Amazon's Under-the-Radar Move
Amazon's next big move is going largely unnoticed, except by those who think it's stupid. Spoiler alert: It's not stupid.
Alexa and games
Some developers of Alexa game skills recently began getting monetary rewards for usage of their skills. According to a page on the Alexa developer portal, "We are exploring new ways to reward our developers. Starting May 2017, we are offering game skill developers the opportunity to earn money based on customer usage."
But why just game skills? According to Marketing Land and voicebot.ai, this is in line with a reported position from Jeff Bezos himself that, "games are the killer app for Alexa" and guidance that the Alexa team should, "focus on getting more games for Alexa's app store."
This is unexpected, sounds weird, and seems counter to Amazon's efforts to position Alexa as the "get stuff done" utility you couldn't live without. That's certainly what Greg Sterling from Marketing Land, who, "couldn’t disagree more" with Bezos, thinks.
And to be frank, that's what I would have walked away from his article thinking until I saw that line. Any time I see an otherwise smart person doing something that's being taken for granted as dumb, I force myself to do a gut check. This time, that gut check really changed how I see the move.
What does Amazon want?
What would Amazon have to gain from more games and gamers on Alexa? First, as noted in the voicebot.ai story, games will be the easiest category for developers to monetize, and happy developers mean a more robust Alexa ecosystem.
Second -- and unnoted in anything I've read on the subject -- is the potential to tap into users' social graphs. While a lot of the time we spend playing games online is by ourselves, a lot of it isn't. And that's not by accident. Companies like Zynga work hard to draw you into interpersonal, volley-like situations that not only use competitive and peer pressures to capture unnatural amounts of your time (aka monetizable attention), but use your social reach to expand their user base. And if there's anything we've seen from Amazon, it's that users and their time/attention are two things they can't get enough of.
Where did this come from?
This is another important question to ask before dismissing Bezos's direction out-of-hand, because assuming he's wrong requires you to make two other assumptions: One, that gaming is outside of Amazon's area of expertise; two, that this is a tangent inconsistent with Amazon's direction. I'll take those in order.
One. Is Amazon trying to break into a new market when it brings a heavier gaming focus to Alexa? Heck no. It's easy to forget that Amazon owns gaming powerhouse Twitch. That's more than 100 million people. Half of whom spend more than spend more than 20 hours a week in the platform.
So Amazon knows gaming and gamers. Twitch's continued growth in the gaming industry long after its acquisition means Amazon has a strong strategic understanding of the space, and we can safely assume that Amazon's decision to integrate Alexa into the gaming world is very well informed.
Two. Is this a tangent inconsistent with Amazon's direction? If you believe tapping into people's social graphs is one of the objectives of more gaming in Alexa, then no. Amazon's recent announcements are heavy with features that connect people to each other, like the ability to place free voice and video calls or send messages to other Echo devices or mobile devices with the Alexa app.
A smart part of Amazon's vision
Right now, Amazon is a utility in the logistics/ecommerce and media spaces. Bezos knows that being a utility is too similar to being a commodity for comfort. Commodities can be replaced. I'm sure the pressure they're facing from Walmart, Netflix, et al is making that clear. It's much harder to replace something that has become part of your social fabric.
Games extend beyond just communicating with others (talking about experiences). They are the experiences themselves. Twitch taught them that. If Amazon can become both the utility that gives you more time and money to do things you love with people you love, and a big part of the actual doing of those things, then it becomes irreplaceable. And that sounds pretty smart.