Amazon launches new developer tools for Alexa-powered voice gaming

A new gaming category in the Alexa Skills Kit will help developers create interactive adventures that you play using only your voice.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

You can soon expect to see new, interactive gaming experiences developed for Amazon's Alexa-powered smart speakers.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon wants more gaming options for its voice-powered virtual assistant Alexa, and today, it's introducing a new set of tools that'll make it easier for developers to bring them to life.

The gaming tools are the newest addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, a set of blueprints for creating Alexa's "skills" -- essentially the apps of the Amazon Echo and Amazon's other Alexa-enabled gadgets. Developers already had access to templates for crafting basic command-and-response skills, along with skills that put Alexa in control of smart-home devices like lights and thermostats.

Developers have already trotted out games for Alexa, too -- but now, they'll be able to plot out their voice-powered gaming skills in a simplified design interface, with Amazon-approved templates to guide them through the process. Once they're finished, you'll follow the games by listening to Alexa, and interact using only your voice.

Anyone who doubts gaming's potential to birth killer apps need look no further than Pokemon Go, an immensely popular mobile game that's helped introduce millions of people to the budding augmented-reality category (sure enough, there's already an Alexa skill that teaches Pokemon tips and tricks). Amazon's team likely hopes that a new focus on Alexa-powered gaming could do the same thing for its voice-powered interface.

The new gaming tools include a graphic interface for crafting the sorts of decision trees gamers will ultimately talk their way through.

Amazon

There's strong evidence that Amazon's onto something. Currently, 20 percent of Alexa's top skills are games. To date, the most popular and widely used skill in Alexa's Skill Store is The Wayne Investigation, an interactive mystery set in a pre-Batman Gotham City in which players investigate the murder of young Bruce Wayne's parents. Amazon claims that Alexa users have engaged with The Wayne Investigation seven times more than with all other skills combined, per weekly averages. That's not just seven times more than other gaming skills, that's seven times more than other skills, period.

The Wayne Investigation seems to be the proof of concept for what Amazon's trying to do here. Along with a template for writing question-and-answer trivia games, the main tool in Alexa's gaming skill development kit is a decision tree template that lets developers plot out a succession of choices for players to make -- similar to the way the Wayne Investigation works, and also similar to classic text-based adventures from the early days of computer gaming. The only difference is that you'll speak your way through a story instead of typing.

The new gaming tools are available today for developers with an Amazon Web Services account. We'll be sure to keep an ear out for any new interactive experiences.

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