Back in early December I started hearing about a new trivia game you could play on your phone. I didn’t pay attention at first because I’d had trivia apps before and never really taken to them, despite enjoying trivia nights with friends and the Learned League trivia games. But then I heard that the trivia app wasn’t truly app format, you were playing in a live, hosted show at a specific time, lasting about 20 minutes. Games happen at 9pm ET every night and weekday afternoons at 3pm ET. So, I downloaded the game, experienced the HQ magic, and have been watching the number of players grow from around 250-300K when I started playing to a high of 1.2 million this past Sunday night at 9pm when the Golden Globes were on at the same time.
For a while I’ve been wondering how the 9pm HQ game would stack up to television ratings. Even when it started to consistently get over 500K I thought it could probably rank well enough for a cable network. Using this past week’s ratings as an example it wouldn’t have ranked in the top 25 shows for the week, but it’s not far off the bottom mark. That number could definitely rank on a weeknight at 9pm on cable and they’re getting closer to hitting it every day. There’s one regular host, Scott, who’s a reasonably amusing guy and keeps up a decent patter between questions and seems to have his own weird following in the game’s comment section. Some other hosts cycle in and out and they are pleasant to not entirely inoffensive, much like most prime time television.
So what’s the appeal of the game? Well, when it’s working properly it kind of feels like the sort of thing you used to see in movies and TV shows about the future. You open an app on your phone at a specific time and a host is on the screen reading questions that pop up on your screen with three possible answers and a 10 second timer. You tap the answer and everyone who gets it right moves onto the next question. There’s 12 questions per game. You’re playing with hundreds of thousands of other people in real time. There’s also a cash prize. When I started playing it was usually $1,000 but it’s grown to $2,000 most games with special big money games thrown in every could of weeks. Everyone who gets all 12 questions right splits the prize so a lot of times the payouts are between $5 and $20 but there was one $15,000 game that came down to three winners, who all won $500. How are they getting this money? According to the game’s FAQ it’s coming from “Intermedia Labs, Inc. and sometimes by affiliates, marketers, and partners.” I’ve had my suspicions for a while that there are some sponsored questions but I can’t prove it for sure. Still, it’s exciting to play for money and like all trivia games it’s less about the amount of money you win versus the amount of bragging rights you can earn from winning.
That’s when it’s working right. Like any kind of new tech, it’s not perfect. Games can suffer from some pretty intense lag, we had a fun bug one time where we could hear everything the host was saying but none of the questions popped up on our screen to actually answer. Just this week the lag kicked in on me in such a way that my timer was behind and I missed answering a question because just as I went to it kicked back to the host announcing the answer and the number of people moving on. If you refer people to the game you can get extra lives that will float you for one question per game. I once saw one get burned on a question I’d answered correctly for reasons I still don’t understand. The 9pm game has been pushed back past 10pm a few times due to technical difficulties. Still, it’s hard to get mad at people who are literally handing out free money.
So far I haven’t won any of that free money. I’ve gotten as far as question 10 a couple of times but typically drop out around question 6 or 7. The first couple questions are really easy, and they get harder as you go on. Some are weird enough that they have to be blind guesses on the part of everyone playing (like “which two Presidents had First Ladies with the same name?” if you actually knew that for certain you have weird wikipedia habits). The 10 second timer is a killer, but it’s designed to be so people can’t just plug questions into Google. It will also make you jump at an answer that looks familiar even if it’s a bad answer. I’ve played “with” people in order to increase the odds of one of us winning, and I’ve played alone. Both are fun in different ways.
HQ Trivia is now available on both iPhone and Android, so download it if you’re curious and give it a try. If you’re feeling generous you can use my player name as a referral code, BurgessG, and give me an extra life. In one sense you’ll be helping us all be winners! But in another very real sense, you’d be helping me, personally, get closer to winning. And I’d very much appreciate that.