HQ Trivia. The Life and Death of a Viral Trend.

Note. The first section of this article written in December 2018 and focused specifically on the UK branch of the former viral trivia game HQ. Now that the HQ story has a definitive ending I figured it was time to go back and look at the story as a whole.

 In April of 2018 I was at a party for my dad’s, girlfriend’s, daughter (don’t ask.) Two of the girlfriend’s daughters got hugely excited at 9 PM and simultaneously opened up an app they had on their phones. This turned out to be a HQ Trivia. I’m not super familiar with what is going on in the app downloading world at any one time, so this was not an app I’d seen before. At around 9:03 PM after a title sequence a man appeared on the daughter’s collective phone screens standing behind what was obviously a green screen. The man’s name was Beric Livingstone. I was not aware of if he was some sort of celebrity or someone that had been drafted in specifically to   host this entirely phone delivered trivia quiz. Over the next 10 minutes Beric asked  the audience  12 multiple choice trivia questions (three options for each) starting off easy and getting progressively more difficult and the audience answering would get 10 seconds for each question (meaning if you know the answer straightway that was great but otherwise you had to guess pretty much instantly.) however many players were left after answering all 12 questions correctly in the allotted time would share price pot of £1,000. 

It became very clear what this was immediately after seeing this first game. This was Who Wants to be a Millionaire, on steroids for the 21st century. As someone who has always enjoyed the Millionaire format (I had recently watched and quite enjoyed the 20th anniversary Jeremy Clarkson hosted revival.) I was hooked pretty much instantly. I immediately went home and downloaded the app. The thing that has not been mentioned yet was the number of people playing this first game I witnessed. The view counter that appears in the corner of every live broadcast told me that around 80,000 people answered the first question in this game. I thought this was enormously impressive for something that I had barely heard of and sounded like quite a niche product. Over the next several months up until this article is being written in December of the same year I have played HQ Trivia pretty consistently (both afternoon and evening games) and I have seen it’s slow decline from pulling in around 70,000 players for weekday evening games and around 150,000 players the ” big Sunday game” (with an expanded £8,000 prize pot) to it’s struggling to maintain 40% of those numbers by December and from everything I can see basically being abandoned with no notice whatsoever. How did this happen? As someone who was bit by the proverbial bug of this vial trivia game, I think I have the answer.

After I initially started playing the game you could tell that HQ was riding very heavily on its initial success in the UK. Getting 150,000 participants (I know there’s high potential that a lot of them could be bots) is enormously impressive. As someone who loves trivia the “Millionaire on steroids” format was enough to keep me engaged and interested in logging on to my account and participating in the games at the scheduled time. That said, HQ UK committed the sin you see regularly with any sort of viral trend. It did not possess enough retention factor to keep your average Joe interested enough to login.  There was no variation in the types of games when HQ was at its biggest. In September of 2018 they finally started to add in some game variation but based on what I have seen since, their numbers are still declining and the way whoever is running the HQ app is treating the fans that are still left is questionable to say the least. HQ UK seems pretty much dead in the water. The game variants are good in concept and solid in execution (sports trivia games, games based on film trivia, games based on trivia related to specific Media franchises, games with only 100 potential winners, a game when one winner eventually one £10,000) but they very clearly did not achieve what was intended in  boosting the numbers back up to what they were during the peak of the HQ fad. If these game variants had been introduced during the peak of HQ popularity in the UK they might have been able to retain some audience and the app might still be going strong today.

That was written in December 2018. HQ UK did indeed disappear without much of a trace after that with no real explanation. UK players were encouraged to participate in the US games but since most of these were at 2 AM UK time. They weren’t really an option for most people. I tried the US version a couple of times, but it would be difficult for potential UK players to do well because the questions asked were very distinctly for a US audience. They had huge brand deals as well as occasional celebrity hosts (I remember watching when The Rock hosted to promote Rampage) and introduced a wide variety of different spin-off games all under the same umbrella in an attempt to diversify (Words, Sports, photo related games, After Dark) but these all seemed like slight variations on the formula. From what I could see they introduced a season system with players gaining points over a certain period all culminating in season finale with big cash prizes. They got through 14 Seasons before announcing this past weekend that the app was shutting down and its parent company was ceasing operations

There was one final game in the early hours of 15th February 2020. I wasn’t watching live but looking at some of the footage on YouTube two of the host what hosts (Anna Roisman and Matt Richards) were drinking live on stream, cursing out the games investors ,lamenting their newfound unemployment and hosting a final game where are all the questions were fast food related. It was an admittedly hilarious but somewhat sad end to a viral trend that could have been so much more is the business model chosen was more sustainable.

I think history will look back on HQ Trivia as something that was hugely ahead of its time. With some refinement and a more sustainable business model something like it (or something generally within the live app game sector) could be just as huge as HQ was at its peak. That said it’s sad to see something that was innovative and showcased the market size for games like this be reduced to a trivia question in and of itself (” what were the initials of the once wildly popular live mobile trivia game.”.)

PS. Below is the footage of the final broadcast/game as well as the video of when the Rock hosted

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