Ah, Friday. The fifth day of the typical workweek. The end of said workweek, for many. But how nice would it be if [sentiment redacted by bosses]? Just ask folks from Blackbird Interactive, the developer behind Homeworld 3 and Hardspace: Shipbreaker and the latest studio to switch to a four-day workweek.
As reported by The Washington Post on Thursday (which, like many for-profit institutions, operates on a five-day workweek), Blackbird Interactive ran a three-month dry run to see if a four-day week would work. The trial period was wildly successful among staff. Now, the studio officially runs Monday through Thursday.
Blackbird is the latest studio to give Friday the boot as others across the globe reconsider the efficacy of standard working models in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. In some cases, as with Remember Me developer Dontnod, that’s meant implementing a permanent work-from-from policy. In others, it meant shortening the expected week by a day.
For the most part, this sea change is led by comparatively smaller indie outfits. In 2020, after delaying The Stanley Parable: Ultra Deluxe, Berlin-based Crows Crows Crows pivoted to a four-day workweek. In 2021, ahead of Boyfriend Dungeon’s release, developer Kitfox Games tested the model out as well, ultimately implementing it permanently. Last September, Young Horses, the eight-person studio behind Bugsnax, slashed its expected working hours to 32 per week. As did Outerloop, whose forthcoming, and genre-defying, Thirsty Suitors looks amazing.
But some larger studios are catching onto the model, too. In October, Eidos Montreal — a Square Enix outfit known for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Deus Ex: Star-Lord Has A Bad Haircut — followed suit. Blackbird Interactive, meanwhile, occupies a sort of liminal space. Yes, it’s technically independent, which means there are fewer corporate pressures to succumb to, but it also employs hundreds of developers, allowing for a large sample size to see if Friday really should be part of the weekend.
Blackbird surveyed 51 staffers both before and after the trial run. The results were overwhelmingly in favour of a four-day week: 89 per cent said they experienced general wellness improvements, 90 per cent thought the new model would help with employee retention, and a staggering 91 per cent reported a more equitable work-life balance. Also, 100 per cent of surveyed developers said they preferred the newer model.
Of course, there are challenges to straight-up removing a day. The video game industry is notorious for its scourge of “crunch,” referring to periods of extreme overtime, either implicitly or explicitly ordered by bosses. How do you prevent staffers from feeling pressure to clock in on their off time to hit deadlines?
“One of the key pieces to all of this is that our leadership, whether it’s studio or per team, has to set the example,” Blackbird director of operations Katie Findlay told The Washington Post. “So if your manager or producer is coming in and obviously working on Friday — answering emails and all of that — then me, if I’m, like, a junior programmer, I’m going to feel the need to do that as well…So we’re really doubling down on messaging to our leads to make sure they’re modelling behaviour they want to see.”
As Young Horses co-founder and president Phil Tibitoski told Axios, “You have to have buy-in from the top.”