Creating Esme & Roy Alexa Skill: HBO’s First Voice Experience for Kids

November 7, 2018


Voice assistants have moved beyond everyday commands and are becoming one of the most engaging platforms for entertainment. Conversational interface-based devices now offer an entirely new medium for entertainment brands to bring stories and characters to life, distribute content through voice, provide searchable news, and activate fans through engaging experiences.

PullString, founded as ToyTalk in 2011, brings a history of success as an award-winning entertainment and technology company that combines art and science to enable conversation with characters. For example, our platform has been used to create engaging conversational experiences for Mattel’s Hello Barbie doll which features more than 8,000 lines of dialogue and is the first doll that can have hours of two-way conversation with kids.

Most recently, we worked with HBO as they produced their first Amazon Alexa skill for kids – Esme & Roy – in partnership with Sesame Workshop, 360i, and Xandra. The new voice experience builds upon lessons learned from "Westworld: The Maze,” which has won numerous industry awards for innovation, sound and game design.”

The new “Esme & Roy” Alexa skill features characters from the animated children’s show, which debuted on HBO in August. It is produced by Sesame Workshop, the creator of “Sesame Street.” Aimed at children three and up, the skill mirrors the show, allowing kids to pick different adventures for Esme, an accomplished “monster-sitter,” and her friend Roy, a giant yellow monster with a silly streak.

By leveraging PullString voice technology software which enables cross-functional teams to create Alexa skills, Sesame Workshop led the dialogue writing. Xandra, a global conversational design studio, helped with designing, prototyping and launching the voice application. 360i, an award-winning advertising agency which spearheaded writing for the Westworld skill, contributed expertise in a consulting role.

According to Zach Johnson, Founder and CEO of Xandra, Esme & Roy is a great benchmark for editorial and short storytelling in an Alexa skill, which incorporates all original music and sound design.

The Esme & Roy skill is a guided interactive play that uses audio icons to give kids a sense for where they are in the Alexa skill and when it’s their turn to do something. It incorporates audio icon cues when input is expected from kids and to provide feedback. When the answer is correct, a happy response is provided from characters; and when the answer is incorrect, humor is used to provide constructive feedback. The golden path – referring to how users can and will say whatever they want, is especially true of young kids. Therefore, the conversation designers needed to be very intentional about design in the voice application creation process.

HBO’s Esme & Roy skill brings the characters of the new animated series to your living room via Amazon Alexa – taking young kids on pretend play adventures to five different locations, encouraging them to move their bodies, use their imaginations, and embrace mindfulness in the process. To enable the skill, just say “Alexa, start Esme and Roy.”

Creatives and developers: Are you looking to create an innovative voice experience to activate and engage fans? Find out how top entertainment brands are distributing content and engaging fans through voice technology in this on-demand webinar

Written by Jenna Cheng

Jenna Cheng is the Director of Marketing at PullString, where she leads brand awareness, consideration and demand generation initiatives for the company. She is passionate about emerging voice technologies and growing the PullString community of voice app innovators, conversational designers, product managers, digital marketers, and developers.

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