Odds stacked against workers: datafied gamification on Chinese and American food delivery platforms

Niels van Doorn, Julie Yujie Chen
2021 Socio-Economic Review  
This article presents a cross-national comparative study examining how American and Chinese platform companies approach the gamification of on-demand food delivery. The study, based on ethnographic fieldwork in New York City and Beijing, shows how couriers in these cities negotiate the gamified app-based systems designed to convince them to log in and keep working. We argue that such systems are not only a salient form of 'algorithmic management'—as has been argued before—but also demonstrate
more » ... e central importance of datafication within the organizational strategies of food delivery companies operating under conditions of financialized platform capitalism. Indeed, the deeply financialized nature of the on-demand food delivery industry creates conditions in which companies experiment with data-driven gamification techniques in an effort to manipulate their flexible labor supply in an agile and cost-effective way—to thereby elicit higher productivity and meet expectations of investors and shareholders. Our comparative analysis challenges assumptions of a universal mode of gamification and highlights the differences between such situated techniques and their impacts on workers, identifying two distinct design approaches that we term 'Deal or No Deal' in New York and 'Grab-and-Stack' in Beijing.
doi:10.1093/ser/mwab028 fatcat:ivchjh5cifcmllwnw6frfevpue