Hiding Profits in Fun: Amazon's Gamification of Work
  • In my Larrun article Glovalization, I attempted to call attention to the way that Glovo tries to pit its employees – oops, contract laborers – against each other in a zero-sum competion and a game-like application, and I predicted that this type of ingrained competition and technological culture would infect large swaths of our economy in the years to come. But like so many new technologies still in their infancy, it can be difficult to imagine the long-term implications of such a dynamic. Amazon has just changed that.

Paul Iano 2019ko ekainaren 26a

Amazon has turned warehouse labor into a game. Not food delivery, not some fancy internet job. Warehouse labor, the most menial and low-tech job I can imagine. The company has installed systems in multiple warehouses in the US and UK that turn “picking” into a competition-based game that pits different warehouses, floors, or teams against each other in exchange for Amazon “Swag Bucks” that you can redeem for clothes and other items. In this way, you work harder than ever and in return are thrilled to receive an item that Amazon buys in bulk, for literal cents. Of course, your paycheck remains the same.

In the US media, these “games” have been described as retro, cool, and are flatteringly painted as a quirky new add-on to a boring job. Yet they fail to examine the way in which this allows Amazon to better track its employees and force them to work ever harder1. This is the key consequence. No company will spend its money on a workplace development that exclusively makes the job more bearable, as anyone who has ever had to fight for a raise can attest to.


This is a new type of workplace control, one that will increase output, increase profits, and slowly drive its own workers crazy2 . In the way that your crowded inbox, constant Whatsapp notifications, and the relentless applications on your phone originally seemed fun and useful, but can also sometimes make you just a bit insane, Amazon’s new workplace “games” will add another level of stress and competition onto an already toxic workplace, while conveniently avoiding the cost of an experienced and motivational middle manager.

This is one example of how the “innovations” of platform-based companies can and will be applied to every aspect of our economy, from the most innovative and technological sectors to the most boring and manual jobs imaginable. These innovations will be used to make us work harder, longer, and cheaper. Or replace our jobs altogether.

Work is not a game, and those who would try to convince that it is are simply trying to justify an innovative disguise for an all-too traditional relationship: extreme economic exploitation.

1 Currently, Amazon pushes its warehouse workers to such an extent that many of them wear diapers as they work in order to avoid using the bathroom and the consequences thereof.

2 This doesn’t seem to bother them, as they are hoping to soon replace these same workers with robots that they have already begun to put into use. These robots work five times faster than workers, don’t expect benefits, and each one replaces 24 human beings. Amazon’s plan seems to work their employees so hard that they quit, and then to replace them with robots.