Earlier this year Amazon revealed that since its inception over 100 million devices using the voice assistant have been sold, including both Amazon products such as the Echo and third-party devices that have Alexa built into it.
Besides Amazon, both Apple and Google also have their own virtual assistants and hardware. Apple utilises Siri in all of its devices, while Google has its own tech called Google Home.
Thus far, the technology's use for games has been limited, but one new start-up believes that there's an exciting future ahead for the platform.
Portuguese studio Doppio Games has raised €1 million ($1.1 million) in seed funding to build a new generation of voice-controlled games.
The funding came from several outlets, including investments from the Amazon Alexa Fund and Google Assistant Investment Program.
Other backers included AngelList's Andy Chung, Philipp Moehring from Breakaway Growth Fund, Portugal Ventures, Busy Angels and Sisu Game Ventures.
Backing also came from gaming angel investors, Supercell's Lasse Seppanen, Stillfront's Alexis Bonte and David Helgason of Unity.
Speaking to PCGamesInsider.biz, Doppio Games CEO Jeferson Valadares reveals why the studio's focus is conversational games and what the company plans to do with its funding.
PCGamesInsider.biz: Tell me a bit about your history in game development and how Doppio came together.
Jeferson Valadares: We've been making games for a while now. I started in 2000 in Brazil and have since gone through a few countries (Finland, UK, USA) and companies (Digital Chocolate, EA, Playfish, BioWare, Bandai Namco). Chris Barne's had started at EA and did an internal transfer to my team at BioWare in 2012.
We've been working together ever since. Around early 2018 we were playing around with different concepts around narrative games when we noticed that Amazon had opened the equivalent of in-app purchases on its Alexa platform.
We had played around with voice control before and we were very excited about the creative possibilities. The fact that now there was a business platform around it sealed the deal for us.
Why is your focus on conversational games?
Because that's the most natural use of voice. Voice commands work too, but eventually feel unnatural. But we use voice for conversations all the time, all day long. It's a fast, natural and layered way to exchange information.
With the genre not being taken seriously by some for previous efforts by other developers, what is the future of voice-enabled games?
It's very common that the first efforts in a new platform are not the platform-makers. When a new type of interaction comes around, what people often try to do is to port previous experiences to the new platform.
For example, with touch, the first games were mostly conversions of other things that were popular in mobile before (like Tetris). It took someone like Rovio with Angry Birds to really find something that was natural and therefore to capture people's attention.
We know that the definitive voice game has not been built yet. As the tech evolves, players get more used to it and developers become more adept at making the most of it, we will eventually start seeing the game-changers. The future is bright.
We know that the definitive voice game has not been built yet.Jeferson Valadares
Will Doppio Games venture into other genres?
We want to strike a balance between exploring the platform but also building our knowledge, toolbase and so on. We want to be the best at using conversation as an interface.
We believe that can lead to a variety of genres, such as strategy for example. Imagine a war game where you tell your generals and soldiers what to do.
Concerning the investment, what was your pitch to investors and what has this cash allowed you to do.
On a very high level, our pitch was twofold. First, voice is a great, natural way to interact, whose potential is just starting to being unlocked; and wherever there is interaction there are games.
Second, we are experienced game and business-builders who are very passionate about exploring this area. Team is everything and as such most of the investment is earmarked for building the team.
The rest is for enabling us to experiment with everything from mechanics to marketing.
Are you looking for further investment?
We are good right now, but as we learn, develop and find repeatable things that work in the market, we will probably look for more so we can scale.
Why set up shop in Portugal?
I was in San Francisco just before, and although that area has many upsides, it's also very expensive, both on a personal and a company level. If we had set up there, we would have had to raise a lot more money and the pressure to generate tonnes of revenue quickly would have been a lot higher.
By setting up in a place with a better cost structure, every euro we raise can go a lot further. Portugal also happens to be a place where the talent is great and there's a desire to prove themselves.
It's harder here to find people with market and product experience, but we as a founding team have the experience and the connections to make it work.
One of the principal challenges is learning to adapt all of our experience designing games for screens to this new world of voice-driven interfaces.Jeferson Valadares
What challenges do you see in making voice-enabled games?
One of the principal challenges is learning to adapt all of our experience designing games for screens to this new world of voice-driven interfaces.
Players can drive a conversational interface in pretty much any direction and at any time, so we generally need to be far more adaptive than we would be in a traditional game with a finite set of on-screen buttons and menus.
And beyond this, there are plenty of other challenges still. This is part of the reason we’re so interested in this space. The market is still at a point where most people don't even know that there are games to play at all, so we're still building that shared vocabulary that we can build on.
Is localisation more of a concern for titles like this, given that a piece of software has to recognise any language where the game is available?
From a language recognition point of view, as we’ve built our first crop of titles on top of big voice platforms like Amazon and Google, we benefit from and improve with the improvements these big companies are continually making to their language models. So, in a sense, this is a problem that is slowly solving itself over time.
From a game production angle, localisation can be very easy or very hard depending on your approach. If you have a game that is 100 per cent voiceovers, you can just re-record in different languages and there's that.
For a conversational game like ours, where many sentences are built on the fly based on the players immediate context and needs, it's more of a challenge. We are certainly worrying more about obscure grammatical concepts now than we ever have since our time in school.