As Amazon cuts back, Alexa Games pushes forward with Dead Island 2 integration

After seeing 2,000 people cut from the unit in the last several months, Amazon's Alexa business continues to invest in its Alexa Games product to deepen integrations in the video game space. Read More...

Amazon (AMZN) has been in the midst of deep cost-cutting, announcing the elimination of 27,000 corporate jobs over the last few months.

But amid this downsizing, there are still areas of the business getting investment. And one of those areas is a subset of the business you might not expect — Alexa.

Alexa Games, the division devoted to building games for the voice assistant platform, announced on Friday the release of Dead Island 2, equipped with Alexa Game Control.

If you’re not a gamer, some translation: Dead Island 2 is a just-released and much-anticipated open world zombie game for Sony’s (SONY) PS5 and PS4 and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Windows and Xbox systems. The integration of Alexa Game Control allows players to engage with games using their voices.

“Alexa Games and Alexa Game Control are a strategic priority right now, as evidenced by this launch,” said Steve Bernstein, director & GM of Alexa Games at Amazon. “We’re really excited about the potential, and it’s something we’re continuing to invest in and are bullish on.”

(via Amazon)

(via Amazon)

(via Amazon)

A chunk of Amazon’s layoffs were in the Alexa division itself, prompting Amazon hardware boss Dave Limp to reiterate the company’s commitment to Alexa in an interview earlier this year. As part of Amazon’s cuts, some 2,000 people were let go from the unit. Amazon will report its latest quarterly earnings this coming Thursday, April 27.

But according to Bernstein, voice-enabled games are an area where Alexa has remained prime for innovation and investment.

“There are so many examples of places where Alexa has reduced friction, where it’s more natural to speak than type something like ‘Alexa, play me a song,'” he said. “With voice, we saw an opportunity to improve the gaming experience.”

“There are things you have to do in games, like switching through inventory or looking for a weapon, where traditionally you have to pause the game and search,” said Bernstein.

How this works, and where it’s headed

A zombie game has, understandably, some unique voice commands.

“In Dead Island 2, you can just say, ‘swap to my best weapon,’ so you don’t interrupt gameplay,” said Bernstein. “There are some things that are just more natural and interactive when you can use your voice. For example, interacting with NPCs. We have a feature in Dead Island 2 called zombie goading or zombie taunting, where you can call the zombies to you, and then slash them up. That’s the kind of feature that’s Alexa Game Control-enabled.”

Other voice commands that players will be able to use in Dead Island 2 include “fury mode,” which triggers a specialized attack.

(via Amazon)

(via Amazon)

(via Amazon)

Though Bernstein couldn’t disclose what the next set of Alexa Games launches will entail, he confirmed that the pipeline of partnerships the division is looking at is substantial and the division is moving forward.

You don’t have to own a piece of Alexa hardware, like an Amazon Echo, to use Alexa Game Control in Dead Island 2. However, users will have some ability to engage with Alexa features if they want to, Bernstein added.

“We want to keep players firmly immersed in the game, so there’s no wake word once you’re in the game,” he said. “There is the often to use ‘hey Alexa’ if you, say, want to set a timer or use other Alexa functionalities. Imagine, you can’t play for more than an hour, so you want to set a timer. You can say, ‘Hey Alexa, remind me to stop playing in an hour so I can make dinner.’ Then, Alexa will remind you to do that.”

Allie Garfinkle is a Senior Tech Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @agarfinks and on LinkedIn.

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