Amazon is using video games and ‘swag bucks’ to incentivize workers

Online retail giant Amazon is using video games to make warehouse work less monotonous—and more productive—as part of a pilot program at several of its facilities.

As reported by the Washington Post on Tuesday, the program, which began at one warehouse in 2017 and has since expanded to five, uses small screens at employees’ workstations to integrate their productivity into a range of games.

Those games include everything from CastleCrafter and Dragon Duel to MissionRace and PickInSpace. In the case of MissionRace, an employee is represented by a racecar that moves around a virtual track every time a task is completed in the real world.

While Amazon declined to release any images showing what the games look like, Fast Company was able to obtain a photograph of the Dragon Duel game in action.

The Post notes that the games are opt-in and that employees can choose to play by themselves or compete against others. Warehouse workers in at least one facility can also earn “Swag Bucks,” an Amazon currency that can be exchanged for anything from company-branded stickers to t-shirts.

While Amazon denies that the games are merely a ploy to increase worker output, at least one employee speaking to the Post on condition of anonymity said her numbers increased significantly after participating in the program.

“One worker said she had at times picked nearly 500 items off the roving shelves in one hour, egged on by the game pitting her against other pickers to compel a racecar around a track,” the Post writes. “She said pickers and stowers compete with one another to complete video game tasks faster, meaning they are moving more real merchandise onto trucks that bring them to customers’ doorsteps.”

News of the pilot program comes amid the company’s push to bring shipping down from two days to one for its Prime members. Amazon has also been deploying automated packaging machines that could replace thousands of jobs while offering some employees up to $10,000 to quit and deliver packages as contractors.

But Amazon is not the first company to “gamify” its workplace. Other companies including Target as well as Uber and Lyft have integrated similar reward-based systems for their employees.

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Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen

Mikael Thalen is a tech and security reporter based in Seattle, covering social media, data breaches, hackers, and more.