Amazon boosts productivity by gamifying warehouse workers’ tedium

amazon is letting its warehouse staff play video games while they work fulfillment center
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Amazon is clearly edging ever closer to the day when it can replace its warehouse workers with robots, but until then it needs to make sure those workers operate as efficiently as possible so that it can streamline its operation and ensure its online shoppers receive their orders in a timely fashion.

One way Amazon is doing this is by allowing its warehouse staff to play games while they work. The games have been specially designed to increase productivity by encouraging competition among workers.

According to a Washington Post report this week, hundreds of pickers and packers at Amazon warehouses “spend hours a day playing video games,” with some competing “by racing virtual dragons or sports cars around a track, while others collaborate to build castles piece by piece.” The offerings include Amazon-made titles such as MissionRacer, PicksInSpace, and Dragon Duel.

The games, whose graphics and gameplay are described as being a bit on the clunky side, are currently offered at five Amazon warehouses, including in its home city of Seattle, Washington, and Manchester, England.

Employees can choose whether or not to play the games, which are displayed on screens attached to workstations. Single-player modes are available, though team games are also possible.

The Post describes how flashing lights direct workers to grab an ordered item that then has to be put into a bin, with the speed of their actions transformed into a game on a screen. The so-called “gamification” of tedious and repetitive tasks is designed to make a job more entertaining, while at the same time encouraging staff to complete their work more quickly.

Those who play the games are rewarded with “points, virtual badges, and other goodies,” though in one warehouse some high-scoring workers have reportedly persuaded managers to let them exchange their rewards for so-called “swag bucks,” an in-house currency that staff can use for buying a range of items.

For sure, Amazon doesn’t get the best press when it comes to the treatment of its warehouse-based workforce, though the company always insists it fully supports its staff. With its gaming initiative, some Amazon employees told the Post it’d helped to inject some fun into otherwise monotonous tasks.

With recent promises of one-day delivery for all Prime members, Amazon is under pressure to find ways to improve productivity levels among not only its workforce, but throughout all stages of its massive logistical operation.

Technological advances are certainly helping the company to speed up much of its work, an increasingly important factor that allowed Amazon to make fewer temporary hires than usual during the last holiday season.

Indeed, game or no game, when Amazon finally develops the perfect warehouse robot capable of performing all the necessary tasks in the blink of an eye, there’ll only be one winner.

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