What do you get when you combine a passion for interactive radio program engineering with the power of voice technology? You get Alexa Champion Fiona Morgan. You also get the chief operating officer at labworks.io, one of London’s prominent voice game studios building games for Alexa—and a driving force behind voice-first games like True or False—winner of a Webby award—Trivia Hero, and Would You Rather.
“I built a prototype for an interactive radio game while still working in radio at the BBC,” said Morgan. “It was so satisfying to hack together a prototype, test it with people in the office, and watch the delight on their faces as they played the game.”
Now, as COO of labworks.io, Morgan works with Alexa game design. She builds game skills for fun in her spare time, organizes UK events for Women in Voice, and recently became an Alexa Champion.
“I usually prefer to let my work speak for itself, but it’s super to be recognized as an Alexa Champion,” said Morgan. “Amazon contacted me about it just before I moved to labworks, which confirmed that I’d made the right decision to work full time in voice.”
As a kid, Morgan says she enjoyed playing with computers, but that she never seriously considered technology as a career. That’s because after attending some all-male computer classes, she decided she didn’t want to be the only woman in the room. Instead, she says she decided to study sound engineering, lighting, stage management and theater production, got her bachelor’s degree, and eventually ended up in radio production at the BBC. There she produced podcasts, documentaries, animations, and built chat bots and quizzes for the BBC website. Morgan says the job also gave her the opportunity to create a prototype of the What’s My Age Again? Quiz which she then worked with engineers and UX designed to launch for BBC Radio 1—and a glimpse into a new career.
“I have always loved radio, and I see a lot of similarities in voice technology,” said Morgan. “Voice surrounds us, a lot like radio does. People not only listen to the radio on their Alexa devices, but can interact with it hands-free around the house.”
After the delighted reaction to her prototype audio game at the BBC, Morgan discovered a love for building games and wanted to do more. According to Morgan, that prompted her to leap headfirst into voice-first gaming and join labworks.io. She says she manages the staff and projects, enabling everyone to concentrate on building a great gaming experience. Besides its popular portfolio of games, in 2020 labworks.io launched Voice Arcade—a new voice gaming subscription for Alexa users—which includes its first multimodal game skill, The Number Games.
“What excites me at labworks is our focus on getting people together to be social with their devices,” said Morgan. “My job is to ensure everyone sees the importance of that idea and infuses it into every game experience we build.”
Unlike other interfaces, an engaging voice experience is intuitive. Users don’t need a strong tech background—or really any tech know-how – to operate voice-controlled devices.
“I can play games on Alexa with my Gran, without her having to learn to use a mouse or a controller,” said Morgan. “Voice is something anyone can do. It’s wonderful that Alexa is available like that to everyone.”
Morgan says that having first worked with Amazon while still at the BBC, she now has a close relationship with labworks.io’s Amazon partners. She appreciates Amazon’s support of voice technology and its developer community, from its accessible and affordable hardware devices to its generous support and programs to encourage voice developers of all levels and interests.
“We work with two amazing partners at Amazon—a technical architect and a business development partner—and both help us solve problems and bring exciting new products to market,” said Morgan. “With their support, as well as the AWS and the Alexa Skills Kit teams, Amazon definitely wants developers and companies like ours to succeed.”
Morgan says that although she may have started her career in radio, she sees voice technology as a force for bringing everyone together. And by “everyone,” she means more than just the natural, social interaction voice experience encourages—remember how effortless it was for her grandmother.
Morgan can attest from personal experience the voice space is growing into a welcoming, inclusive place for everyone. That’s why she volunteered to organize a UK event last year for Women in Voice and is committed to working with women to transfer their skills to the technology industry.
“The way I see it, Women in Voice celebrates the work of women in the voice industry, and so much more,” said Morgan. “I’m proud to be part of an organization promoting diversity in voice technology, which helps the medium remain accessible and relevant to all.”
Finally, Morgan is adamant that—no matter what former industry you come from—the opportunities for developing with voice are real and exciting.
“The opportunities in voice have never been better and they are for everyone,” said Morgan. “Today developers don’t even have to know how to code. Tools like Voiceflow make it possible for anyone to design, create, build, and publish engaging Alexa skills. With more people building skills, voice becomes a more diverse community.”
“In 2020 we became a world that no longer wanted to touch; handshakes were eliminated, we opened doors with our elbows and sanitised our hands at every opportunity. I think we’ll see more use of voice where previously we’d have used touch - in everything from gaming to more general assistant-type needs. As restrictions ease and we’re able to see loved ones, but perhaps aren’t so confident getting too close, playing games with Alexa will offer a no-contact type of gaming where you can feel connected, but without the risk of infection.”
- Fiona Morgan, COO, labworks.io