Bradley Metrock made an interesting point recently in his This Week in Voice podcast. He was talking about how top developers will only support ecosystems where monetization opportunities are clear and they will abandon those where return on investment is non-existent or unclear. This poses the obvious question: Will lack of clear monetization options lead to Alexa skill neglect? There are 20,000 Alexa skills but that doesn’t mean the developers are all active. Voicebot research recently revealed that 62% of Alexa skills have no user ratings. Might these be “neglected skills” from developers that didn’t see an ROI at the end of the tunnel?
Examples of Alexa Skill Abandonment Are Out There
Voicebot followed up with Mr. Metrock to get his thoughts on this question.
“I personally believe lack of monetization will lead to neglect by developers of their skills. How could it not? I think your big skills, by big brands, that are created for marketing and operating reasons will always be sustained, because those companies have the underlying profit motivation. But your individual developers, the individual entrepreneurs or experiments done by casual folks on the side – which is probably the vast majority of skills on the marketplace – will suffer, whether sooner or later.
The one example that comes to mind is Teri Bertram, a game developer we interviewed on episode 3 of The Alexa Podcast. She created an Alexa version of a famous old text-based game called Colossal Cave Adventure. She was quick to criticize lack of monetization and said she did the game out of passion, but it was clear she wouldn’t put any additional work into it and sort of sounded resentful at not being able to recoup some of the time investment.
Mr. Metrock is not alone in expressing concern about the link between monetization and neglect. Eric Olson of 3PO Labs tells a similar story. However, Olson said that Amazon’s developer rewards program is having some of its intended effect and getting developers re-engaged.
David (my partner in 3PO-Labs ) had basically given up on doing anything for the platform until he found out about skill payouts, and that’s obviously super limited. No question that a lot of good devs balk at the idea of working for no possible chance of return.
Not an Issue Today Says Marchick, Jaquinta Says Discovery is the Real Problem
When asked the same question, Adam Marchick from VoiceLabs disagreed that it was a risk today because Amazon was actively injecting monetization into the ecosystem.
“I actually think the opposite. Amazon’s monetization program has led to an influx of higher quality apps, especially in gaming. Kudos to Amazon for jumpstarting this ecosystem while protecting their platform from Advertising they don’t want … yet.”
Alexa skill game developer Jo Jaquinta (a recent guest on The Voicebot Podcast) had a different take on the matter. He said that there are plenty of monetization options. The real problem is lack of control over Alexa skill discovery.
“No one serious has engaged with Alexa because there is no proven return on investment. That’s my take on things. Pretty much all the ‘serious names’ are doing promotional stuff out of their marketing budget. They aren’t investing in direct revenue generation via the platform.
“The corollary is that monetization isn’t the problem. There are about half a dozen ways to monetize, varying from terrible to so-so. But they all require volume. And, since Amazon controls all of the best promotional options, developers cannot promote their work except with the often transient blessing of Amazon. Since it isn’t predictable, there’s only so much people are willing to risk.”
What About Google?
What everyone seemed to agree about is that monetization is important both to draw developers into an ecosystem and to keep them engaged. The differences were specific to the current state of affairs on the Amazon Alexa platform. But, what about Google Assistant? Amazon is making reward payouts to the most popular Alexa skills, but Google is doing nothing and in some cases actively restricting monetization options. Is this monetization ban constraining Google’s ability to attract voice application developers?