Satya Nadella, chairman and chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during the virtual Meta Connect event in New York on Oct. 11, 2022.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Next time you’re bored on a Microsoft Teams call, try joining your colleagues in a game of Minesweeper.
Microsoft on Wednesday added a collection of casual games to its Teams chat and calling service as the company tries to get people to spend more time in the app. Solitaire will also be available, along with a new game called IceBreakers created by Microsoft to help teammates get to know one another.
Microsoft is attempting to cast Teams as the premier destination for work, expanding on a product that exploded during the pandemic, when employees were forced to gather and collaborate virtually. Teams is now available on most popular devices, and desktop software developers including Adobe and SAP have developed Teams integrations.
By adding games, Microsoft is trying to sprinkle some fun into the equation and perhaps even strengthen bonds at work. Employees can come together remotely to win at a game of Minesweeper, a puzzle game with clickable squares that includes some virtual mines that must be avoided. People can also just watch the entertainment.
“Enhanced spectator mode allows everyone, whether actively playing that round or not, to follow the action and engage with the players on screen,” Nicole Herskowitz, a Microsoft corporate vice president, wrote in a blog post. She likened it to the experience of watching “Jeopardy.”
Games are a familiar product for Microsoft. In addition to the whole Xbox franchise, which launched in 2001, the company has a host of ways to play casual games. The classic Klondike game, for example, is part of the Microsoft Solitaire Collection app for Windows.
In January, Microsoft announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, which publishes first-person shooter games in the Call of Duty franchise, for close to $69 billion. The deal must first clear regulatory hurdles.
Minesweeper and Solitaire both debuted with Microsoft in 1990. Solitaire, a variation of a card game from the 1800s, was a utility designed to help people get comfortable with Windows and learn to use a mouse, but it wound up becoming the most popular game on the operating system, The Washington Post reported in 1994. The newspaper said Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder and first CEO, had such a grave addiction to Minesweeper that he took the game off his PC.
The big play now for Microsoft is getting executives to renew and expand their subscriptions to Office 365, a critical bundle that the company is currently rebranding as Microsoft 365. Office represented 23% of Microsoft’s total revenue in the third quarter.
Microsoft is even positioning games as a potential way to improve cognitive development. In an email to CNBC, a Microsoft spokesperson cited a study of over 2,000 children suggesting that those who played video games saw gains in working memory compared with those who did not play.
As part of its new release, Microsoft is also bringing a mobile-friendly game called Wordament to Teams. The Boggle-like game appeared in 2011 after Microsoft asked employees to build Windows Phone apps in their free time, leading two staffers to devise the game as something for them to play with their wives. The game, which challenges players to spot words among a grid of letters, has racked up 1 million downloads on Android.
The Microsoft spokesperson said the IceBreakers idea was particularly popular.
“As we tested different game ideas across Microsoft, this was one of the most requested game types, and we listened to the feedback to create this game,” the spokesperson wrote in the email.
Minesweeper, Solitaire, Wordament and IceBreakers are in the Games for Work app for Teams, which is available now for Microsoft enterprise and education customers. Administrators have to enable access to apps in Teams for users to play the games. The company will pull more games from partners into Teams in 2023, Herskowitz wrote.
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