Hugo Catchpole, founder of Hugo.fm has come up with a unique way to drive engagement and revenue for the hundreds of customer experiences he has created with Alexa. He bundles different Skills into a single offering to keep customers engaged with his offerings: for example, customers who say “Alexa, open Minigames” are able to access a variety of fun experiences such as Silly Seagull (that allows them soar in the skies for as long as possible), Power Penalties (shout out loud to score goals) or play a trivia quiz.
In this article, Catchpole shares his development journey, and proven and effective tips that have helped him grow his business by building with Alexa.
Embarking on an Alexa skills journey
In 2017, a gift from his then-girlfriend, now wife, sparked Catchpole’s venture into the world of Alexa skills development. “I started tinkering with my new Echo, and building a few small Alexa skills to experiment,” he recalls.
“In 2018, when we decided to quit our jobs and start traveling, I continued to develop lots of different skills. Our business really took off when Alexa launched in-skill purchasing.”
In-skill purchasing lets developers sell premium content, such as game features and interactive stories, in custom Alexa skills. With greater monetization opportunities, Catchpole saw a path to turn his hobby into a lucrative business. In 2019, he fully committed to voice skills development and launched his company, Hugo.fm.
Over time, Catchpole continued to experiment with development and created a wide variety of Alexa skills, mostly centered around entertainment. These include Animal Sounds, which lets users ask Alexa what sounds an animal makes, and Big Fart, which plays various flatulence sounds for pranks and amusement. In addition, Hugo.fm unveiled an expansive selection of seasonal content, such as Christmas Countdown and Santa.
One of Catchpole’s first Alexa games was Zombie Racing. Using this Alexa skill, users play as different zombie characters in a virtual race. While the free version permits up to three hours of unlimited racing, Catchpole introduced a subscription model that lets users participate in as many races as they wish.
“Zombie Racing was the first game I introduced with a subscription element,” Catchpole says. “We saw a good number of subscriptions initially, but due to its Halloween theme, it had a high churn rate. This made me realize that if this game was included in a larger gaming hub, we could better retain users. I wanted to see an increase in user interactions within a single skill, aiming for hundreds of thousands or even millions of interactions.”
Recognizing the importance of retaining users within a single skill for a longer period of time and maintaining high interaction levels, Catchpole decided to bundle different Alexa skills and build a subscription-based gaming hub: Mini Games.
Driving engagement with skill bundling
Mini Games serves as a dynamic hub, hosting more than 20 games and continuously growing. Users can engage in a few rounds for free before a subscription is proposed. Upon subscribing, they are granted unlimited access to all the Alexa skills bundled within Mini Games. This model streamlines the user experience, as they only need to maintain a single subscription to enjoy all the games. As a result, they don’t need to juggle numerous subscriptions for separate smaller skills.
By bundling Alexa skills, Mini Games not only simplifies the user experience but also broadens the range of content discovery. The portfolio of games, ranging from sumo wrestling and nuclear war simulations to number matching and workout moves, attracts a diverse user base. Users can find and play games that they may not have discovered on their own, which increases cross-engagement within Hugo.fm’s portfolio.
“Within Mini Games, users can discover new and exciting games that they may not have come across otherwise,” Catchpole says. “Because we’ve bundled our Alexa skills, users are passed on to another game automatically. You’re essentially sharing your users within your games, whereas with something like Zombie Racing, you would have to use a special connection to send someone to another skill.”
Catchpole has observed various signs that point to the effectiveness of his strategy.
“We see increases in the amount of time spent within the Alexa skill, the number of interactions, and the chance that someone will subscribe,” he says. “Because of the amount of content we offer within that one skill, we can charge for the subscription in a way that is aligned with the premium experiences enabled by our bundling of skills.”
Looking ahead to Hugo.fm’s future in voice technology
Drawing inspiration from Amazon’s customer-centric approach, Catchpole remains focused on optimizing user engagement and interaction times. To broaden Hugo.fm’s offerings, Catchpole is developing a guided meditation skill, catering to wellness-focused users. Additionally, he aims to add a new game to Mini Games every month, offering fresh content to keep users intrigued.
Catchpole also plans to enhance the visuals for all his skills using the Alexa Presentation Language (APL), a responsive layout language that lets developers build visuals to render on Alexa-supported multimodal devices.
“There are so many screen-based devices out there for Alexa, and we want to make sure that our visuals complement our excellent audio,” Catchpole says. “For the game side of things, an excellent visual experience can really make a difference for users and delight them in new ways.”
Emphasizing the transformative power of Alexa, Catchpole will take advantage of new updates and features to push the boundaries of voice technology. “The fact that I’ve been able to realize my dream of running my own company has been amazing,” Catchpole says.
“Alexa has opened up a world of opportunity for developers, says Catchpole. “I’m really energized by the new developer tools announced in September to build LLM-powered experiences with Alexa, and I appreciate that Amazon is constantly improving Alexa and making it even easier to build the next generation of computing experiences.”