How to Write Interactive Fiction and Interactive Audio Stories – 014 – Technical and Textual Requirements

Textural Requirements for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant

Note:

This is only a recommendation based on our experiences and talks with members of the certification teams at Amazon and Google in 2019, and may have changed since then.

Voice assistant providers place great emphasis on family-friendly skills. Voice is an interactive format, its contents are accessible to children at any time once it has been activated, therefore there is a need for interactive stories to meet a series of specific requirements.

These requirements are divided into four tiered categories with more or less severe restrictions:

  • Approved for children
  • Approved for children under guidance (“Guidance Suggested”)
  • Approved for adults (“Mature”)
  • No approval (“Amazon”)

 

Content coming under very close scrutiny relates to violence, sex (eroticism), drugs as well as drug usage, and violations against the current law. Whether your story is a fictional fantasy story or whether is tied to the real world does not matter for this evaluation.

There are three major questions that will be asked during the certification process:

  • Is there any problematic content?
  • How explicit is this content?
  • Are these problematic sections part of active user decisions (active user choice)?

In summary, it can be said that Amazon will deny certification for interactive stories if they:

  • Feature a high degree of violence (e.g. torture, cruelty, brutality) or sex (e.g. pornography),
  • Show violence or sex in explicit, detailed, and illustrative ways (e.g. the severing of body parts or attacks against the head of a person),
  • Are part of active user decisions that lead to persons suffering physical or mental harm,
  • Idealize violence, pornography, drug use, or the committing of crimes,
  • Incite users to perform such actions in the real word,
  • Are written for children and contain violence, sex, or the mere mention of drugs such as alcohol or tobacco.

Conclusion

Keep the description of violence and sex in your story as generic as possible. Avoid announcing negative consequences of active player’s choices, or only hint at them in vague terms. For example, one character in your story killing another character is less legally problematic than putting that choice on the player. Be especially careful when you are writing a story that you wish to publish as a skill for kids.

Practical Examples: “How Much Violence is Permitted?”

Example 20: Generic and Explicit Description

Alternative 1

Player Choice

Menacingly, the zombie staggers in your direction. Do you wish to shoot at him or run away?

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

Although the use of violence is offered as a choice, its description is kept generic.

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

Menacingly, the zombie staggers in your direction. At what part of its body do you aim? The chest, the arm, or the leg?

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The use of violence is offered as a choice, but, despite its detailed description, it is not too explicit (see headshot below).

Alternative 3

Player Choice

Menacingly, the zombie staggers in your direction. Do wish to shoot it in the head or run away?

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The use of violence is offered as a choice and it is too explicit in its description (headshot). The fact that zombies are fictional creatures does not matter in this case.

 

Example 21: Active player’s choice Leads to Negative Consequences for People

Alternative 1

Player Choice

Sarah is lying next to the bomb, her foot trapped underneath a steel beam. Do you wish to help Sarah or run away?

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

The consequences of the decision may turn out to be grave, but they are not explicitly mentioned.

 

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

Sarah is lying next to the bomb, her foot trapped underneath a steel beam. Do you wish to chop off Sarah’s foot with an axe to save her?

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The use of violence is offered as a choice and it is too explicit in its description (severing a body part) even though it is aimed at a positive outcome (saving Sarah).

Example 22: Active player’s choice Leads to Negative Consequences for People

Alternative 1

Player Choice

The train is thundering toward the switch. If you change the switch, the train will hit a group of construction workers. If you do nothing, it will collide with an oncoming train. Do you wish to change the switch?

(Also, “Do you wish to sacrifice the construction workers?” or, “Whom do you wish to save? The construction workers or the train passengers?“)

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

The choice will lead to negative consequences for people either way.

 

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

The train is thundering toward the switch. Do you wish to change the switch?

Consequences

YesThe train hits the construction workers.

NoThe train collides with another train.

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

Although the decision leads to negative consequences for people, it does not include the active use of violence by the user. Furthermore, the description of the consequences is very generic. It would even be possible to mention the number of people killed and other details.

Alternative 3

Player Choice

The train is thundering toward the switch. Do you wish and try to save the construction workers?

Consequences

YesYou save the construction workers, but the train collides with an oncoming train.

NoThe train hits the construction workers.

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

Although the decision leads to negative consequences for people, it does not include the active use of violence by the user. Furthermore, the description of the consequences is very generic. It would even be possible to mention the number of people killed and other details.

 

Not only is the Player Choice framed in an open-ended manner, it is also wrapped in positive terms (save the workers), both making it hard for the user to anticipate the negative consequences.

Example 23: Active player’s choice Leads to Negative Consequences for People

Alternative 1

Player Choice

The gas leak under the car is growing and getting closer to the flames. Soon, everything will explode. You can save only one of the children. Do you wish to save the girl or the boy?

Consequences

GirlThe boy dies.

BoyThe girl dies.

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The choice will lead to negative consequences for people either way. The death of the person not rescued is clearly foreseeable for the user, thus they would have to value the life of one person over that of the other. This is not permitted.

Workaround

Such a Player Choice would only be possible if only the fate of the rescued person is mentioned afterwards, not the fate of the other person.

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

The gas leak under the car is growing and getting closer to the flames. Soon, everything will explode. Whom do you wish to save first? The girl or the boy?

Consequences

GirlThe boy dies.

BoyThe girl dies.

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

Although the choice leads to negative consequences for people either way, the negative outcome for the person not rescued is not foreseeable to the user at the time the decision is being made, therefore they don’t consciously decide to let that person die.

 

 

Example 24: Active player’s choice Leads to Negative Consequences for People

Alternative 1

Player Choice

“Finish the blood sacrifice or the dragon will kill us all,” the magician shouts. The woman kneeling in front of you lifts her eyes and looks at you pleadingly. Do you wish to sacrifice the woman?

(Also, “Do you wish to sacrifice the woman or yourself?” or, “Do you wish to slit the woman’s throat or slash your own wrists?”)

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The choice will lead to negative consequences for people either way. The negative outcome of the chosen option is clearly foreseeable to the user.

Workaround

Only the question, “Do you sacrifice yourself?” by itself would be legitimate since it does not involve the use of violence against other persons and since it is phrased in generic terms (in contrast to slashing one’s wrists).

 

Example 25: Excessive Use of Violence

Alternative 1

Player Choice

The suspect isn’t talking and you’re running out of time! Do you order your colleague to torture the suspect?

(Also, “Do you wish to torture the suspect?” or, “How do you wish to torture the suspect? With punches or with electroshocks?”)

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The user is offered to actively use violence and the degree of the violence is too much or too explicit in its description.

Alternative 2

Player Choice

The suspect isn’t talking and you’re running out of time! Do you wish to put pressure on him?

Consequences

YesYou threaten him. (Also permissible: You punch him.)

NoAnother murder occurs.

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The user is not explicitly offered to use violence. The degree of the violence is neither too much nor too explicit in its description.

Alternative 3

Player Choice

The suspect isn’t talking and you’re running out of time! Your colleague wishes to put pressure on him. Do you allow him to do so?

Consequences

YesYou threaten him. (Also permissible: You punch him.)

NoAnother murder occurs.

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

Even less intense than alternative 2 since the user does not make active use of violence. The degree of violence is neither too much nor too explicit in its description.

Practical Examples: “How Much Eroticism or Sex is Permitted?”

Example 26: Generic and Explicit Erotic or Sexual Actions

Alternative 1

Player Choice

Sarah takes you by the hand and leads you to the bedroom. Do you wish to kiss her?

(Also, “Do you wish to make out?” or, “How do you wish to kiss her? Softly, passionately, or kissing with tongues?”)

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

Kissing is harmless.

 

 

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

Sarah takes you by the hand and leads you to the bedroom. Do you wish to kiss her or to rip off her clothes?

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The action may be more explicit than in alternative 1, but it is not problematic yet. Also, erotic content will only be approved if the actions are taking place by mutual agreement.

 

 

 

Alternative 3

Player Choice

Sarah takes you by the hand and leads you to the bedroom. Do you wish to penetrate her with your penis and have sex with her missionary style?

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The wording of the content is too explicit. The mention of genitalia or specific sex positions or actions is not permitted. Erotic and sexual content has to be phrased in very generic terms. For teenagers, the Youth Protection Act or corresponding standards of the respective language region must be observed.

 

 

 

Alternative 4

Player Choice

Sarah takes you by the hand and leads you to the bedroom. Do you wish to lie down next to her and spend a beautiful and exciting night with her?

Rating

Approved for children under guidance

Explanation

The actions are being described in generic terms.

 

Practical Examples: “How Much Drugs and Drug Usage is Permitted?”

Example 27: Drug Usage

Alternative 1

Text Passage

The man is smoking a cigarette and having a glass of wine.

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The mere mention of drugs or addictive substances prevents certification as a skill for kids, regardless of whether it is part of a Player Choice or not.

 

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

The man offers you a cigarette and a glass of wine? Do you accept the offer?

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The consumption of addictive substances like alcohol or tobacco can be part of Player Choices in skills for adults.

 

 

Alternative 3

Player Choice

The man offers you heroin. Do you shoot up?

Rating

No approval

Explanation

The consumption of hard or illegal drugs like cannabis, cocaine, heroin etc. may not be part of a Player Choice. Furthermore, the description of the action is too explicit (to shoot up).

 

The simple mention of drug consumption (“you see the man shoot up”) will meet approval as a skill for adults as long as the user does not take an active part in it.

 

 

Alternative 4

Player Choice

The man offers you a cigarette with a cloying aroma. Do you wish to take a drag?

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

The consumption of soft drugs as part of a Player Choice is possible as long as the choice and the consequences are phrased in generic or hedged terms.

 

Practical Examples: “How Much Crime is Permitted”?

Example 28: Criminal Actions

Alternative 1

Player Choice

You see that, except for the cashier, no one is in the shop at the moment. Do you wish to pull out your weapon and demand that he give you the money from the cash register?

Rating

Approved for adults

Explanation

Criminal acts and illegal activities are certainly possible as options for Player Choices in fictional stories. The user could even cook crystal meth (“Breaking Bad” style), but they may not consume it herself.

 

 

 

Alternative 2

Player Choice

Do you wish to join the Cosa Nostra and take part in the attack on the American embassy in Italy?”

Rating

No approval

Explanation

Establishing connections to real criminal organizations (Yakuza, Gomorrah) is not allowed. Furthermore, the user may not make active or conscious choices that lead to violence against the state or state representatives.

 

Example 19: Hidden Player Utterances – Rewarding Attentiveness

Passage

[Narrator] The crime scene is a small room at the end of the basement complex. The back part of the room is shrouded in darkness, and with the scarce light from the corridor you can only make out a metal locker to the left and a bloodstain on the ground. Your colleagues have already removed the dead body and the crime weapon, but maybe they missed something.”

Player Choice as closed question:

“What do you wish to examine, the locker or the bloodstain?”

Player Choice as open question:

“What do you wish to examine?”

Continuation 1

🗣️ [Player] “The locker!”

[Narrator] “The locker is rusty, and there are several tools lying around in the upper compartment. Maybe this is where the culprit got the hammer for his deed. Now, do you wish to examine the bloodstain or leave?”

Continuation 2

[Narrator] “The blood has dried already, and the puddle is rather big. The victim must have suffered a quick death. Now, do you wish to examine the metal locker or leave?”

Continuation (Hidden)

🗣️ [Player] “The back part of the room!”

[Narrator] “It is too dark to make anything out, so you use your hands to blindly scan the ground. Your fingers find a round item stuck in a crack. You pull it out and carry it into the light. It is a large, black button stained with blood.”

Summary

Technical requirements:

  • You can have your story read by the Voice assistant, using text-to-speech, or upload audio files of the text spoken by a voice actor.
  • If you are using text-to-speech, the text between two player interactions may not be longer than 8,000 characters.
  • If you are using audio files, the time between two user interactions may not be longer than 240 seconds (Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant) or 120 seconds (Samsung Bixby).
 

Textual requirements:

  • Depending on the desired rating (children, children under guidance, or adults), specific requirements must be met.
  • Your stories should not be too extreme or too explicit in their depiction of violence or sex.
  • Player Choices that have the player actively and/or consciously harm other characters are to be avoided or should be rephrased in a less problematic way.
  • Violence, pornography, drug usage, and criminal acts may not be idealized or encourage the player to engage in such behavior in the real world.
  • If you are writing a story for children, violence, sex, and drugs are taboo.
Share The Post
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on whatsapp