Blackbird Interactive, the makers of Homeworld 3 and Hardspace: Shipbreaker, have announced plans to switch to a four-day work week for all employees. They join a small but growing number of game studios aiming to actively combat burnout by giving employees more time to themselves. Like many others who’ve tried a four-day week, they say that not only were people happier, productivity was not harmed. Cool. Who’s next?
The Canadian studio announced last week that following trials of the four-day week on two of their projects, they’ll take the whole studio to four days in April. They say they gave it a go after asking staff for ideas to help keep people at the studio, and this idea proved popular. They’re also planning to offer “extreme work location flexibility”, which sounds wikkid sikk.
“Without our crew we are nothing. They are the most important asset to our studio and their mental health is the most important thing to them and therefore to us. Burnout in our industry is real and a common problem. Even worse, it’s a problem that can’t be effectively treated, only prevented,” Blackbird CEO Rob Cunningham said in their announcement. “So we did a four-day work week trial with multiple project teams and collected every bit of before and after data we could: code and content submits, task estimates vs. actuals, mental health surveys, verbal comments, interviews, and monitored the outcome closely. The results were stunning. Productivity did NOT drop and literally everything else improved: quality, effectiveness, efficiency, morale, interpersonal relationships and so on. It was an overabundance of positivity. Making a four-day work week our new policy moving forwards was an absolute no-brainer.”
The Hardspace: Shipbreaker team were one of those who ran a trial, during a critical period of development with the added pressures of Covid and working from home. Apparently, the shorter week really helped stave off burnout.
“When the trial was over it was obvious the four-day work week saved us,” Hardspace lead producer Jessica Klyne said. “I don’t think we could have got to where we are today without it.”
Blackbird told the Washington Post more about the process, and how they learned to make better use of time. Shorter meetings is an easy change, as well as questioning who exactly needs to be at a meeting. They also tried to anticipate and counter problems more in planning, rather than ploughing ahead then sorting issues after they arose.
It’s a big change, though, and requires actively breaking old mindsets. They told the WP that during the final month of the trial, only 29% of employees surveyed actually worked 32-hour weeks, with 47% working 32-36, 12% working 36-40, and 12% doing more than 40 hours. Supposedly leads were the most likely to slip into working extra time, to get ahead and prepare tasks for others. But leads are also those who most need to set a good example, and not inadvertently make others feel pressured into working more.
I hope Blackbird will talk about their results once everyone settles down, and continue to talk over time. In this lousy crunch-ridden industry industry, the real test would be what happened if management felt pressed for time. But sharing information help others learn from what they do right and wrong, and maybe encourages others to join them in making a change. And boy howdy, the video games industry needs change.
Other games studios who’ve been known to work four-day weeks include Deus Ex rebooters Eidos Montreal, publishers Armor Games, Mutazione devs Die Gute Fabrik, Falcon Age devs Outerloop Games, Boyfriend Dungeon studio Kitfox Games, Gnog devs Ko_op, and Bugsnax makers Young Horses.
While four-day workweeks are rare, the idea is gaining popularity. Only last week, the Future Generations Commissioner of Wales called for a trial. And the Belgian government yesterday announced plans to introduce the right to request a four-day week, though their idea is the less-exciting model where people cram the working hours of five days into four.
Disclosure: My pal is the CEO of Die Gute Fabrik. Also, I once slept through most of a birthday party in the next room which several Ko_op folks attended.
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