‘Neo Cab’ game captures the emotional ride of Uber and Lyft drivers
By Sasha Lekach
Lina Romero is the last human ride-share driver working for Neo Cab in a small electric vehicle. She’s up against the massive Capra company with its autonomous pod vehicles in the fictional city of Los Ojos, California.
This is what gamifying the Uber and Lyft driver experience is like in the upcoming computer and mobile game Neo Cab from game developer Chance Agency. The dystopian cyberpunk game will be available on the Nintendo Switch eShop and Steam starting on Oct. 3. It’s also part of the new Apple Arcade gaming service for iOS devices.
The narrative-driven game follows Lina over the course of seven nights as a Neo Cab driver. You decide who she picks up, what she says to passengers, and how she should spend her hard-earned money (obviously she’s paid in Cryptocurrency). As Lina, you earn pay and star ratings, just like real-life drivers. To stay active you need a 4.7 rating or higher, so you can’t just numbly shuttle people around. You have to interact with passengers — appropriately and effectively.
To create the game, Chance Agency creative director Patrick Ewing and his small team interviewed professional drivers from Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Zesty, and other driving gigs. Ewing himself drove for Uber briefly to understand the experience from the inside. “It’s incredibly hard work just to break even,” he said. Driver message boards helped make details like how an Uber-like company messages and communicates with drivers through an app more realistic.
True tales from the road supplied the back stories and story arcs of 20 different characters seen throughout the game. A real story about someone leaving an Altoids tin full of drugs in the back seat made it into the game. One female driver (like Lina) was uncomfortably asked to join a foursome. With almost a decade of ride-sharing, drivers have seen a lot. Of course there’s some good. Ewing shared a story about an IRL Uber driver who turned out to be a former boxing star who regaled his passengers with entertaining memories from his past.
The more passengers you pick up, more of Lina’s story advances. You can pick up the same characters again or take a risk with an unknown passenger. One particularly terrible character is Luke Howard, a drunk passenger who pukes in the car. When I played, he gave Lina a one-star rating, prompting a deactivation warning. Ewing described the Luke Howard interaction “like arguing with a reply guy.”
The game isn’t about becoming the best Uber or Lyft driver, but the perils of losing ourselves to the convenience of automation, greed, and robots and how to reclaim what makes us human. Everyone in Los Ojos is a lost soul and even the meager human connection in a ride-share could be the only way back to ourselves.
“It’s a game about emotional health,” Ewing said as he described the “Feelgrid” mechanic. On screen next to Lina is a graph constantly showing her emotional state. Your game deci