Most of us use smart speakers to perform routine tasks: to set timers and alarms, put on music or check the weather. But a growing number of people are using their Amazon Echos and Google Homes for entertainment. The most popular Alexa skills of 2018 included a National Geographic quiz, a voice-activated version of Heads Up! and The Magic Door – an interactive adventure game where players can explore fantastical settings, find hidden treasures and interact with witches and gnomes. While much of the hype around these devices has focused on their potential to transform how we shop and search, the success of games and trivia apps has shown a clear demand for voice experiences that surprise and delight. And now, it seems brands are investing in more creative and playful uses of voice.
The BBC has created interactive dramas for Alexa, HBO created a voice-activated game for fans of Westworld and Amazon has teamed up with children’s publisher ChooseCo to create choose your own adventure stories for its devices. Even functional apps are becoming more fun, with Domino’s creating a virtual assistant that can crack jokes alongside taking pizza orders, and Trainline creating an interactive rap battle experience with Big Shaq to promote its new voice app.
“I think voice interactions are only going to get more interesting and dynamic as the technology advances,” says Nicky Birch, Lead Producer at BBC Research and Development and founder of audio production company Rosina Sound, which has created interactive experiences for Amazon Alexa.
“I’d love to see more artists and creatives to explore what you can do with it and how you can push the tech on. Just ordering pizzas and setting timers isn’t enough. We need creative people to throw their weight behind it and play with it and fuck it up a bit – which they are doing to some extent,” she adds.
Birch worked in radio and audio before founding Rosina. In 2017, she worked with BBC R&D to create The Inspection Chamber, a 20-minute sci-fi drama where listeners converse with fictional characters, and their responses influence the outcome of the story.