• 03-01-2021

  • 6 min read

  • Laurens Rutten

Voice as Independent Medium: How to Become Successful Voice Games Dev



With voice rapidly reshaping the gaming experience, we asked an industry expert, mobile games professional, and the CEO of CoolGames games studio, Laurens Rutten, to share some insights into the evolution of the technology, its trends, as well as tell us the secrets of becoming a successful voice game developer.


CoolGames’ Journey to Voice

CoolGames has been developing games for various platforms, including Facebook, Snapchat, different gaming portals, and all sorts of channels for some 10 years now. That was one of the reasons why Google had approached the company around a year ago, although the two had collaborated before.

“Hey, maybe you should talk to this person, they are doing something that could be of interest, something news,” a colleague from Google suggested.

So we contacted the Google smart display product team one year ago and they asked us if we could come up with some good ideas for voice games, which was an absolute novelty, as there were still no games like that, maybe for smart speakers, but certainly not yet for smart display devices.

The HTML5 part of the process, the underlying technology of smart display devices, was relatively easy to master: games that look great, that show animation, and that have fun gameplay obviously. However, I think the difficult part was that we needed to learn — and we are still learning every day — how to make the game voice-enabled and how to do that naturally. There aren’t many examples out there yet, not much experience, and no market standards either.

Finding out how to integrate voice so that consumers could easily understand and use the feature both with touch and voice command was also challenging. The next goal was to make the best game flow, as to how one goes through the game, how one starts or stops, those look simple, but with voice, it’s a little bit different. We got pretty quick up-to-speed with the technology part, but with the voice, we really needed to rethink the games.


Voice Technology: What Worked and What Didn’t

One thing that worked better than expected, which was related to Google’s Continuous Match technology, was that you can keep talking and not give the same orders every single time. We used that in three out of four games that we have developed. For example with drawings, you see something being drawn on the screen, but you don’t know what it is. So you start guessing what you think it is, but it’s wrong and the game player can keep guessing. But he doesn’t need to say “my answer is this,” “my answer is that,” “my answer…” he doesn’t need to say that because that feels unnatural.

What’s more challenging is that some things are difficult to do with voice. For example, fast action. What you normally do with your fingers is difficult to do with voice. We also looked at match-3 puzzle games and similar genres and found no voice solution to that. Not yet.


Evolutionary Tandem: Voice Games and Smart Display Devices

Voice games and smart display devices are very promising, but of course, it’s still at a very early stage. The platform is still young and a lot of things need to be done and need to be improved. I have good hopes that this will be a mature game platform in a few years from now just like other platforms, but it’s just the first steps that we are taking — good steps — but first steps.


Monetizing Voice Games for Smart Displays

Looking at today’s options of making money from developing voice games, number one is having a game player — the consumer paying for the game. This IAP model, In-App Purchases, is pretty similar to what you find in the Google Play store.

The other option is that developers try to find a sponsor for the game. Maybe you can find some brands, a big company, or maybe even ask for some support from Google, Amazon, or Yandex to help co-invest in the game, which I think is more of a short-term solution for now. As for the long-term, the platform should be good enough so that there are enough game players, who are willing to pay for the game or look at advertising, and I think that’s where we are still at an early stage. So, what Google, Amazon, and other platforms need to do is, (one), make sure enough people have these devices, so they can have access to the game, (two), they need to make sure that people can find the game in between YouTube, Music, News or any of the other apps, so discoverability. Those are the two most important things for the long-term monetizing option.


Types of Investors

Usually, there are two waves of investors, which is similar to the hype cycle for every new technology. In the very beginning, there is a lot of hype around the new platform and most often there are investors helping out to step into this industry, to try to be number one, or to try to be in the first wave of players.

The second and the most important wave will come when the platform is mature so that you can actually build a big business on it, long-term. And if you can actually prove that you can build a big business, the investment money will follow.


Making Gaming Experience More Engaging

Almost everything that has a screen has an option to play games now, be it TV, computers, smartphones, or smartwatches. Even if you buy a Tesla car, you can find some in-car games there.

First-generation games for smart display devices, however, are more family-friendly, because they are in the kitchen, bedroom, living room, and of course, that makes it less private, as people can walk around, see what you’re doing and hear what you’re saying. But if you look further, then I think these games will also be ending up on other platforms. So what we already see is that games for smart display devices like Google Assistant can also be played, with a few adjustments, via Google Assistant on your mobile phone. And then you suddenly talk about more than a billion Android devices… We will see an evolution from more family-oriented to maybe more private experience, and that will probably lead to different kinds of games.

A lot of voice features will be in existing game platforms, too. There is no reason why you can’t add voice to a PlayStation game for example, but of course, the whole technology and the AI behind it is much focused on smart assistance.


Ingredients for a Good Voice Game

Be ready to fail in game development. Many games will be okay-ish maybe, but only a few of them will do really well. Most of the time you won’t know for sure if it will be a success or not. For voice games, it will be the same thing. What I do know, however, is that if you think “it’s just another game”, and you add one or two voice features to it, then you will certainly fail. If you don’t take voice seriously, if you don’t treat it as a specific medium by itself, then I’m pretty sure it will fail. It takes time to understand and design the game flow or the combination of touch and flow. It’s all about failing, trying again, and eventually succeeding.

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