Alexa and Google Assistant Connect You to Haunted House Ghosts in New Earplay Audio Game The Orpheus Device
Alexa and Google Assistant become virtual haunted house guides in The Orpheus Device, a new audio game built by audio experience studio Earplay and tabletop roleplaying game developer White Wolf. The free game is set in the same world as White Wolf’s Wraith: The Oblivion and took more than four years to come out, just in time for Halloween.
Haunted Voice Assistants
The Orpheus Device takes the player into the home of the Martens, a tragic family with dark secrets who haunt the house. The Orpheus Device lets the player interact with the ghosts, find out what happened to them, and maybe help them find peace. It’s a fun and appropriately spooky mystery. The game is a good fit for Earplay, which has developed several audio experiences with existing intellectual property. They created a Jurassic World choose-your-own-adventure game for Alexa and audio content for Mr. Robot, among other projects. To ensure the new game evoked the original RPG, Earplay worked with Wraith’s creator, who ran a session of Wraith with a few of Earplay’s executives.
“It helped that we brought on former White Wolf writer Richard Dansky, a good friend of mine who now works at Ubisoft as one of the top game writers in the industry,” Earplay CEO Jonathan Myers explained to Voicebot.”He developed and wrote the original Wraith: The Oblivion RPG, so of course, he had to be the main writer on this. He and [Earplay] Creative Chief Dave Grossman mapped it out, Dave leading the narrative design and Richard doing all the writing. Since we had the original creator of the IP working on it, it’s about as authentic as you can get.”
The Orpheus Device was originally slated to come out in 2016 as a commercial, monetized release. Alexa didn’t have in-store purchasing at that point, so it was going to be accessible through Earplay’s iOS app. The first delay happened when the team decided to make it playable through the voice assistant on Earplay’s Alexa skill, selling the game on Earplay’s website. The game was then delayed in 2017 in anticipation of Google’s newly announced third-party Google Actions and delayed again to come out with Alex’s new in-store purchase option in December of 2017. The chance to create the Jurassic World experience pushed everything else to the back burner, however.
By the time Earplay was ready to release the game, the license had expired, and new deals had to be negotiated with the new people running Paradox Interactive, who owns White Wolf. All of the extra time did allow for some changes to the original game. Minor tweaks to the story make the game world match the virtual reality Wraith game Paradox is planning to release next year, which will reference The Orpheus Device in small easter eggs. The game’s technical aspects have been upgraded with better interaction models, and the features Earplay has added over the years. Plus, it’s now free to download.
“We’d already written off the production costs, so it was not necessary to launch with monetization anymore,” Myers said. “And after all this time, it would mean a lot to everyone who worked on it to see it released to as broad an audience as possible. We decided for a Halloween 2020 free release so that World of Darkness and Earplay fans would finally get what we’d promised so long ago. With a new Wraith: The Oblivion title announced for 2021, the timing was great to get the story out there and familiarize people with the brand.”
Voice games are evolving quickly and starting to attract real money and investment in startups like Labworks and DriveTime. Labworks raised about $640,000 in March for a subscription voice game service, while DriveTime has $15 million in investment for its line of games. Both Amazon and Google are encouraging more developers to come up with new voice apps, and a good game is a reliable source of income for developers, especially if they add things to purchase to the game. Earplay is already working on another RPG-related voice game for Alexa to come out later this year based on the game Pugmire, created by former Earplay producer and White Wolf writer Eddy Webb.
“Earplay started out as a game studio, and it’s in our blood to work with great RPG properties because they lend naturally to playing something with your voice,” Myers said. “We’re always looking for opportunities and talking with other game studios and publishers about what’s possible. I’ll say that for right now, the total market for paid premium voice experiences is still fairly small when compared to mobile, VR, console, etc. But we’re here for the long haul.”