Designing Skills for In-Skill Purchasing, Part 1: Scope It Right
Alison Atwell Sep 20, 2019
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Editor's note: This series is based on our new Alexa Skills course, How to Design for In-Skill Purchasing. This free course outlines the best practices for designing a great monetized Alexa skill experience.

Welcome to Part 1 in our series on designing skills with in-skill purchasing (ISP)! When thinking about how to either build a skill from scratch around in-skill purchasing, or integrate ISP into a skill customers already love, it’s hard to know where to start and what to offer. Today we’ll explore the different types of in-skill purchases, how they might unlock new experiences for customers, and imagine how we might implement them in a hypothetical trivia skill that we’ll reference throughout the series, called Seattle Super Trivia.

What Are the Different Types of In-Skill Purchases?

But first, what are in-skill purchases? ISPs are a different experience than purchasing physical goods and services using Amazon Pay. (For more about Amazon Pay, visit Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills.)In-skill purchases allow a customer to unlock premium content available on Alexa. The types of in-skill purchases are:

  • Subscription: Allows customers to pay a flat recurring fee for access to content. Subscriptions are best for skills that will offer a large catalog of content or be updated frequently. Subscriptions are best when the content is refreshed frequently and reliably. For our hypothetical trivia skill, we could offer a subscription to get extra questions every day with a daily bonus round, and extra content on weekends. Skills that offer subscriptions include Jeopardy! and TuneIn Live.
  • One-time purchase (OTP): Allows customers to pay for access to an experience that will remain available for use. OTPs are best for skills that will offer content or experiences that are easily grouped into themes or related chunks that customers may want to experience multiple times. They are also best for experiences that can be easily expanded or remixed with the addition of similar content. For our trivia skill, we could offer themed packs that go into a customer’s library of extra content they can finish at their leisure. For our trivial skill, how about a Seattle history-themed pack? Seattle celebrities? There are a number of ways to group content into OTPs. Skills that offer one-time purchases include Question of the Day (in the form of trivia packs).
  • Consumable: Allows customers to purchase in-skill products that can be used and then purchased again as part of the skill experience. Consumables work best in skills that will offer experiences that may easily be extended with the addition of content or features. For our trivia skill, we could offer extra hints for purchase when the customer is stuck. Similar to the actual game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire offers consumable “lifelines” that help players through tough questions. Other skills that include consumables include The Vortex.

What Motivates Customers to Make an In-Skill Purchase?

Skills must offer some free content in order to pass certification. How else would a customer know your skill has awesome content they’ll want to experience more of? Free content helps build trust and intrigue with customers, which creates a more positive experience for them when they’re offered an in-skill purchase (called the “upsell,” which we’ll address in later posts). Some questions to help you decide what kind and how much free content to offer might include:

  • What content would a customer find so valuable or entertaining that they would pay to continue engaging with it?
  • What kinds of content do customers already pay for today on other digital platforms? How much free content might they already expect?
  • Would any of the above monetization strategies enhance—or detract from—the customer experience?
  • How much content will a customer need to experience to understand the skill’s functions?

When the developers of Yes Sire—a game where the player makes choices to gain influence and wealth—implemented in-skill purchasing, they added two types of in-skill purchases. Both enhanced a skill experience that their customers already loved:

  1. When a player reaches the end of play by making a decision that increases or depletes their wealth or power too much, they’re offered a consumable to save them from immediate execution by the king. This lets the player play a bit longer, but with the risk they may make another wrong move to upset the king again.
  2. A player can purchase a helper in the form of a “witch.” Playing with the witch introduces new kinds of decisions the player will have to make, extending the story possibilities.

In the case of Seattle Super Trivia, we’ve made the following decisions:

  • All players will get five questions a day for free. Five questions a day is enough for a brief but memorable session. One question would be too little for our players to get engaged and remember to come back. But if we offered too many questions, our players might run out of steam before they reach an opportunity to make a purchase.
  • We’ll offer a subscription to those players who want to extend their daily play time with a bonus round.
  • We’ll offer themed packs of trivia for those players who don’t want the experience to end.
  • We'll offer one free hint a day before charging for more hints as consumables so the player understands the value of a hint first.

An important factor in helping us decide what to offer for free is the lifetime of the free version of a skill. In our trivia skill, we’re not just offering the player five questions one time before we’ll ask them to purchase more; they’ll get five a day forever. The skill “lives” on for those who only want to play free experiences rather than becoming useless to those who decide they’ll never make a purchase. Finally, we’re going to let the player replay their questions that day, but it won’t affect their score. That way, multiple people in a household can enjoy the skill’s content (as Alexa tends to live in households with multiple people). Consider how your skill will continue to be useful and interesting to those customers who decline your upsells.

How Do I Price an In-Skill Purchase?

Next, we need to decide how much to charge for purchases. A developer can set the price of an in-skill purchase anywhere from a minimum of 99 cents USD to a maximum of 99.99 USD. When deciding how much to charge for your content, think in terms of what kind of experience the purchase buys, and how long that experience lasts. If you’re making a game, that might be measured in terms of hours of play, while subscribing to a radio service might include total potential hours of listening. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is the replay value? Is the content only enjoyable once? Can it be experienced multiple times? Is it infinitely re-mixable?
  • How long will it take to finish the content?

Finally, if you’re adding content to a skill that’s live in the Alexa Skills Store today, it’s important to know free content, once published, will have to remain free. So where do you put those upsells? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll talk about where and how to surface ISP upsells!

Enter the Alexa Skils Challenge: In-Skill Purchasing

As you learn designing skills for ISP, we encourage you to participate in the Alexa Skills Challenge: In-Skill Purchasing with Devpost, an opportunity to invent the future of premium voice content with over $120k in prizes. Plus, challenge finalists will be invited to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle for an exclusive one-day summit on monetization opportunities. Start building skills with in-skill purchasing and enter the challenge by November 12th.