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Image: Playco

Users of the popular video-conferencing platform Zoom will now be able to play social multiplayer games as they chat, as part of a new expansion of apps for the service.

Why it matters: The popularity of Zoom and gaming soared during the pandemic. As people isolate less, Zoom needs to give users more reasons to use video chat.

Between the lines: Zoom's first games include a poker game, a new riff on the popular social mystery game Werewolf, and a pair of releases from Playco, a company that specializes in so-called "instant gaming" that allows users to play without the need for extra downloads.

  • One of Playco's games, "Heads Up!," involves a player having to guess a word that's on the screen based on clues from teammates on Zoom. It originated as a game played on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show and has been popular on mobile.
  • "Ask Away" is a question-and-answer game meant to dig up people's personal fun facts. "It’s designed to play quickly while waiting for others to join a work meeting, as an icebreaker with fresh faces, and even to deepen relationships with lifelong best friends," Playco co-founder Justin Waldron told Axios.
  • Any user in a Zoom meeting can start the games and invite other users to play, and there's no maximum player count, Waldron said.

The bottom line: An open question is whether people will initiate Zoom calls for the purpose of playing the games themselves, or if they'll primarily use them to improve the dynamics of the kinds of Zoom calls — company meetings, occasionally awkward video-based family meetups — that millions of people have experienced over the past year.

Go deeper

"Pokémon Go" makers seek a hit with "Pikmin Bloom," a game made with Nintendo

Screenshots: Niantic, Nintendo.

Augmented reality video game studio Niantic is beginning a worldwide roll-out for “Pikmin Bloom,” the company’s newest effort designed to make going outside more fun.

Why it matters: Niantic created a cultural phenomenon with 2016’s “Pokémon Go,” and has partnered with Nintendo to try to engineer another mobile gaming hit.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.

The new normal: Google searches reveal America's COVID shopping habits

Data: The New Normal; Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

As the pandemic enters its third year, some of America's COVID-era shopping habits — including strong demand for tequila and sweatpants — are here to stay.

Driving the news: Axios worked with Google Trends and the Schema Design firm to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products Americans have Googled since 2020. Items with a lasting increase in search interest help fill in the details of what our "new normal" looks like.