Hands cramping from too much gaming? Now you can complete your next deep-space mission with only your voice.
At the 2019 annual Voice Summit, Alexa creator Dave Isbitski announced that Amazon had invested in a voice-control gaming tool called Skill Flow Builder. Isbitski told Technology Review voice-powered gaming was a natural next step for Alexa, after noticing a 160% increase in spoken games over the past year — since 2018, users have asked “Alexa, play games” billions of times.
Isbitski said this new venture could “help make gaming more communal.” While traditional gaming systems may be able to accommodate an extra player or two, voice-controlled games can let a whole group of friends people play together.
It’s a sign that voice assistants are becoming more than a simple tool — now, Alexa and crew are being designed to engage with users on a deeper level. AI devices can now hold meaningful conversations and make suggestions, acting more like a robot-friend than a voice-activated search engine.
Voice-first gaming startup Pretzel Labs is one of the top creators of vocal games on Alexa and Google Home. Founder and CEO Adva Levin told Technology Review she was inspired by how much fun she saw kids have with the Alexa. Levin described the interactions as “magical,” noting Alexa can complement video games by requiring more creativity and imagination — after all, there are no visuals.
Pretzel Labs’ most popular game, also known as an Alexa “skill,” is called Kids Court. Players, usually siblings, can “settle a case” with the help of Judge Lexy (Alexa), to solve household disagreements. Levin says kids see Alexa as a neutral entity, as they understand the voice technology is not human.
According to Levin, Alexa is “not biased, not distracted” — she is a rational, always patient device that always provides the facts and delivers a lighthearted “sentence” to the guilty party. Kids Court reviews on Amazon show that kids and parents alike are pleasantly surprised by how fun — and fair — the game is. Users report it’s a lifesaver for siblings and even marital disputes, and keeps tensions low in the home.
This is one of many voice-powered games and tools, and many more to come. Levin says holding a conversation with Alexa, even in a game setting, requires a significantly different attention span than visual gaming. Many people who wouldn’t consider themselves gamers are interested in voice-control games, and especially useful voice tools for everyday life.
Levin says Amazon’s aiming to make more quality experiences for users — quality conversation included.