Thinking about new ideas for a game for Google Assistant, I conducted a little research on the quality of games, currently available to users. All Actions on Google (voice apps, usually triggered by saying “Hey Google, talk to…”) can be found in this directory.
Hint: there’s a FREE download available at the end of this article.
The Google Assistant directory provides a list of available Actions, with user rating, number of reviews, author of Action and some standard information like description, icons etc. There’s no data regarding actual usage… So for now, the combination of score and number of reviews must be sufficient enough to assess the quality of Actions. Problem is that there are no filters and no sorting options, which makes the directory really hard to use.
Web-scraper to the rescue
That kind of problem screams for automated solution. First search pointed me to the right tools: Node.js, Puppeteer, Cheerio and Express. They are really good friends when it comes to web-scraping.
After a few hours coding, I was equipped with a tool which allowed me to download the required data from the Games and Fun section of the directory (same exercise can be done for any other section). After filtering the duplicates, I began my research. Here’s what I found.
Data at a glance
Data was scraped on the 6th Jan 2020.
Number of Actions found: 4032
Number of Actions with no ratings: 1789
It means that:
44% of games in Google Assistant directory have no ratings at all.
That’s actually not that bad, compared to Alexa, where 70% of skills (all skills) have no ratings at all (Dashbot.io, July 2019, link here).
Google is in the mix
5 out of 10 Actions with the biggest number of reviews belong to Google. That’s not fair. Google’s “Chat with your Assistant” and “Fun tricks” are integrated in Assistant. Sorry Google, you’re not playing with us this time.
So what have we got after filtering Google’s productions and sorting by the number of reviews?
- Mobile Legends by Moonton — 8139 reviews
- Best Dad Jokes by Brad Abrams (Group Product Manager, but ok, perhaps it’s a personal pet project) — 3510 reviews
- Akinator by Elokence — 2980 reviews
- Song quiz by Volley — 1459 reviews
- Beatbox by no author (but it’s another integrated Action, so I assume it’s Google) — 936 reviews
- Did Thanos Kill Me by akshay2000–872 reviews
- Harry Potter Jokes by no author — 847 reviews
- Bible Verse of the Day by Peter Friese — 777 reviews
- Fortnite Place Dropper by Fortnite Place Dropper — 600 reviews
- TrumpTime by no author — 416
Personal review of the 10 most rated actions
I tried them all. To be honest, other than Akinator and Song quiz, those actions are hard to classify as Games. Are they Fun? That depends on your sense of humour. Let’s say that they sparked a slight smile on my face. Are they engaging? No. With those 2 exceptions, I can’t see myself using them ever again. Oh, and the Bible Verse of the Day Action shouldn’t really be in the Games and Fun category… or should it? That’s actually quite funny, especially with the 777 reviews at the time of writing this article.
How to find the hidden gems
Sorting the data by the number of reviews clearly didn’t work for me. So I came up with another filter. First, I removed all actions without the author. They’re either Google creations or… apps that nobody wants to take credit for.
Then, for each individual rating, I picked 2 actions with the biggest number of reviews. I set min. rating to 3.0. I ended up with a list of 42 Actions.
Funny enough, I found my own Action called Word Chain on position #23. I promise, it’s totally coincidental that it got to the list 😉
But since I already mentioned it, you may as well give it a try.
Just say: “Hey Google, talk to Word Chain”.
There’s a Premium version available to unlock for a small one-time fee — giving you access to some extra features.
Findings — the bad
I’ll spare you the details of testing all 42 actions. If you want my advice — don’t waste your time trying them all by yourself.
Quizzes, so many quizzes
Over half of the tested Actions turned out to be simple quizzes — either on general or specific knowledge like fictional characters or console games. Google promotes building this type of Actions by creating templates — it’s encouraging for beginner developers to be able to “get something out there” with minimum effort.
A newbie user of Google Home after discovering a quiz, may be delighted with the experience. But users get bored quickly. Same format, and same or very similar sounds found across all quizzes are really disappointing.
Is that a joke?
Another very popular type of Action among the 42 tested, is a joke action — usually offering 1 joke and leaving the conversation straight after. No interaction at all. Are the jokes any good? I’ll let you answer this question by yourself.
Findings — the good
It may be a subjective matter, but to me a good game experience is one I’d remember and want to come back to. It’s something I’d tell about my friends and be proud of myself for discovering it. From the list above, I found two Actions, which honestly deserve some attention.
Hey Google, talk to Song Quiz
With average rating 4.4 and 1459 reviews, this one is my favorite. You get to listen to short snippets of songs from different decades and guess the artist and the title. You can play with friends or family, or solo against players from around the country (I’m not sure if that’s actually a real-time multiplayer challenge, but it doesn’t matter). The content is great, songs didn’t repeat after 3 or 4 rounds I played. It’s challenging and fun. Just what the game should be like.
Hey Google, talk to Dustin from Stranger Things
This Action is an audio story where you get to interact with Dustin — talking to you over walkie-talkie, exactly as seen on Stranger Things — one of the most popular franchises of Netflix. This action is the best example of how much better a recorder actor’s voice is over synthesised one. The plot is connected with the story of the film. In order to give Dustin correct answers and guide him properly through the story, it’s best to watch the Netflix series first. Don’t worry if you have to stop the game for any reason — next time you talk to Dustin, you’ll start exactly where you left off. 290 reviews, average rating 4.8.
Bonus 1: Hey Google, talk to Common Sense
This would be my number three, if it only didn’t break. It’s not much of a game, but an interesting social concept. Each day, players have the chance to answer the same three questions. They begin by answering a question with their personal opinion. Then, they predict the opinion of the majority of the other players. Points earned are based on how many other players personally answered in the same way as this prediction. I hope the author is going to fix the app error, as I never heard the results after providing my answers…
Concept can be scaled up to return some average values per country or language… There’s definitely some potential there.
Quizzes, jokes, choose-your-own-adventure audio stories, word games, educational trivias — they’re all there in Games and Fun section of Google Assistant actions.
Quality of voice-first games is hard to measure. When it comes to experiences strongly relying on users’ imagination, every detail matters: sounds, actor voice, content, length of individual conversation parts…
Concepts recalling memories or those of familiar or easy to follow structure seem to be a safe bet among developers.
It’s worth remembering that the entire Google Assistant ecosystem is still in its infancy. Both Google and Amazon are trying their best to encourage developers to take their first steps in Actions and Skills development — which results in crowded directories of not-so-great apps.
I’m sure this will change with time. User discoverability and promotion of valuable experiences are currently some of the biggest problems for all tech giants taking their part in this virtual assistants race, but it’s not something that can’t be fixed. And for that reason, we developers should strive to create original and sophisticated experiences at all times.
Bonus 2 — FREE download
If you’d like to play around with the data gathered from Google Assistant Games and Fun section, here’s a free download (spreadsheet)
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