Video games can change lives. They can be a tool for education, a way to overcome anxiety and depression — and even a way for megalithic corporations to enlist us.
Uber, an app that sends a private driver to your location within minutes, released an iPhone game Thursday called UberDRIVE, which lets you click around Google Maps to simulate a shift as an Uber driver, rack up points and unlock new cities and cars.
This description is from the Uber blog, emphasis ours:
UberDRIVE was designed as a fun and engaging resource for our driver-partners to hone their navigation skills if they choose to. It's also a great way for prospective drivers to experience firsthand what it's like to drive with Uber — there are links to sign up and start the screening process from directly within the game.
That latter part is crucial. The game is little more than a recruitment tool for a startup. Uber revved up from zero to $50 billion in just five years, and now it wants to bring more drivers onboard.
The game is incredibly boring. When you start the game, you pick a city to start a "session," then click around Google Maps picking up and dropping off fake passengers without any real consequence or challenge. It also wastes no time trying to convert you into a driver.
First you learn a little bit about your city. "Do you know where Union Square is?" one virtual customer asks. Then, as soon as you finish the tutorial, the game tells you, "You know, you could make a lot of money as an Uber partner!"
By the end of my short shift, I'd wracked up an easy $124 dollars in virtual Uber money. I wasn't paying close attention, so I didn't notice if the game deducted Uber's cut of the profits. I also didn't notice if I had to shell out money for gas, insurance, repairs, depreciation of the vehicle, training sessions or any other expense that comes out of Uber drivers' wallets.
And of course, as soon as I finished my first session, this popped up:
The game's one purpose is to get Uber more drivers. Really getting to know the streets of a city can take years to master, or at least weeks of extensive training. UberDRIVE makes no real attempt at helping you learn the city streets — the game is best played zoomed so far out on the map that you can't actually see street names.
At every turn, the game tries to show you just how fun, easy and lucrative it might be to drive professionally for Uber. But out of all the company's recruitment methods — sabotaging its competitors, staging outdoor ad campaigns — this might prove the least effective. After all, it's just not very fun.