was struck because it wasn’t specifically on a list of non-struck contracts. After speaking at length with our lawyers and with SAG, turns out that is not the case.”

Dropout, he said, can now “return to business as usual” — as can its talent. Reich concluded the public statement by noting his continued solidarity with striking writers and actors.

“SAG’s decisions are in part strategic,” Reich added. “Small streamers like us continuing to work while the major streamers cannot gives us a competitive advantage and puts more pressure on them to make a deal.”