After working in the games industry for years, Jeferson Valadares and Chris Barnes were quick to recognize voice technology as the next major shift—and opportunity—in the world of gaming. Having developed games together at Electronic Arts, BioWare, and BANDAI NAMCO, in 2018 the duo launched their business Doppio Games and their first Alexa game skill, The Vortex, using their extensive experience to bring engaging voice games to customers.
“Voice is the most natural form of human interaction, so it's only natural for it to become the next evolution of games,” says Valadares. “Voice gives us the opportunity to build richer, more interesting character- and narrative-driven gaming experiences than before.”
Encouraged by the success of other voice developers, Barnes and Valadares decided to double down and invest in building a revenue-generating voice gaming business on Alexa. To do this, Barnes and Valadares incorporated in-skill purchasing (ISP) early in the voice design process to deepen customer engagement with The Vortex and earn the revenue they need to grow their business.
“We designed The Vortex from the ground up with monetization in mind,” says Barnes. “We want to build a sustainable business where we have a direct relationship with our players. They love our stuff and happily pay for a premium experience.”
Barnes and Valadares have seen the game industry go through several shifts, from desktop computer games and game consoles to smartphone and tablet apps, to social media gaming, and beyond. They believe that voice is the next frontier, and presents a unique opportunity to take gaming to the next level.
“We have been through these technological transformations in gaming, and we know how to figure out what players want in a game experience,” says Valadares. “Voice is like an open canvas we can leverage, enabling us to paint richer experiences players can enjoy.”
The name Doppio—Italian for double espresso—exemplifies the rush gamers get from a truly engaging experience, like the one Doppio has created in The Vortex. According to the game description, the player awakens in cryogenic freeze, unable to move or see, and embarks on a mission to survive the vortex. The sci-fi game experience—equal parts storytelling, adventure, and role-playing—is perfectly suited for voice, letting players explore and complete their mission, all through the eyes and hands of the robot assistants. Although similar stories have been told using traditional game design elements in the past, the fact that in The Vortex all your interactions are done through live conversations with the characters brings a whole new emotional range to the table that wasn’t quite available in games before.
As a voice-first game skill, The Vortex is an immersive, interactive experience. To enrich the skill even further, Barnes and Valadares used the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) to deliver a more visually engaging experience for Alexa-enabled devices with screens. With APL, developers can tailor the experience for different devices, from a single-player experience on Echo Spot to games that family and friends can player together on a seven-foot screen through Fire TV. And with more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices, that means Doppio can reach even more gamers on more devices than ever before.
“We set out to build a great voice experience,” says Barnes. “But with APL, we can reach more customers and make the experience even more engaging for players across Alexa-enabled devices with screens.”
The Doppio founders both agree that to build a base of enthusiastic players, you have to first provide a quality free gaming experience. But for any new company, every dollar counts. It was the ability to offer customers premium experiences through ISP that made Doppio’s business venture a sustainable one.
“We didn't want to put up a pay wall with The Vortex. We wanted as many people as possible to play for free with a full gaming experience,” says Barnes. “But with the optional in-skill products, players can perform more actions faster so they can accelerate the game play if they choose to.”
With ISP, developers can sell digital goods or services to customers within their skills, providing premium content via three types of products: one-time purchases for access to premium content over the life of the skill, subscriptions for access to premium content over a period of time, and consumables for content that is depleted upon use and can be purchased again. In The Vortex, players can purchase a consumable called multi-gel—an in-game currency that customers use to make their robots complete tasks faster. New players start with a set amount of multi-gel and are awarded additional units for returning to play again. Purchasing additional packs of multi-gel is, however, completely optional.
“You don’t need to spend anything to play the game and enjoy it, but it’s great providing true gamers more of what they love when they want it,” says Valadares. “The day we released The Vortex, one of our players spent about $50 and finished the entire game the next day.”
As creators of popular games, Barnes and Valadares have long known the value of creating a great customer experience. Barnes says a quality customer experience extends beyond the actual game play to the ISP experience as well. By following the guidelines and best practices for ISP, Doppio provides a smooth purchasing experience for The Vortex. Following the guidelines also made the game eligible for Amazon promotion, which included being featured on the Alexa Skills Store page and emails to customers.
“To get people to try a new game, you have to tell them about it,” says Valadares. “We’re planning social media advertising, podcasts, and other PR activities to build awareness for The Vortex. Combined with Amazon promotion, we’re able to bring an influx of new players to The Vortex—along with a corresponding increase in paying customers.”
With a 4.1-star rating and around 400 user reviews, Barnes and Valadares know their business is on the right track.
“We made income predictions based on our many years’ experience in game development. With ISP, we’re exceeding those expectations,” says Valadares. “The numbers are definitely encouraging, and we’re going to keep building on that success and growing our business.”
As for the future of the voice games industry, Valadares and Barnes are excited to get in now. Valadares recalls the early days of phones and then smartphones, before anyone conceived of using them to play games. Smartphones might be the most popular gaming platform today, but voice presents great opportunity.
“Voice is going through a similar journey as the smartphone, with most users focusing on more practical things such as smart home, weather, and traffic skills in the beginning,” says Valadares. “As voice becomes even more mainstream for games, everyone’s going to want to play. And therein lies the power and opportunity for game developers to build a real business with voice games.”
With ISP, you can sell premium content to enrich your Alexa skill experience. ISP supports one-time purchases for entitlements that unlock access to features or content in your skill, subscriptions that offer access to premium features or content for a period of time, and consumables which can be purchased and depleted. You define your premium offering and price, and we handle the voice-first purchasing flow. Download our introductory guide to learn more.