Amazon has started paying out cold hard cash to the developers making apps for Alexa, the virtual assistant built into the company’s Echo smart speakers.
The company described the program on a support webpage for Alexa developers.
“We are exploring new ways to reward our developers,” Amazon said on the page. “Starting May 2017, we are offering game skill developers the opportunity to earn money based on customer usage.”
The page doesn’t say how much developers can expect to make. For now, Amazon said it is only paying developers who create game apps, or “skills,” for Alexa. But the company suggested it could pay other developers in the future.
“We are starting by rewarding game skill developers because game skills are not only fun and delightful but also represent some of the most engaging experiences on Alexa for our customers,” Amazon said on the support page.
Amazon has started to notify developers of the top games for Alexa that cash is being dropped in their accounts, TechCrunch reported.
A company representative declined to comment on the program.
The move to pay developers comes as Alexa faces growing competition from Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana. Both Google and Microsoft are making their first forays into letting developers make outside skills on their voice assistants.
Amazon’s Echo has dominated the smart speaker market since its debut more than two years ago, and Alexa has attracted a large number of developers who have created some 10,000 skills for the voice assistant. But skill developers have been concerned about how they could make money off the platform.
Smartphone app stores like Apple’s and Google’s let developers directly monetise their apps. They can charge up front for their apps, offer them as subscription services or offer sell in-app add-ons. But right now, every Alexa skill is free, and developers have no ability to charge users for any feature.
Neither Google nor Microsoft pays developers working on skills for their voice assistants. Amazon’s move makes it more likely that Alexa developers will stick with its platform
This is only an “exploration,” to use Amazon’s wording, and it will take more than a few payments to game developers to make the Alexa ecosystem a real destination for app developers. But it’s a positive first step, amid mounting competition.