Robin Kwong, game scripting, editor and project manager; Leslie Hook, reporter; Rebecca Turner, illustrator; Nicholai Knoll, UX; David Blood, Callum Locke, Ændrew Rininsland and Joanna Kao, developers.
The Uber Game is an interactive news game that puts you into the shoes of a full-time Uber driver. Based on real reporting, including dozens of interviews with Uber drivers in San Francisco, it aims to convey an emotional understanding of what it is like to try to make a living in the gig economy.
Users play as a car-sharing driver trying to make enough money to pay their bills, while also facing dilemmas about economic decisions, ethical behaviour and personal commitments. Do you return home to keep a promise to your son, or keep driving to earn more money? Do you drive 30 minutes to chase a 3x surge pricing?
By putting real information into the format of a game, The Uber Game seeks to draw new audiences to the Financial Times’ coverage of the gig economy, make people curious about the issue, and empathise with the choices faced by people trying to make a living in this new context.
What makes this project innovative?
The Uber Game is an innovative attempt to present data reporting in a new, interactive format. It uses structured data compiled from driver interviews to construct an economic model that underpins the game, and anecdotes from drivers’ experience to construct the scenes that the player encounters.
By presenting this reporting in a game format and by asking players to make meaningful choices as an Uber driver, it attempts to extend the role of journalism beyond just giving people the right answers, to equipping readers to ask the right questions and start important conversations.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
One major objective of the game was to extend the Financial Times’ journalism to new audiences. It was the third-most read by pageviews throughout 2017. While the game itself was free-to-read, it drove more than 12,000 clickthroughs to the associated feature article behind the FT’s subscription barrier in the first five days following publication.
The game successfully brought FT journalism to the attention of new audiences: The Sun, Axios and design publication It\'s NiceThat wrote articles about it. It was the #1 product of the day on ProductHunt, a popular recommendation site. It was discussed on Uber driver internet forums, and some drivers even made YouTube playthrough videos providing commentary and urging others to play it.
Roughly two-thirds of people who started the game finished it — even though this takes around 10 minutes and an average of 67 clicks. This has been near-universally praised on social media, including by those in our industry — journalists, newsroom product owners, and journalism academics — as an innovative project shows what journalism could become. Emily Bell tweeted \"Really inventive journalism from the @FT - a news game that works\". Others have commented that it challenged their assumptions and helped them understand the issues in a way that traditional articles on the subject never did.
Source and methodology
We started with the reporting, which was done in a very similar way to how we would report for a standard written article about this topic (which is included in the additional links).
We spoke to dozens of drivers in the San Francisco area, focusing on collecting the stories, anecdotes and strategies that form the events and incidents the player encounters in the game. We also made sure to record the structured data needed for the game’s simulation: Average fares per hour, average number of rides per hour, car rental costs, fuel costs, etc.
Alongside that, we made paper prototypes and play-tested a few basic game mechanics (a pathfinding game? A Monopoly-like dice-rolling game? etc). In the end, we decided on a choose-your-own adventure style game because we wanted to highlight the drivers’ anecdotes and stories.
We scripted the game using Ink, an open-source narrative scripting language made by Inkle Studios, a UK-based game company. This allowed us to create and test an early, barebones version without needing to involve developers, artists or UX designers.
In later stages of development, Ink allowed us to separate the script from other work, meaning that design, development and scripting could be refined in parallel until the last moments before publication.
The backend that records player decisions and compares them against other players’ was a NodeJS process written in TypeScript using Sequelize to communicate with a Postgres database and Zeit Micro for handling requests. This was served by two Heroku 1X dynos and a Standard–0 size Heroku Postgres database.
We tracked every time a player began the game, reached the beginning or end of a work day and clicked through each of the ending summary screens. We also kept track of the number of decisions they had to make before leaving the game. These analytics were collected using a combination of the FT’s internal analytics tools and Google Analytics.
The UX design and testing was done in Framer, an interactive design tool, and th game’s isometric illustrations were produced in Affinity Designer.