Four lessons from the gaming world that Alexa developers can apply to every skill

Staff Writer Aug 30, 2023
Alexa Skills

Vishal Golia caught the gaming bug three decades ago. At the time, he was living in the United states and worked as an engineer in the semiconductor industry. A moment of transition presented an opportunity: when Golia had to move back to India for personal reasons, he founded a gaming company to bring engaging experiences to the South Asian market.

Golia founded Maharaja Games and launched Skoolastica, a CD-ROM–based educational game series. In addition to education, he saw an opportunity to create relevant, localized content for audiences in emerging markets like India, Turkey and the Philippines. To address the massive demand for gaming in these markets Golia worked alongside a co-founder in Turkey to start a company called Gamiana. One of the company’s first offerings was India’s first-ever massively multiplayer online strategy game (MMO) in India: Vinashi

Along with localization, Golia saw an opportunity to take advantage of the new formats and experiences being made possible by the explosion of mobile devices in India. He founded Boltd to focus  on mobile games, but its trajectory took a transformative turn when Golia came across the voice forward,  Amazon Alexa at the CES trade show. Intrigued by the potential of voice technology, he pivoted the company’s focus.

Soon after Alexa was launched in India, Boltd launched its first Alexa skill: the Impossible Bollywood Quiz. The skill provides an engaging blend of entertainment with irony-tinged humor.

Impossible Bollywood Quiz saw massive customer engagement from the get go. Golia was inspired to dive deeper into the world of voice skills development. He began to notice a significant correlation between game development principles and making Alexa skills, an observation that offered him valuable insights for his exploration of voice technology. 

Since then, Boltd has grown to become one of the world’s premier agencies focused on developing voice skills. Today, Boltd partners with major companies like Taco Bell, Unilever, the Coca Cola company and Audi to create innovative voice experiences.

Golia’s long history of building with Alexa along with his deep roots in game development provides him with a unique perspective on voice applications. In this article, he shares four valuable lessons from the gaming world that can guide Alexa developers in crafting fun, captivating, and seamless skills.

1.     Keep it simple

In gaming, one crucial aspect is to minimize the learning curve to make it easy for users to dive right into the experience. This is even more important for voice-only devices that have no visual aid to guide users. It’s really important to keep it simple and as concise as possible.

One of our skills, the Impossible Voice Quiz, taught us a valuable lesson in this area. Customers of the skill hear the voice of a famous person, and have to guess the name of the celebrity. However, we found that the clues we provided when we launched the skill were at times, too complex and too long. We shortened the voice clips, and made the user experience a lot tighter. We immediately saw a steep rise in user engagement. It reinforced the importance of keeping things concise and ensuring a seamless user experience. 

2.     Invest in content

When you make a game, you want to delight people. You want to create experiences that people tell their friends about. As a result, my team puts a lot of thought into how we script our dialogue and our interactions with users.

A key lesson that we’ve come to appreciate is the power of laughter and quirkiness. Those things can have a tremendous impact on user engagement, and they were a key ingredient for our success with the Impossible Bollywood Quiz.

To further enchant users, we also incorporate witty retorts from Alexa. For example, when someone gives the wrong answer, instead of a simple “Oops, that answer is wrong,” we might playfully say, “Looks like someone didn’t show up for practice today.” These interactions often leave users pleasantly surprised.

We have another skill called Daily Cricket Trivia, which has become the top sports skill on Alexa India. We give our users new cricket-related questions every day, and they earn points and compete on leaderboards. During major events, we run contests with sponsorships from top-tier brands such as Volkswagen, which really stimulate engagement.

Game development is an iterative process, where features are tested, refined and improved over time. This approach aligns well with the continuous improvement and testing that all our Alexa skills are subjected to, allowing us to quickly adapt and enhance skills based on user feedback.

3.     Focus on the technical details

Building complex MMOs requires careful consideration of system architecture, scalability and performance optimization. My team of rockstar engineers that worked with me on those online games, translated that extensive experience into achieving scalable and efficient Alexa skills. 

Many of our games leveraged cloud-based micro-services architecture. Everything from handling user interactions, data processing, and integration with external systems with low latency was second nature to us. To optimize our skills for speed and responsiveness, we use a combination of caching, server locations and database connection pooling.

4.     Think in layers

Vinashi was a deep and broad game with a lot of features. There was a lot to tell the user, but we didn’t want to inundate them from the get-go. Everything we did was like an onion—users get to know the first feature, then you peel off another layer and tell the user a little more. By the end, they know it all and you manage not to overwhelm them.

We developed a skill for Prime Video, which has one of the biggest catalogs for stand-up comedy in India, we created a skill called Funnies. You ask Alexa to tell a joke, and she plays a joke from the Prime Video catalog. We wanted to add new features, such as letting users add jokes to their favorites list. However, we didn’t enable these functionalities for the user all at once. Instead, we implemented a more progressive approach. As a user continued engaging with the Funnies Skill, we gradually introduced them to new features. These users had already shown a level of buy-in and were more likely to engage with the added features. Overall, it makes for a richer experience, and you’re more likely to retain those users.

At Boltd, we have always been focused on enabling future-forward customer experiences. We are living through truly transformational times, and I am excited to leverage Amazon’s rich history of innovation in generative AI to shape the next generation of interactive customer experiences. 

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