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The Casino Psychology of Uber and Temu on Gig Drivers and Consumers

Slot machines hold significant allure for vacationers and gamblers around the globe by tapping into a fundamental aspect of basic human psychology, using obvious visual and audio stimulation, lowered inhibitions with complimentary drinks, and a lack of clocks and windows to keep people from physically knowing how long they've been sitting somewhere or even what time of day it is. Recently I was watching a Joe Rogan podcast about how the casino companies and big tech had a secret casino that wasn't open to the public and was only used to study human behavior by the casino companies and Fortune 50 companies, specifically for gig workers. I couldn't find any information about a secret casino, but it got me thinking about the casino style tactics they mirror of casinos, to keep drivers and for less pay and to keep you spending on their apps, They do this through the gamification of their platforms and using the concepts of unpredictable rewards, near misses, and disguising losses as wins, all with quick repeatability.

One of the key ways Temu employs gamification, a technique borrowed from the world of casinos to augment user interaction and drive desired behaviors. Below are examples where users are incentivized with the Temu promise of big wins if they take the chance to spin the wheel, compared to the very similar online casino game "9 Masks of Fire."

Online Casino Game: 9 Masks of Fire

Temu's Gamification Spin-to-Win UI

This is such a clear case of gamification of a consumer goods bringing gambling to the customer in the same psychology of casinos they use to gamble. But let's refocus on Uber's utilization of psychological casino strategies to keep drivers/gig workers behind the wheel

One such strategy is the manipulation of reward schedules. Uber, much like slot machines, manipulates reward schedules to create anticipation and unpredictability among drivers. Bonuses and incentives are offered based on specific criteria, such as completing a set number of rides within a designated timeframe or driving during peak hours. By varying the frequency and magnitude of these rewards, Uber taps into the human desire for excitement and the possibility of hitting it big, similar to the experience of playing a slot machine.

Additionally, Uber employs tactics such as near misses to keep drivers engaged and motivated. Notifications informing drivers of narrowly missed opportunities for bonuses or incentives create a sense of almost achieving a desired outcome, encouraging drivers to continue working towards the reward. This psychological manipulation mirrors the near misses experienced by players on slot machines, fueling a desire to keep playing in pursuit of the elusive win.

Disguising losses as wins is another slot strategy. For example, if a driver's earnings for a particular day are below expectations, Uber may frame this information positively by highlighting the number of rides completed or the overall earnings for the week. This manipulation of information leads drivers to perceive a sense of accomplishment or progress, even in situations where they may have incurred a financial loss, akin to the way losses are disguised as wins in slot machines.

Assuming that this interpretation is correct, gambling behavior in humans could traced back to early human development, motivated by reward uncertainty, had a better chance of survival in complex, dynamic environments. Pathological gambling might be the exaggeration of a natural tendency exploited by casinos, big tech companies. Of course, uncertainty-driven motivation is no longer required to survive within most Western cultures. However, gambling might be a hijacked system designed to relieve us of uncertainty with spurts of motivation, despite repeated losses.

With the gamification of user interfaces, manipulating reward schedules, creating near misses, and disguising losses as wins, big tech companies like Uber can discretely incent and influence drivers and delivery people, keeping them actively engaged on the platform and working towards and rewards, that aren't necessarily that at all. We aren't necessarily disagreeing with their tactics, and if it's been proven to keep drivers driving, then we're all for it, but if it's to get them driving for less pay, then we whole heartedly oppose it. With any use of psychological tactics, it's essential to maintain transparency and consider the implications and consequences when using what could be considered psychological tactics on unsuspecting customers and employees.


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