Borderlands 3 is missing one of the series' star voices, and it seems like it’s because of a dispute over how developer Gearbox handles unions.
Veteran voice actor Troy Baker played Rhys in Tales From the Borderlands. The character, an Atlas corporation executive, is integral to the plot of Borderlands 3, but Baker is absent and Ryhs is instead voiced by Ray Chase. Baker told VG247 that he didn’t return to the series for Borderlands 3 because Gearbox “wouldn’t go union.” (Hat tip to Kotaku for highlighting the quote.)
“It was simply a matter of they wouldn’t go union, and I can’t do a non-union gig,” Baker told VG247. “And without getting too deep into the weeds of that, we had long conversations about this. We always knew going into it, that this was going to be the thing. They were going to take these characters, and put them from the Tales from the Borderlands series from Telltale, into Borderlands proper. I’ve been waiting for this call. They were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yes’. They never, because they would never move from that position. I’m not mad. It’s invariably a completely different character, but it still stings.”
A spokesperson for SAG-AFTRA told VICE it stands by Baker’s decision and that it attempted to get Gearbox to sign a union agreement. “They refused and disengaged from those talks,” the spokerson said in an email. “The misguided decision by Gearbox to deny their performers the opportunity to have fair union wages, a safe workplace and the possibility of health care coverage for their families, is unfortunate. We look forward to hearing from any Gearbox performer who is interested in the many protections a union agreement offers actors."
Baker hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment, and Gearbox declined to comment [See update below].
Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford let fans know early on that Baker wouldn’t return to the series. “You’ll have to ask Troy,” Pitchford said in response to questions from fans about Baker on Twitter in April. “I was told by the audio director that he turned it down.”
Notably, some union members did work on Borderlands 3. Voice actor Ray Chase, who is a SAG-AFTRA union member, took over the role of Rhy from Troy Baker in Borderlands 3. Ashley Burch, another SAG-AFTRA member, also returned to Borderlands 3 to voice Tiny Tina.
Burch, who also voiced a character named Chloe in Life Is Strange, didn’t reprise her role in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm because of a SAG-AFTRA strike at the time. In 2016 and 2017, the voice actors of SAG-AFTRA went on strike for 340 days against 11 video game publishers. SAG-AFTRA wanted better wages and more transparency for its workers, eventually renegotiating a contract with the video game industry in September of 2017.
Update: Since publication, Gearbox has responded to our request for comment with the following statement: "Troy is an exceptional talent and we were disappointed that he declined to partner on Borderlands 3 after being offered the part. We wish him the best and hope he knows the offer to collaborate with him still stands. Gearbox is a Texas company and is bound by Texas law – which means that a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labor union or other labor organization." The statement further cites the Texas Attorney General's website that explains the state's anti-union "right-to-work-laws".