Back-to-school shopping is just around the corner — that means sharpened pencils, fresh rubber erasures, pristine notebooks, and loose-leaf paper.
It can be an arduous task for parents and their kids. But the delivery company Shipt has a game with Roblox that the company says will exchange the stress of back-to-school shopping for a simulated experience parents and their kids can enjoy.
In the game, which is featured as a challenge on Roblox’s popular racing game, “Driving Empire,” gig work is gamified. Players race against the clock to deliver school-supplies orders to customers — essentially playing the role of a Shipt delivery worker.
The game may have been designed for family-friendly fun, but I couldn’t help but think about the debates circling the gig-work economy. Things are heated between apps and workers over how they should be paid and between workers and customers over how much they should tip.
“The purpose of Shipt’s new Driving Empire game is to create a unique digital experience that builds modern-day connectivity for millennial parents and their families on the global Roblox platform,” a Shipt spokesperson said.
Shipt did not answer questions regarding its gig workers.
The delivery app, owned by Target, partnered with game developer Voldex to create the game, which is available through Friday, alongside deals on school supplies, snacks, and household items that run through Labor Day.
The game from Shipt follows in the footsteps of other retailers that have been tapping into metaverse marketing through Roblox, a gaming platform that has a largely child-age audience. Home Depot, Walmart, and Chipotle have all released gaming experiences on Roblox, where players could make Chipotle burritos or use Home Depot supplies to build birdhouses.
In the Roblox game featuring the delivery challenge from Shipt, gig work is gamified.
It was my first time trying Roblox, a gaming platform largely populated by children and young users.
The platform has over 100 million active users, according to the site.
When I downloaded the game, “Driving Empire,” I saw it had attracted over 800 million visits and nearly 14,000 active players, according to its description page.
After downloading Roblox and loading the game, I was met with a cacophony of motor engines and basked in the digital palm trees and clear-sky graphics.
I was then prompted with two options for a starter sports car.
I also noticed the pay rates for completing these delivery orders were astronomical — ranging from $415 to $815 in Roblox currency.
Those rates didn’t even include tips. In Shipt’s take on “Driving Empire,” gig work is a lucrative hustle. In real life, Glassdoor estimates the average Shipt driver makes $18 an hour.
Still, hourly rates can ebb and flow, given the flexible nature of these jobs. In a 2022 Shift Project survey, nearly one in seven workers said they earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 on an hourly basis. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s analysis of the study, that hourly wage included tips.
I claimed an order and began my stint, on digital foot, as a Shipt delivery person. A floating green arrow directed me to a supermarket stand, where I grabbed a slab of meat and two apples for my order.
From there, I ran over to a building, where I met my customer, who had a spiky hairdo and appeared to be wearing a pair of lemons for headphones.
While I completed my order with three minutes to spare, sadly, my customer docked me a star from a five-star review. But I did earn $684 — that’s with a generous $114 tip. As I ran through deliveries, I discovered the tips were practically guaranteed in the game as long as the order was completed.
Outside the metaverse, though, tipping has become a hot-button issue between customers and delivery workers.
After completing that first order, I also got a $10,000 bonus for all my hard work. I had successfully completed level one of 17.
Then, I decided to get behind the wheel.
It took some Googling on my end to learn the keyboard moves to turn the car to the right and left (A and D, respectively).
It also took some practice: I curbed my car multiple times.
When I crashed my vehicle into fellow cars or buildings, it generated smashing sounds that sounded like thunder. But then I was cruising.
I also decided to up the ante a bit: I selected one of the more expensive delivery orders, priced at $765.
I learned the higher the value of an order, the farther you had to travel to your item-retrieval and customer destinations.
Given the race cars and the tight delivery-time limits, I decided to don the mindset of a “Fast & Furious” driver racing against the clock.
After retrieving my order — a pair of pants, a shirt, and a backpack, presumably for a “first day of school” outfit — I sped over to my next customer.
The customer looked like the Roblox version of Elvis — greased-back hair, a pair of purple aviators, and a leather jacket. He was also tough on the customer-review front: I got a three-star review on this order — not fast enough apparently.
Then, I spotted a Roblox figure decked out in a lime-green Shipt uniform inquiring for assistance with deliveries.
In return, he said I’d get “a really fast” orange sports car. The car was an upgrade from the sports car I started with, so I decided to help him out.
I checked out some of my order stats to see just what I needed to do to win that car.
After completing two orders, I earned a total of seven stars. For 1,000 stars — what works out to 200 five-star deliveries — I could upgrade to the orange sports car.
While I was mildly incentivized to continue on with my gig work, I decided it was time to park my car.
More retailers have been tapping into the gaming domain. The Shipt collaboration with Roblox follows in the footsteps of other retailers that have hopped onto creating virtual immersive experiences.
Home Depot, Walmart, and Chipotle have all released games on Roblox, offering virtual shopping experiences and games that task players with jobs akin to working inside these stores.
Effectively, Shipt’s take on a Roblox game serves as a brand advertisement — for Roblox’s largely kid-centered audience.
Inside the metaverse, the nuances of gig work are glossed over with fast cars, exciting delivery missions, and a sweet prize at the end of it all. But in reality, gig work is a lot more complicated for the nearly 39% of US workers — according to estimates from an Upwork survey of 3,000 working US adults — who actually do it.