Culture

The FT’s new game puts you in the shoes of an Uber driver for a week

By Oliver Smith 10 October 2017
Summary

Will you make your first mortgage payment as an Uber driver?

“Sorry! You only earned $788! You weren’t able to make enough money to pay your $1,000 mortgage bill.”

That’s the message you’re likely to see after playing the Financial Times’ latest digital creation The Uber Game.

In it, you’re placed in the shoes of a gig economy worker, forced to juggle work, life and business while staying above the breadline.

Any it’s not easy.

An Uber-hard game

You’ll quickly be faced with decisions like, “a passenger opens the door to get out and hits a lamp post… do you report the incident to Uber?” or “it’s a Sunday, do you take the day off?”

And these aren’t fictional decisions either, instead Robin Kwong, the FT’s Head of Digital Delivery, says they’re all based on dozens of interviews with real Uber drivers by the FT’s San Francisco correspondent Leslie Hook.

“We sourced the scenarios you encounter in the game from those interviews, as well as the underlying numbers: how many rides an hour on average, average fares per hour, car rental costs, fuel costs, etc.”

It’s really not easy – even on ‘easy’ mode only a third of players are successful, making more than $1,000 in their first week in order to pay their mortgage, and on ‘hard’ that number plummets to 15%.

Kwong says he didn’t go out intending to build a hard game, that’s just where the facts led him.

He believes The Uber Game might be one of the first examples of a new type of storytelling for journalists.

A 2017 tale

“What if we could place people into the shoes of the subjects we’re reporting, and ask them to make the same meaningful choices as (in this case) an Uber driver?”

It’s a powerful idea, and one that’s apparent as soon as you start playing and have to decide between helping your son finish his homework, and trying to make your rent.

Kwong says there isn’t supposed to be a ‘moral message’ in these decisions, instead they highlight two key facts about Uber life that he wanted the player to be left with:

“There are lots of hidden or non-obvious costs to working in the gig economy.”

“And, it is possible to do quite well monetarily, but this requires strategy, persistence, and experience,” he says.

How will you fare?

The Uber Game is free to play.