On a rainy Sunday in Bengaluru, Samuel, an undergrad student and a part-time Amazon delivery rider received an email notification on his smartphone: “Hurry! Time to double your run: Power Over is here!” Samuel was quick to accept the two-hour delivery slot. For the 20-year-old, delivering packages during the short bursts of heavy rains means two things: A guaranteed higher payout and a chance to accrue more “runs” to win a 5,000-rupee Amazon gift voucher.

“If the points are perfect, the voucher is guaranteed. So I’m just moving on with my points,” Samuel, who needs to complete 175 runs to claim his Amazon gift card, told Rest of World. Samuel has been identified using a pseudonym to protect his employment with the company.

In a bid to attract and retain quality talent during the annual Diwali sales, for the third year running, Amazon has designed a 30-day “Delivery Premier League” (DPL) for its part-time hires, under the Amazon Flex program. Modeled after the flagship cricket event Indian Premier League, DPL gamifies the rote job of delivering packages. Each hour spent on the platform collecting packages from mini-warehouses and delivering them to customers’ homes constitutes a “run” — a unit of scoring in cricket. The more hours spent delivering, the more runs riders accumulate, ultimately resulting in rewards such as smartphones, motorbikes, televisions, and Amazon gift cards. The rewards are offered in addition to the flat 125 rupees (about $2) paid per hour.

From Indonesia to India, platforms have harnessed game mechanics to drive participation and competitiveness of part-time workers. Leaderboards, customer ratings, level-up badges, and engagement rewards are now becoming a mainstay in the gig economy. Amazon’s DPL program exemplifies how effective these gamification tactics are at driving workforces and changing driver behavior.

“Whenever it’s raining, I’ll get an email: Double up your runs. Triple up your runs,” Samuel said. “At those times, I accept the block, and I’ll go. Because I’m getting a triple bonus.”

Festive season sales in India, which begin in October and run through November, account for upwards of 40% of the annual sales of clothes, electronics, automobiles, and household items in the country. Anticipating the surge in demand, companies often begin ramping up labor for delivery and warehousing as early as August. 

E-commerce giants Amazon and rival Walmart majority-owned Flipkart compete for the same pool of labor, so how they attract, engage, and retain labor supply during this festive period is critical to their success. About one in seven workers in India do not see themselves staying in the job for more than a year, a global gig work survey by Rest of World found. 

Amazon’s Flex program is an important lever to tap on-demand workers to deliver on their promise of one-day shipping. “Customers want superfast deliveries, having Flex to manage that volatility in volume was great for us,” Prakash Rochlani, the director of last-mile logistics for Amazon India, told Rest of World. Rochlani was one of the key executives who oversaw the localization and launch of Flex in India in June 2019, after a wildly successful run in North America. In India, Flex was designed to offer part-time work opportunities targeted toward students, homemakers, and people who have spare time after their day jobs. 

Riders with their own vehicles can sign up for delivery gigs through an app that pays up to 140 rupees ($1.85) an hour. Riders can reserve blocks of time they want to work based on availability of slots on the app. The Flex program caps working hours to four slots of two hours each, and the maximum weight one is allocated per slot is 36 kilograms.

Amazon refused to share details on the number of active riders employed in its Flex program. But Flex riders told Rest of World that the program, which now operates in 65 cities across India, is popular and that there’s currently a 15,000-person waitlist to join.

While the Flex service is available for people to join throughout the year, the DPL reward program kicks in during October. “An engagement like DPL over 30 days during a festival time creates a lot of enthusiasm,” Rochlani told Rest of World. Though DPL was designed to recognize workers through rewards and boost their morale, he says, it’s “helping get more traction during this time.” 

A leaderboard keeps track of the runs scored by various riders in specific zones that change by the day. For Samuel, accepting delivery slots during “Power Overs” — periods of inclement weather, for instance, when there are fewer delivery people working — doubles the runs scored, maximizing his chances of winning. “I do two slots in the morning and two slots that evening,” he said, and he works up to eight hours a day. He began riding for Amazon Flex in March, to support his family at a time when his mother was hospitalized due to Covid-19-induced pneumonia and his father was laid off. The fixed hourly pay lets him earn up to 1,000 rupees ($14) per day, which he has put toward his mother’s treatment, while using the remainder for his personal expenses. “I’m just loving it in these six months,” Samuel said.

Faisal, who asked Rest of World not to use his real name, uses a tuk-tuk to deliver grocery packages on Flex in the city of Bengaluru. He also has his eyes on the DPL. “They will give one bike per station [zone], so we don’t know who will get the bike. But we will surely get those vouchers. There’s 100% guarantee that we will win something or the other,” he said. He’s been a Flex rider for over two years and won cash vouchers worth 5,000 and 3,000 rupees during last year’s DPL. 

Performance incentives are common across industries in India. Though there’s evidence to suggest that the gamification of blue-collared labor can lead to exploitative conditions, it continues to be central to gig work. Incentive-based prizes, as well as scorecards, Power Overs, and double runs scored during specific blocks of time, are part of a body of behavioral sciences and psychological tricks used to drive a particular outcome

For the past several years, Amazon has used gamification to improve employee productivity in its U.S. warehouses. Games such as MissionRacer and PicksInSpace depict a virtual representation of how fast workers complete their task. The success of the program has allowed Amazon to expand warehouse gamification to at least 20 fulfillment centers in the U.S., The Information reported in March. 

Rochlani told Rest of World that given the success of DPL, the company might consider creating different versions of the incentive program tailored to specific cultures and geographies.

Mounika Neerukonda, research assistant at the Fairwork Foundation in India, told Rest of World that gamification is central to India’s ride-hailing sector, often to the worker’s detriment. She cited that on most ride-hailing apps, drivers have to complete a set number of orders before midnight for guaranteed incentives. “And a lot of divers have said that at 11:30 p.m., you’ll stop receiving orders when you’re just one ride short of your target,” she said. This type of gamification has put riders at odds with platforms. “Over time, [incentives] have declined so massively that a lot of riders have lost faith in it.”

But drivers like Samuel say the DPL program is a boon to their income, mainly because the gamified rewards and bonuses are offered on top of guaranteed hourly pay.

Samuel says that his close friend who works with food-delivery giant Zomato thinks he has landed a “golden ticket” by working at Flex. At Zomato, by contrast, his friend usually begins work at 7 a.m. and continues into the night, completing around 40 orders to make the same amount that Samuel would make working a few hours at Flex. In recent months, Zomato and Swiggy riders, through anonymous Twitter handles, have raised multiple issues related to diminished pay, arbitrary algorithmic changes, and poor working conditions. Samuel says his friend is eager to jump ship to Flex and has applied for a position. “If [Flex]comes through, he’ll forget Zomato forever,” Samuel said.