Amazon is expanding an existing program that gamifies warehouse work to encourage its fulfillment center employees to improve their efficiency and compete against others for digital rewards like virtual pets, according to a new report from The Information. The program is called FC Games, and it includes as many as six arcade-style mini-games that can be played only by completing warehouse tasks in the workplace.
It’s been known since at least 2019 that Amazon uses gamification in the form of workstation games to try to incentivize employees to improve productivity, but The Information reports that Amazon is now expanding those methods to warehouses in at least 20 states throughout the country. Many of the games tend to be simple virtual representations of how fast the worker is completing a task. One, called MissionRacer, moves a car around a track while a picking employee sorts products into appropriate boxes, as reported by The Washington Post at the time.
“Employees have told us they enjoy having the option to join in these workstation games, and we’re excited to be taking their feedback and expanding the program to even more buildings throughout our network,” Kent Hollenbeck, an Amazon spokesperson, tells The Information. “Even with this expansion, the program remains completely optional for employees; they can switch in or out of different games depending on their preference, can play anonymously, or not play at all—the choice is theirs.”
Some employees quoted in the report say the games are popular because they can help cut down on the tediousness and repetition of a nearly half-day warehouse shift. Others fear it’s one step toward an even more sinister and dystopian metrics system designed to track employees and encourage them to work as hard and fast as possible. (The image of humans measured through gamification metrics conjures the infamous season 1 episode, “Fifteen Million Merits,” of the British science fiction show Black Mirror.)
The rewards earned by playing the workstation games can be turned in for virtual pets, including penguins and dinosaurs, according to The Information, although it’s not clear these pets have any value or whether they can be changed for anything. Another of Amazon’s mini-games is called Tamazilla, a play on the popular Bandai digital pet product Tamagotchi, while others are more competitive and pit employees’ scores against workers at other warehouses around the country.
As The Washington Post reported in 2019, some employees have used FC Games performance to ask for more so-called swag bucks, a proprietary Amazon currency that can be exchanged for company merchandise like T-shirts and water bottles. The Information report also says that during busy holiday rushes, warehouse employees can win pricey consumer electronics, like game consoles or an Apple Watch, by performing well.
But the games themselves are not designed to reward employees with tangible, real-world benefits, the report says, and are instead ways for Amazon to help measure and encourage productivity as warehouse work becomes increasingly more tedious. The company is in the years-long process of automating many elements of warehouse work using robotics. The ultimate goal is ostensibly to eliminate the most repetitive and dangerous jobs. Yet, the result of this hybrid workplace in the interim is that humans are being forced into more specialized, often rote roles that involve less movement and more repetition with an increasing focus on metrics that gauge work performance like one measures the effectiveness of a robot.
In many cases, robots fetch items and bring them to humans to sort, and Amazon has not shied away from its ambitions to automate large swaths of its warehouse work in the future. Yet, Amazon warehouses with automation have been shown to actually have higher injury rates than those that rely entirely on humans.