Forget ad campaigns. Uber has a new way of recruiting drivers: A video game.
On Thursday, the ride-hailing company released UberDRIVE, a free mobile app that gives users a taste of what it’s like to be an Uber driver. Players drive passengers from one location to another on a real map of San Francisco, along the way earning in-game money, unlocking added features, and learning to navigate the city. New drivers are prompted to sign up through a banner that reads, “Like driving? Get paid for it,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
The game is Uber’s latest effort to recruit new drivers to its fleet, as the company seeks to generate goodwill in the face of high-profile blunders from its top executives, rider allegations of sexual assault, and, most recently, criticism over its policy of hiring contractors, most of whom work part-time.
“When Uber talks about economic impact and putting people to work, it isn’t actually talking about traditional employees,” business writer Alison Griswold wrote for Slate in January, shortly after company CEO Travis Kalanick announced that Uber would generate more than a million jobs around the world in 2015 alone.
Since then, the company and its rival, Lyft, have been slapped with two separate lawsuits from drivers who claimed that although they were classified as independent contractors, they were actually employees – and thus owed benefits and protections. In March, both judges ruled that the cases will go trial by jury.
Uber received another blow earlier this month, after a US district judge denied the company’s bid to enforce its arbitration clause in two lawsuits filed on behalf of drivers who claim that Uber closed their accounts on the basis of illegal background checks.
At the same time, Uber has been moving to provide some benefits to its drivers. One program, called Sixth Star, rewards exceptional drivers with a $1,000 gift card from American Express and acts as a space for drivers to share stories. Another, called Momentum, gives drivers discounts on personal phone plans, auto maintenance, and health care.
Uber’s new mobile game, while working as a recruitment tool, has the additional benefit of educating existing drivers, many of whom are new to the profession, The New York Times noted. The game includes tips about landmarks and points of interest, and rates drivers on a five-star system similar to what Uber uses in real life. For now, San Francisco is the only playable location, but if the app is successful, Uber will add content for other major cities, according to the Times.
Will these efforts be enough to restore Uber’s reputation? Only if the company is sincere, wrote TX Zhuo, managing partner for Los Angeles-based venture capital firm Karlin Ventures.
“[Uber] needs to realize that the best way to attract drivers and beat its competitors is to treat its drivers better,” according to Mr. Zhuo.
“Ultimately, it comes down to whether a company can exhibit humility and a willingness to change.… Although Uber isn’t in danger of losing its foothold in the ride-sharing industry quite yet, if it fails to show a willingness to fix what’s wrong, it could easily lose its place in the market,” he added.