Amazon Launches Alexa Story Building Tool
Amazon unveiled a new, easier way to make story games for Alexa. The new Skill Flow Builder was announced by Dave Isbitski, chief evangelist for Alexa and Echo at Amazon during his keynote address at the VOICE 19 conference in Newark.
Skill Flow Builder aims to make it a simple straightforward process to input a story into an Alexa skill. Role-playing games, interactive fiction, and related narrative elements can be added to the skill without relying on coding to make additions and changes.
The new tool offers both a desktop app and an extension to Microsoft Visual Studio Code for developers. The story can be mapped out visually scene-by-scene and updated as needed. The app also offers ways to include other elements such as sound effects and even visual effects where relevant. The final product can be shared or turned into a script for voice actors to record. It can also be integrated with other Alexa tools via the Amazon Skills Kit.
For those interested in trying out what the new tool is capable of, there’s a new reference app, called Choose Your Own Adventure. The app offers five examples of stories built with Skill Flow Builder.
As part of the keynote, a few of the team members behind The Sims 4, the latest edition of the popular simulation game, shared how they had used Skill Flow Builder. Using the tool, they’ve developed a choose your own adventure style story for The Sims called Strangerville. Dana Peterson, a The Sims producer at Electronic Arts, shared how, despite not having an engineering background, she was able to use the tool to help develop a whole interactive story. With the tool’s simulator, she could then play the games right after it was written.
“I was making changes and sharing them with people in 15 minutes,” Peterson said.
That The Sims is an early adopter of the skill isn’t surprising. An Alexa skill for the game came out earlier this year, allowing people to do things like play music from the game. The Sims also introduced a voice assistant called Lin-Z to the game’s world, although unlike Alexa, it takes some effort to convince Lin-Z to do what you ask.
Broader Implications for the Industry
Although Skill Flow Builder was released as a tool for game developers, anyone that has looked previously at voice app development platforms will see how this is likely to extend to other skill categories in the future. It has a visual flow editor that makes it easy for designers, writers, and developers to collaborate during the voice app development process. Companies such as Voicify, Voiceflow, VoiceXP, and others have tools with a similar look and feel even if the features vary. In addition, Adobe released this week an Alexa skill and integration through a plugin to its XD design tool.
An obvious question is whether Amazon Skill Flow Builder is going to siphon off users from the voice app development platforms that it partners with today. With that said, the voice app development platforms have one key feature that Skill Flow Builder is unlikely to replicate — the ability to publish to other voice assistants beyond Alexa. That is a key value that the platforms offer because developing once and publishing to multiple assistants reduces the level of effort for both developing and sustaining the app.
Voicebot research shows that about half of marketers that have published an Alexa skill also have launched a Google Action. So, even if Skill Flow Builder does expand to other domains beyond games, it would not necessarily save development time overall. However, from early in Alexa’s history, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has openly expressed an interest in driving more gaming on the voice platform. Skill Flow Builder may simply be one more tool to facilitate game development for Alexa.