Uber launched a new game for iPhone users today aimed at teaching people what it's like to work as a driver for the tech-driven transportation company.
UberDrive is equal parts teaching tool and recruitment mechanism: players are taught to find the most efficient route around a map of San Francisco for the digital passengers they "pick up" in the game. Players are taught to go and grab riders from areas where surge pricing is in effect, and get rewarded for taking efficient routes to their destination. Surge pricing is Uber's practice of charging multiple times its base fare in areas seeing heavy demand.
The game starts with an important part of the Uber mythos: players begin as a taxi driver who's charged with bringing an Uber employee to the company's office in San Francisco's mid-Market neighborhood. Upon arrival at the office, they're recruited to become an Uber driver, and switch over to a jet-black Prius driving for the company's popular UberX service. As they complete more successful rides, players are given wider access to areas in the city, and get access to new cars.
In addition to giving players a sense for navigating San Francisco, UberDrive also includes trivia about city landmarks and a game mode that requires users to go to and from different key locations in the city. As users progress, they're eventually greeted with an advertisement that suggests they apply to join the company as a driver. That makes sense, since the game will help them learn to find their way around San Francisco, knowledge they can then apply in the real world.
The game also serves as another salvo in Uber's charm offensive. The game provides a cartoonish face for a company that has often been cast as a villain by groups including disgruntled regulators, the taxi industry and workers' advocates who criticize its policy of classifying drivers as independent contractors instead of employees. Uber just celebrated five years in business last week, and CEO Travis Kalanick marked the occasion with an event at the company's headquarters where he called on mayors across the U.S. to allow the company's service to flourish.
There's plenty of room for Uber to expand UberDrive, since the game only supports San Francisco and is only available for the iPhone in the U.S. It's a move that makes sense from the company, since it could provide Uber with even more drivers to fuel its continued growth around the world. The company is in tight competition with other ride-hailing startups like Lyft and Sidecar, along with more traditional means of transportation like taxicabs. Having a large supply of drivers means that Uber can better support a growing number of riders.