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Amazon will now directly pay top Alexa ‘kid’ skill developers in the U.K. and Germany

Amazon is expanding its program that pays developers directly for their top-performing Alexa skills, by now offering these “developer rewards,” as they’re called, to those based in the U.K. and Germany who publish “kid” skills. This emerging skill category was one of the last to be included in the developer rewards program, which already offered payments for top skills in over half a dozen other categories, including Education & Reference; Food & Drink; Games, Trivia & Accessories; Health & Fitness; Lifestyle; Music & Audio; and Productivity. The developer rewards program quietly launched just over a year ago , as a way to encourage developers to build voice apps for Alexa before the ecosystem had expanded to include support for other monetization options like the in-app purchases and subscriptions offered today. The program helped to seed Amazon’s skill store with more content, while also rewarding quality apps that gain traction with consumers. The initiative has seemingly had an impact – Alexa is now adding 5,000 new skills every 100 days, and reached over 30,000 in the U.S. as of March. Amazon says today it has since paid out “millions” to developers in 23 countries as a result of this program. Some individual voice app developers, like game maker Volley , have reported earning in the five-figure range on a monthly basis from Amazon’s program, to give you an idea of the payout potential. With the expansion to Kids skills in the U.K. and Germany, the hope is now to encourage U.S. developers to roll out their app (or localize it) for other markets. Making other markets a priority will be important for Amazon, as the smart speaker race heats up outside the U.S

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Amazon opens up in-skill purchases to all Alexa developers

Amazon today launched in-skill purchasing to all Alexa developers, along with Amazon Pay for skills. That means developers have a way to generate revenue from their voice applications on Alexa-powered devices, like Amazon’s Echo speakers. For example, developers could charge for additional packs to go along with their voice-based games, or offer other premium content to expand their free voice app experience. The feature was previously announced in November 2017, but was only available at the time to a small handful of voice app developers, like Jeopardy!, plus other game publishers. When in-skill purchasing is added to a voice application – Amazon calls these apps Alexa’s “skills” – customers can ask to shop the purchase suggestions offered, and then pay by voice using the payment information already associated with their Amazon account. Developers are in control of what content is offered at which price, but Amazon will handle the actual purchasing flow. It also offers self-serve tools to help developers manage their in-skill purchases and optimize their sales. While any Alexa device owner can buy the available in-skill purchases, Amazon Prime members will get the best deal. Amazon says that in-skill purchases must offer some sort of value-add for Prime subscribers, like a discounted price, exclusive content or early access. Developers are paid 70 percent of the list price for their in-skill purchase, before any Amazon discount is applied. Already, Sony’s Jeopardy!, Teen Jeopardy!, Sports Jeopardy!; The Ellen Show’s Heads Up; Fremantle’s Match Game; HISTORY’s Ultimate HISTORY Quiz, and TuneIn Live, have launched Alexa skills with premium content. To kick off today’s launch of general availability, Amazon is announcing a handful of others who will do the same. This includes NBCU’s SYFY WIRE, which will offer three additional weekly podcasts exclusive to Alexa (Geeksplain, Debate Club, and Untold Story); Volley Inc.’s Yes Sire, which offers an expansion pack for its role-playing game; and Volley Inc.’s Word of the Day, which will soon add new vocabulary packs to purchase.

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A university is giving scholarships to top Fortnite players

A Midwestern university wants to recruit the nation’s best Fortnite players for its varsity esports team, and it’s throwing out the dough to bring on some quality talent. Ashland University in Ohio will embrace the feverishly popular battle royale title into its competitive esports program, which it will officially launch this fall. Fortnite will join the team’s current competitive-title teams League of Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Rocket League. Interested gamers can hit up this form to apply to the program. “Fortnite appeals to both the core and casual gaming audience,” the school’s esports head coach Josh Buchanan said in a release. “We’re excited to provide this platform for gamers who want to showcase their skills in a more competitive space. Fortnite facilitates an environment that allows players to get creative, innovate and show off their mastery of their skills.” Admission in the school’s undergraduate program with room and board on the Ashland campus goes for $31,284 full-price, so the $4,000 scholarship offers a nice incentive, but this is probably best for people who have other reasons to go to Ashland University in Ohio, as well. The embrace the title has already received from the gaming community is pretty notable. It’s one of the most-streamed titles on gaming sites and there are millions of people playing concurrently.

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Kids Court, the grand prize winner from Amazon’s developer contest, disappears from the Alexa Skills Store

What does winning the Alexa Skills Challenge earn you from Amazon? Apparently, in addition to the $20,000 Grand Prize, you might also have your skill yanked from the Amazon Skill Store without warning. At least, that’s what seems to have happened to the grand prize winner from the recent Alexa’s kids competition , Pretzel Labs . Its winning submission, a fun skill called “Kids Court” where parents and kids settle arguments together using Alexa, has disappeared from Amazon’s Skills store. There’s no update provided on the developer’s website or social media about the removal – and as a recent grand prize winner, one would have to assume a removal was unplanned. Above: The Amazon.com-hosted page for the Kids Court skill The problem also doesn’t appear to be one with the developer’s account, as other skills by Pretzel Labs – like “ Freeze Dancers ” – are still available, as of the time of writing. That seems to indicate the skill was pulled for some other reason – like a content violation, a violation of terms, or just an accident. It’s not clear what would have triggered this, however, as the skill had not been substantially updated since it won Amazon’s contest. Amazon is looking into the matter, but has not yet provided a comment. Above: The Kids Court skill, from Google’s cache Thousands of developers from 30 countries had registered for the Alexa Skills kid’s challenge , where they competed for a grand prize of $20,000, five bonus prizes ranging from $7,500 to $10,000, and a $5,000 prize for each of the 20 finalists. The competition was meant to help seed Alexa’s ecosystem with skills that would be popular with children and families, now that Alexa supports parental consent and COPPA compliance  for skills. Kids Court won the competition for its silly, family friendly skill that helps kids get over their disagreements.

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AI will create new jobs but skills must shift, say tech giants

 AI will create more jobs than it destroys was the not-so-subtle rebuttal from tech giants to growing concern over the impact of automation technologies on employment. Execs from Google, IBM and Salesforce were questioned about the wider societal implications of their technologies during a panel session here at Mobile World Congress.  Read More

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Microsoft’s Cortana AI can connect to your Gmail

Microsoft's Cortana refuses to sit idly by as Amazon's Alexa hogs all the skills. Even though the two digital helpers are best buds (by way of their upcoming partnership), Cortana is feeling competitive. The AI can now connect to your Gmail account v...

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