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Amazon's Alexa now lets you pay for premium voice apps

Today, it's a few select games -- tomorrow, maybe Alexa's top personalities could quit their day jobs.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Amazon Alexa voice assistant inside your Echo smart-home speaker, or perhaps your Android or iOS device -- it's about to become a way for app developers to actually make some cash. 

That's because on Thursday, Amazon launched the ability for you to purchase additional premium voice content inside of an Amazon Alexa skill -- similar to the in-app purchases you've probably seen in the iTunes App Store and Google Play that subsidize many of the free apps and games you enjoy today.

Mind you, Amazon's off to a slow start. Today, it's just a handful of specific app partners pushing out some quiz show-style games -- plus Ellen DeGeneres' popular Heads Up!, where one person has to guess what's on a card they hold up to their head based on clues from the rest of the group. (You can say, "Alexa, ask Heads Up! to buy a pack" to get additional cards now.)

But in 2018, Amazon says it plans to offer tools for any Alexa developer to monetize their skill with in-app purchases as well -- which is pretty notable, considering how few ways there are to make money with Alexa right now. Unlike on iOS and Android, developers can't normally charge for their skills, so they have to solicit ads, convince fans to fund them through Patreon donations and by selling merchandise, or just hope their skill is popular enough that Amazon's Developer Rewards program sends them cash.

That's why Alexa skills are sometimes seen as an afterthought, or merely an extra promotional tool. But maybe tomorrow's voice stars will be able to quit their day jobs.

Here's Amazon's description of the first in-skill purchases available today:

  • The popular Heads Up! game from "The Ellen DeGeneres Show": In a first for a voice service, you can say, "Alexa, open Heads Up!" and start playing the wildly popular game from Ellen DeGeneres. Customers try to guess the word on Alexa's "card" based on clues from Alexa. The skill has 3 free decks to get you started and offers a collection of 5 decks for $0.99 for Prime members and $2.99 without a Prime membership. This collection includes the decks: Millennials; It's, Like, the 2000's; That's So '90s; Family Fun; and As Seen on TV.
  • Teen Jeopardy! and Sports Jeopardy! skills let you guess free weekly clues from Alexa and now you can also purchase themed premium packs of 50 clues for $0.99 for Prime members and $1.99 without a Prime membership.
  • The popular Match Game show has been adapted into a new skill for Alexa. Just say, "Alexa, open the Match Game" to get started. Fill in the missing blanks as you play Match Game's Super Match featuring the Audience Match and Head-to-Head rounds of the classic game show -- then see how you rank against other players. Premium packs of 50 more rounds of game plays are available for $0.99 for Prime members and $1.99 without a Prime membership.
  • History buffs can play the Ultimate History Quiz for Alexa, a brand-new skill from History. Each day, you can play the Free Daily Three with questions on topics like ancient civilizations, World Wars, US Presidents and more. You can also see how you rank against other players. Premium packs of 50 questions are available for $0.99 for Prime members and $1.99 without a Prime membership.

If you're a prospective Alexa developer, you can read more about the new monetization options here. And if you're a parent worried about accidental purchases, Amazon tells us that skills with in-app purchases will be clearly marked, they'll require your voice code before authorizing a purchase (if you've set one up) and the company will refund accidental purchases if you ask within seven days.