Amazon and its employees play games

May 23, 2019

Today, drill bits and dresses are available for rent and the MLB’s draft rules were made to be bent, but first…
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The gig economy is just a big, fun game — but who are the real winners and losers?

Hundreds of employees in Amazon’s massive fulfillment factories spend hours playing video games that gamify their monotonous workdays.

Using dragons, castles, and sports cars, these games boost employee efficiency — in a “fun” way. 

But, according to a report from The Washington Post, games that seem fun often manipulate overworked employees.

Fun, games, and optimized output

Amazon’s games are based on actual output: Employees who choose to play MissionRacer, PicksInSpace, Dragon Duel, or CastleCrafter score points in the game by picking items off shelves in real life.

The games are optional, and employees can choose to compete against themselves or others. Some workers report that the games do, in fact, make repetitive warehouse tasks less boring.

But everyone’s shooting for a high score… including Amazon

Amazon says it does not monitor game performance or require employees to participate, and employees don’t technically get bonuses based on games. 

But, at the same time, Amazon has increased output requirements for its employees from 100 to nearly 400. Games help with that.

One factory worker reported that, in order to win a race car game, she recently picked nearly 500 items in an hour. 

Amazon wants to beat its high score by cutting Prime shipping from 2 days to 1 day — and it will need to force hundreds of employees to break their high scores to do so.

Turning low-skill tasks into high-thrill activities

Amazon is hardly alone in gamifying work: Many businesses offer commission-based pay and bonuses — a type of gamification.

But the games that Amazon and gig economy companies like Lyft, Uber, Postmates, and Wag play are more complex, subconsciously “nudging” employees/contractors to work longer or more unusual hours.

The difference is one of transparency: Sales commissions are contractually definite and clear to employees, while the rules of Amazon’s or Uber’s games constantly change — and they’re known only to algorithms.

Of course, improving employee efficiency isn’t inherently manipulative. But getting employees hooked on games that make their lives tolerable, and then using those games to subconsciously direct their behavior… well, it seems kinda like cheating.

Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater
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Sofar Sounds raises $25m — but will performers see any dough?

Sofar Sounds, host of secret in-home music gigs around the world, raised $25M.

Surprise living room jam seshes? Very cool… for everyone except the musicians, that is. 

Sofar, a self-styled supporter of local artists, generally pays bands $100 per show and pockets the remaining $1k to $2k from tickets. 

Like Uber, the startup has been criticized for perpetuating the underpayment of those workers so integral to company success. 

Ticket sales are musicians’ bread and butter these days

In today’s streaming age, artists rely increasingly on live performances for earnings. But Sofar is paying peanuts, while simultaneously pulling viewers away from the higher-paying venues.

One musician roasted Sofar for “not-so-delicately wedging themselves in-between the customer and merchant” in a model where “everything but the service-provider is put first.” 

Can’t pay for gas with exposure alone

Sofar CEO Jim Lucchese maintains that artist payout largely comes in the form of exposure and fan conversion (…TYSM, I’ll go deposit that into my account today).

Lucchese says the recent funding inflow will be used to improve the situation. Cue the waiting music.

» Sofar so.. .underpaid
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Will retail stores all become libraries for products in the new rental economy?

Earlier this week, Home Depot announced plans to double down on tool rentals to cater to pro builders and boost sales.

And on Tuesday, Urban Outfitters launched an online subscription service that will allow customers to rent up to 6 items per month before swapping them out for new threads.

As traditional sellers embrace rentals, they raise the question: Is rent-ail the future of retail?

Like libraries… but for popular products

Improved inventory management systems have enabled new industries to rent, leading to the explosion of new rent-ailers.

The equipment rental market is expected to grow to $60B by 2021, and the online clothing rental market, virtually nonexistent before Rent the Runway, is expected to grow from $1B in 2018 to $2.5B by 2023.

These growing markets are great opportunities for rent-ailers to build giant catalogs of popular products and revamp sluggish sales. But they’re not necessarily good deals for renters.

Why buy when you can rent?… wait a minute… 

Renting provides value to some consumers — namely, the ones looking for specific, expensive products they won’t use much, like power tools or stylish dresses.

But, while no-strings-attached access to bikes, cars, and even dogs may seem attractive, renting everything — including commonly used items like furniture — often ends up being wildly expensive.

» Selling is so last season

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Hey Hustle readers, we’ve got some exciting news to share… 

Our very own Wes “This moustache was made for TV” Schlagenhauf is bringing The Hustle’s hard-hitting business news to life on video every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm ET in partnership with Newsy — and he’s lookin’ suavé doing it.

Be sure to check him out here, and stay tuned for more to come.

The strange economics of pro baseball pushed a top US star to Japan

Carter Stewart, a 19-year-old baseball pitcher, shocked America’s baseball fans by skipping the MLB draft and signing a 6-year, $7m deal with a Japanese baseball club.

Why would a potential star ditch the draft?

In short, because it’s easy to strike out in the draft.

It’s hard to feel bad for a 19-year-old who will make millions hitting balls of cork and yarn — but Stewart got a dud deal last year.

Based on his position as 8th overall pick, Stewart expected an offer of $4.98m. But, thinking he was injured, the Braves offered only ~$2m. 

Instead of taking the lowball offer, Stewart went to junior college. But in this year’s draft, Stewart was expecting a lower draft pick — and an offer below $2m.

So Stewart said screw it

Had Stewart stayed, he would have made less than $4m in 6 years (thanks to MLB rules about earnings caps) and become a free agent in 2027. 

But by going to Japan, Stewart will make a guaranteed $7m — and earn free agency 3 years sooner.

Stewart, the first player to dodge the MLB draft, outwitted a system that routinely exploits players — and if his plan works, others may follow his lead.

» Attaboy

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