Amazon's warehouse 'mini-games' for workers are expanding across 20 states

These games started in a single warehouse back in 2017 but are rolling out widely now.

Noah Berger / Reuters

A few years ago, The Washington Post reported that Amazon was trying to "gameify" work in its warehouses with some social mini-games. We haven't heard much about the rather strange initiative since then, but today The Information published a story claiming that Amazon is in the middle of a "major expansion" of the program, called "FC Games." What initially stated in one warehouse back in 2017 has now rolled out across 20 states, today's report claims. Perhaps unsurprisingly, employee reaction has been divided.

Employees who play one of the six games at a stowing and picking station (where workers prepare orders) can earn a digital currency that can be used for virtual goods. It sounds ultimately inconsequential but serves as a good example of Amazon's "preoccupation" with productivity. That said, the company states that the games are not used as a performance measurement.

“Employees have told us they enjoy having the option to join in these workstation games, and we’re excited to be taking their feedback and expanding the program to even more buildings throughout our network,” Amazon said in a statement. “Even with this expansion, the program remains completely optional for employees; they can switch in or out of different games depending on their preference, can play anonymously, or not play at all—the choice is theirs.”

As for the games themself, it sounds not altogether different from many of the things that crop up in mainstream games, including leaderboards and competitions against fellow employees, both at a single warehouse or against people at other facilities around the US. “The games aren’t particularly good, although some people do like it because it helps make the mind-numbing boredom of a 10-hour shift better,” an Amazon worker told The Information. But others said they don't play the games because they encourage working quicker, which might lead to injury. Amazon has been under fire for years about unsafe working conditions in its warehouses, and the last year of pandemic around the world has highlighted the conditions employees must deal with. Just last month, New York State sued Amazon for showing a "flagrant disregard" for worker safety during COVID-19.

We've reached out to Amazon for more information about the FC Games program and will update this story if we hear back.