Hq trivia stands for

Where Does The HQ Trivia Money Come From? Well, It’s Complicated

If you’ve yet to download HQ Trivia, the latest game craze to break the internet, you’re seriously missing out. With no buy in or cost to join, the new app-based game show, which offers cash prizes to its winning contestants, has fans wondering exactly where the HQ Trivia prize money comes from. As the scope of nearly every industry constantly continues to shift amidst the ever-changing advancements in technology, HQ Trivia seeks to modify the enjoyment of trivia-style gaming. The platform, which gives fans the opportunity to join a live game show experience straight from the palm of their hands, has become the latest viral sensation that everyone’s become glued to. But, the question is: how exactly do players get paid from the new app?

Though the game’s winning pot varies from game to game, Variety indicates that the payouts are supplied by the app’s developer, Intermedia Labs. As far as the app’s business module is concerned its unclear just how the startup intends to turn a profit. The company, which is comprised of Vine co-founders, Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, has indicated that generating money is not their current focus, as they’ve chosen to place their concentration on creating a fun user experience. With the overall goal to someday up the cash pool to $1 million, according to Variety. Of its plans to monetize in the future, Yusupov explains,

“If we do any brand integrations or sponsors, the focus will be on making it enhance the gameplay. For a user, the worst thing is feeling like, ‘I’m being optimized – I’m the product now.’ We want to make a great game, and make it grow and become something really special.”

Signing up to join in on the fun of HQ Trivia is quite easy as it only takes a few minuted to (an Android release is also planned) and enter your information. Once the game gets started, all it takes is a series of proper responses to cash in on the daily prize offering. Correctly answering all 12 multiple choice questions asked during the series will garner you a portion of the game’s prize pool. Although the pot is said to vary from game to game, the jackpot prize is certainly nothing to sneeze at, once rising to a whopping $8500 on Dec. 3 – which is a huge climb from its opening payout offering of $100.

The most a single player had won was $535 as of Nov. 21 with the average overall HQ Trivia jackpot coming in at about $1,000 according to Time. HQ Trivia’s pay out process is fairly simple as well, paying its winning contestants through PayPal once they accumulate more than $20 in winnings. If no one wins a game, the cash gets rolled over into the next series.

When it comes to playing the HQ Trivia, the instructions are pretty straight forward. All you have to do is answer 12 general trivia questions using three multiple choice answers. There is a total of 10 seconds allotted to answer each question with a countdown ticking during the last three seconds. Cheating via Google is nearly impossible due to the limited timespan of the quiz and one incorrect answer gets you eliminated from the game. Although the game does offer you a chance to get back into the game with an “extra life,” which can be earned by inviting friends to play. The correct answers are ultimately revealed after each question, which gives you an opportunity to brush up on your trivia for future games.

Fans can’t seem to get enough of the new quiz show, which has seen a growth spurt of exponential proportions following its soft launch back in August of this year. Since its summer roll-out the game has seen a steady increase in players which have mostly been received through word of mouth from past visitors, according to Variety. The games, which are played live at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on weekdays, have recently seen crowds in the hundreds of thousands flocking to the platform on a daily basis, according to CBS New York.

Playing HQ Trivia sounds like a total win-win for anyone who has ever dreamed of being on a game show like Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The competitive fun coupled with the exciting chance of snagging a cash payout makes this game show a complete no-brainer.

HQ Trivia Revenue and Usage Statistics (2019)

Standard daily evening HQ Trivia games see $5,000 divided between the winners, while afternoon games offer a smaller pot of $2,500. The Sunday edition is the highlight of the week, with $25,000 often on offer. The highest HQ Trivia prize money has risen is $400,000. The app remains free to play, relying on sponsorship and tie-ins from a number of prestigious names (including Warner Brothers, Nike, and GM).

The HQ Trivia app was originally launched in the US on iOS in August 2017, with an Android HQ Trivia launch following in the December of the same year. Over 2018 international shows were launched in the UK, Germany, and Australia, though these have since been discontinued (international players can still play the US edition). Apple TV compatibility was added in August 2018.

As well as the standard HQ Trivia game, participants can play HQ Trivia spinoffs. HQ Sports takes place twice a week for a share of $1,000. The daily HQ Words games take place after the standard evening edition, also for $1,000 – though special editions have seen up to $10,000 on offer.

The app was created by Rus Yusupov and the Colin Kroll – the pair formerly behind short-video app Vine. Guest presenters have included Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Neil Patrick Harris, Jimmy Kimmel, and Bert from Sesame Street. Scott Rogowsky hosts the main shows, with a supporting cast including Sharon Carpenter and Anna Roisman (HQ Words). Rogowsky has built something of a cult following as a result of hosting the quizzes.

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HQ Trivia was Time’s app of the year in 2017 and is regularly played by hundreds of thousands of participants – occasionally millions. It has suffered from a few reputational issues, ranging from bugs that have caused entire games to crash and difficulties cashing out, to the controversial history of the app’s creators (both were laid off from Twitter, Kroll was accused of inappropriate behaviour towards women, and was found dead after a drug overdose in late 2018), to the investments made by Donald Trump-backing Peter Thiel’s Founders Firm. The app is currently owned by Intermedia Labs.

Read on to find out more about how many people play HQ Trivia, its financial operations, and how much HQ Trivia winners have taken home.

Table of Contents

HQ Trivia User Statistics

HQ Trivia Questions and Formats

HQ Trivia Revenue Statistics

Key HQ Trivia Statistics

  • 12.8 million HQ Trivia downloads as of August 2018
  • Peak concurrent HQ Trivia audience is 2.4 million
  • 2.2 million tuned in for an HQ Trivia game hosted by The Rock, 1.7 million for special Nike edition
  • In January 2018 HQ Trivia topped trivia category in Apple App Store (third in games, and sixth overall) – it has plummeted since
  • Peak audience for discontinued UK edition is 270,000
  • Highest HQ Trivia prize pot to date is $400,000, coinciding with NBA finals
  • Biggest individual HQ Trivia winner claimed $50,000
  • HQ Trivia valued at $100 million after $15 million Founders Fund investment in March 2018
  • $10 million in HQ Trivia ad sales over 2018

HQ Trivia User Statistics

The peak concurrent HQ Trivia audience stands at 2.4 million, recorded in March 2018. 2.2 million tuned in to watch The Rock’s presenting slot the following month.

It was estimated in August 2018 that the HQ Trivia app had been installed 12.8 million times in total. 68% of these HQ Trivia downloads were to iOS devices.

The app broke the one million concurrent user mark in early January 2018, with 1.2 million people competing for a share of $10,000 (400 winners took home $24.45 each). Of these, 401,000 continued to watch until bitter end – even after most had been eliminated.

This peak represented nearly double anything that preceded it (nearly three quarters of a million tuned in on Christmas Day 2017 to play).

This marked the pinnacle of the app’s amazing early growth. The chart below also shows us the huge increase in weekly prize money.

Early HQ Trivia audience figures

Source: Jay Kapoor

HQ Trivia sources claim that the player base can reach 500,000 upwards. For midweek shows, however, average HQ Trivia audiences are more likely to be in the 200,000-400,000 range. Special editions can attract more viewers – for instance a Disney-themed edition saw audience figures climb north of 800,000.

The Sunday editions, which offer bigger prizes, also see spikes in usage. This effect is amplified when these Sunday games coincide with major events: the Super Bowl, the Oscars, or Christmas Eve.

Rises in HQ Trivia users coinciding with major events

Source: Washington Post

HQ Trivia has experienced something of a slowdown after its initial spectacular showing. By August 2018 it ranked 10th in US trivia games, after having previously occupied the top spot in the Apple App Store. It also fell from second to 196th in games, and from sixth to 585th overall. The peak ranks date back to January-February 2018.

The below snapshot was taken in November 2018 when it had declined further still in the game category.

HQ Trivia App Store rank

Source: Recode

Downloads had fallen from a monthly peak of two million in February 2018 to around 560,000 six months later. The latest App Annie figures available at the time of writing (early March 2019) shows the decline shows no sign of abating. It has fallen to 513 in games. In terms of trivia games it remains within the top-25, and overall it has plummeted to 1,423. These figures are iOS only.

This has been mirrored by a decline in Twitter followers, signifying not just a drop off in downloads, but a wider loss of cachet from the brand at large. Between reaching a peak of 410,000 in September 2018, follower count fell by 7,000 by November.

Decline in HQ Trivia Twitter followers

Source: Thinknum

The decline can partially be ascribed to the use of bots to cheat according to Thinknum – not a good look in the eyes of contestants trying to win their share of the pot. TouchArcade identify HQuack as a particularly easy-to-use bot (now offline), while Github is another resource for those looking to play dishonestly.

Reputational issues are also likely to have played a part – with accusations made against Kroll (who replaced Yusupov as Intermedia Labs CEO in 2018 until his death) as well investment from a Donald Trump-financing Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

The UK edition has been discontinued, after running for most of 2018. Reportedly, average audience figures stood at around the 125,000 mark, with 270,000 the peak figure.

Australian and German editions of HQ Trivia ran between July and August 2018, as ‘pilots’, with no further shows in the pipeline at the time of writing.

HQ Trivia winners

The most money won by a single person on HQ Trivia to date is $50,000. The biggest UK winner (as of April 2018) won £8,000.

It took some time to reach this point – $6,000 was the biggest individual win for some time. This was the result of two winners completing 12 questions for a pot of $12,000 on Christmas Eve 2017. They were competing in a field of 500,000. They were eventually overtaken in winnings by six HQ Trivia winners of a Sunday game in early March 2018, who split $50,000 between then, taking home $8,333.33 a piece.

The Washington Post broke down the data looking at HQ Trivia winners as a proportion of total players, and how much each took home.

HQ Trivia winners per total players and prize money

Source: Washington Post

In March 2018, a winner-takes-all format saw one contestant from North Carolina take home $25,000 after answering 18 questions correctly.

On average, reports the Washington Post, only two out every 25 players advance past the sixth round.

The best time to play HQ Trivia in terms of earnings per winner are reportedly Wednesday and Sunday. The least lucrative times are Tuesday and Thursday (it is unclear how this compares against number of winners).

Between October 2017 and early April 2018, HQ Trivia had handed out $1.2 million in prize money according to HQ Insiders (nonofficial data). These figures predate the days of six-figure prizes.

The largest HQ Trivia prize pot to date is the $400,000, coinciding with the NBA finals in 2018 (late May-early June). $300,000 was put up for grabs in partnership with Warner Brothers to mark the release of Rampage, starring The Rock, who also presented the episode.

Intermedia Labs CEO Rus Yusupov has stated a desire to increase the prize pot to $1 million. Typical winnings can be quite low, but the social element of the site (which features a leaderboard) seems to be as important to many players as the actual money.

In early 2019, HQ Trivia began to ran some games where no cash was up-for-grabs – just points that are totted up at the end of a ‘season’ (even for those who do not make it to the end of the game). The game previously awarded points for correctly answering questions, though this was the first time that no prize money was on offer. HQ Trivia insisted that this was an experiment rather than a sign of things to come, though as would be expected, there has been backlash from HQ Trivia players. It has been promised that the points can help users win future cash prizes.

In the early days, the HQ Trivia app prevented those with less than $20 in winnings cashing out (terms & conditions also stipulated that HQ Trivia could also impose a 90-day limit on the collection of winnings). The $20 stipulation was removed in early 2018, after some accused the app of being a scam.

More recently, some players have reported problems collecting their HQ Trivia winnings since August 2018. This may be connected with the use of Discord servers being used to cheat (a player was disqualified from a winner-takes-all HQ Trivia game in March 2018 for cheating). Anyone connected to one of these servers during a game may be red-flagged – whether or not they are actually cheating.

In January 2019, one HQ Trivia winner won a year’s worth of rent. A new partnership with GM also saw a Chevrolet Silverado given away as a prize.

HQ Trivia Questions and Formats

The 12 HQ Trivia questions usually come laced with ‘savage’ questions. These are those which see high levels of eliminations – often around the 70% mark. These are not planned, says Yusupov, but served up based on feelings.

In the aforementioned two-winner $12,000 game, the fifth-round question eliminated 90% of the remaining field.

A study by HQ Insiders found that between October 2017 and March 2018 the number of savage questions averaged at between two and three per game.

Savage questions per game

Source: HQ Insiders

This analysis also found that savage questions seemed to increasingly be occurring in earlier rounds, thus eliminating huge swathes of the field at an early stage.

Savage questions by round

Source: HQ Insiders

The question with the lowest correct answer rate in HQ Insiders’ analysis concerned the source of Popeye’s strength in the original comic strip. Only 1.1% of participants managed to get the answer – which isn’t spinach…

HQ Trivia spinoffs

In the summer of 2018 – coinciding with the World Cup in Russia – Intermedia Labs launched the first HQ Trivia spinoff game, HQ Sports, with an initial prize on $10,000. As the name suggests this game focuses on sports trivia. Concurrent usership increased to a peak of 156,000 on July 20 from 106,000 during the testing period – a rapid 43% increase. In all, 500,000 players competed. HQ Sports currently runs twice a week.

HQ Sports runs via the main HQ Trivia app, as does HQ Words, launched in December 2018. HQ Words is a hangman-type game in which users must complete words or phrases within a 25-second limit. HQ Trivia has been rebranded as HQ Trivia & Words since the launch of the new game.

HQ Words runs after the evening broadcast of HQ Trivia. Players can purchase extra lives to get more chances at guessing words correctly (the usual threshold is three incorrect guesses at letters). Random letters are assigned to each user.

As well as these HQ Trivia spinoff games, the quiz often hosts themed rounds, such as the aforementioned Rampage special edition. HQ Trivia has also hosted special Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars editions, often with special prizes related to the theme.

A takeover from The Voice, with $50,000 to play for as a well as a trip for the two to the finale of the reality show attracted 1.4 million HQ Trivia players. It also saw The Voice enjoy its best-ever Monday viewership figures since the first-ever episode.

Nike have also been involved with HQ Trivia, offering up a pair of exclusive sneakers in March 2018 – which saw 1.7 million viewers tuning in.

HQ Trivia rivals

As tends to be the case with viral sensations, the HQ Trivia app has spawned clones – including a spate of copycats in China, including Million Dollar Hero from TikTok/Toutaio parent company ByteDance. Baidu and Alibaba have also produced HQ Trivia-aping games. Reuters report that up to six million people log into these games concurrently. In India, Loco games can clock nearly two million users (as of April 2018).

It’s not just Asian rivals which have emerged in response to HQ Trivia’s success. Majority Rules was launched by the creators of an HQ Trivia cheat app, while The Q has attracted advertisers including US-focused music streaming service Pandora (and in fact was launched on Android before HQ Trivia) and struck up a range of brand partnerships with sports associations, including the NBA, MLB, and Fox Sports. There’s also a potential threat from Facebook, which has released a gameshow format for creators.

The Q offers a smaller prize pool than its more famous rival.

HQ Trivia Revenue Statistics

HQ Trivia revenue is generated through advertising rather than in-app sales or a download fee. The founders went on record to state that interstitial advertisements between questions were not an option. Founder and Intermedia Labs CEO Rus Yusupov tweeted in April 2018 that they were committed to making advertising something that users would not mind – comparing this approach with that of Facebook, hauled in front of congress to justify what it was doing with user data.

Instead, we saw HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky namecheck brands, working them into questions. Warner Brothers were the first to participate in this sort of advertising, and contributed to a special prize pot of $250,000. This way of working functions more like a marketing initiative than a sponsorship, said NBC, who paid for an HQ Trivia takeover by The Voice.

We would, however, see the introduction of a 15-second video ad in August 2018 – played before a midweek afternoon game: an advertisement once again from Warner Brothers (for new release The Meg). Other lined-up advertisers included Chase, Google, and MillerCoors.

An extended sponsorship deal with Google – along with the launch of HQ Words – was delayed after Kroll was found dead from a drug overdose.

It is thought that HQ Trivia generated a total of $10 million in ad revenue for Intermedia Labs over 2018, as of mid-December. At least $3 million of this came from Warner Brothers, in return for the promotion of three films – excluding The Meg. There will be no commitment to fatten the pot for purchasers of video advertisements.

It should be noted that all three of the promoted Warner Brothers films debuted number one at the box office after launching after HQ Trivia tie-ins. Nike also saw the trainers given away in a special edition rank as of the year’s best-selling.

Narcity also identify simple data sales – peak playing times, gender/age/location stats – as a source of HQ Trivia revenue, though stats on precisely how much HQ Trivia revenue (if any) is actually generated through this source are hard to come by.

As of early January 2019, HQ Trivia reported that it was profitable on a per-show basis – though overall was still operating at a loss.

HQ Trivia valuation and funding rounds

HQ Trivia raised $15 million in a funding round in March 2018, with investment led by Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund (spearheaded by partner Cyan Banister) and backed by previous investor Lightspeed Partners. The round may well have raised more money, but allegations that came to light concerning sexist behaviour from Colin Kroll while at Twitter and Vine caused prospective investors to suffer from cold feet (Kroll later apologised for this behaviour).

This investment was made based on a $100 million post-money valuation.

Final thoughts

HQ’s dramatic rise in its first six months or so seemed to herald a bold new age. The user participation, the cash prizes, and the real-time broadcast looked set to change the world, no small number of journalists declared.

The rapid ascent of Intermedia Labs’ app, and the potential perceived within it to revolutionise several media formats, only caused us to feel the slowdown that followed ever harder – as a blow. As download numbers plummet, and concurrent player levels remain well below the pinnacle of early 2018, the consensus seems to be that the game has peaked and is something close to terminal decline.

Seemingly, the only thing to come out of the situation intact is the celebrity of much-loved HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky, the cult of whom is evidenced by the backlash when he was threatened with the sack by Yusupov over an unauthorised interview he gave to the Daily Beast – the latter later apologised).

What can we take from all this? Well, to start with, though HQ Trivia’s fortunes have seemingly declined, the spate of copycat apps that have arisen around the world show that there is something compelling about the egalitarian, live format. Perhaps we will come to see more of this in different contexts in the near future.

And what about the app itself? As it stands, it seems unlikely that HQ Trivia will once again reach the dizzy heights of those early days – though we should never rule out a new unexpected lease of life. Yusupov has stated that the viral nature of games means that we cannot expect such peak activity to last forever. The ‘experiments’ currently being carried out suggest that HQ Trivia is unsure about from where the next viral peak will come, however.

On the other hand, it seems high-profile sponsors are still coming on board – meaning the question of how HQ Trivia makes money is being answered for the time being. With hundreds of thousands still logging in to play as well, it’s still pulling numbers with which many smaller apps would still be more than satisfied.

When the bar is set so high, however, we cannot help but wonder what might have been had things panned out differently…

The hidden reason most people never saw a penny from HQ Trivia — until now

Update: On January 26, HQ Trivia announced on Twitter and during the game that it would be removing the $20 threshold and allowing users to cash out at any level. The original article about the $20 cash-out minimum is below.

It’s payday, baby! We’ve removed the minimum balance required to cash out your HQ winnings. Put that money in the bank today!

— HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) January 26, 2018

If you’re one of the few and the lucky, you may have made it all the way to the end of HQ Trivia’s twice-daily roundup of 12 trivia questions. The app-based game show, which has taken the land by storm ever since its debut in late October 2017, is famously difficult to win — and not just because the questions get harder as you go along. Increasingly, as the app continues to explode in popularity, glitches and lags often jolt people out of the ability to answer correctly before the scant 10-second window to answer is up.

Those glitches can actually end up benefitting the lucky few who manage to stay connected and win the game. But even if you do win a piece of that day’s jackpot, there’s a catch, and it’s a big one: Most people who win HQ Trivia will never get to collect their cash. Yes, that includes the woman whose $11 win went viral because of her overjoyed reaction. Sorry, Lauren.

Because of some fine print in HQ Trivia’s Terms of Service, most players who win HQ Trivia will likely get caught in a tricky catch-22 that prevents them from being able to cash out their prize money.

This trap has two parts. The first is a requirement that you can’t cash out unless you win at least $20. Although the jackpot for HQ Trivia has been climbing higher and higher, with some recent prizes ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, its pool of participants has also been climbing, which means the amount split by the number of winners is usually less than $20. That means that if you want to actually take home your $1.86 in earnings, you have to play again and win again — until you’ve won enough times to bump your overall winnings up to the $20 mark.

That would be difficult enough, if not insurmountable, but there’s another obstacle to overcome that makes it even less likely. Not only are contestants required to play until they win the full $20, they only have 90 days to do it. After that, the Terms of Service declares, HQ Trivia can decline to award you your money:

A Contest winner’s failure to cash-out the Prize within the specified 90 days will be considered such Contest winner’s forfeiture of the Prize and Sponsor may, at its option and sole discretion, choose not to award the Prize at all.

Given how hard it is to win to begin with, the odds seem stacked against you winning the full $20 in three months, even if you play every day, twice a day. That means HQ Trivia is probably keeping far more money than it’s giving away.

What’s unique though is “winning” and people keep asking how in the world do they have all this money.
It’s been infuriating b/c when you “WIN” you can’t cash out until you have $20 minimum. So, HQ isn’t losing $$ but retains it when people don’t come back or “cash out”.

— Jason Hendrix (@JasonMHendrix) December 18, 2017

So far, it seems like few people have cottoned on to this tactic. Then again, it also seems clear that plenty of people are happy to play through the glitches, lags, and shady business model in order to have a chance at winning for the sake of winning.

After all, game shows, pub quiz nights, and trivia contests have always been popular, whether or not contestants were able to walk away with a prize. For most of us, a huge part of the appeal is flexing your own memories and intellect and seeing how far you can go.

And to those gamers, we say: Good luck! Especially since bragging rights for your unlikely win will most likely be your only takeaway from the HQ experience.

HQ Trivia has exploded in popularity in the past few months.

With millions of people using the popular live game show, it’s clear the mobile app, which was founded by the co-creators of Vine, is here to stay. So, here are your answers to some to the most frequently asked questions about HQ Trivia, including how it works in the US and the UK.

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  • Game sho host frequently changes, per region

HQ Trivia is a live trivia mobile app that you can play for real money. Once the game starts, the host of that game, which frequently changes, will appear on your mobile screen and start talking. Usually, they will talk too much, then they’ll crack a few jokes, and they’ll explain the rules. When they actually start the game, they’ll ask you – and the hundreds of thousands of other people playing – some questions.

The question will appear along with three potential answers on your screen. Simply tap on the answer you want to choose, and if you get it right, you move on to the next question. If you answer all 12 questions correctly, you will win money. That’s it!

When does HQ Trivia happen?

  • 3pm and 9pm US time
  • 3pm and 9pm UK time

In the US, the game goes live at 3pm and 9pm on weekdays and 9pm on weekends – whether in the US (EST) or the UK (GMT). However, if you load the app at any time, it’ll tell you when the next game is scheduled to go live. Typically, HQ Trivia goes live twice a day on weekdays and usually just once each day on the weekend. Make sure you know what time HQ goes live in your time zone, so you don’t miss out.

Sometimes there will be surprise games at different times, so be sure to have app notifications turned on for HQ Trivia. The game also has a regular game show hosts per region, though he or she has occasionally has substitutes, including celebrity hosts, such as host the TV show host Jimmy Kimmel and even the character Bert from the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street.

Where is HQ Trivia available?

  • It is available worlwide
  • US version launched in 2017, UK version launched in 2018

The HQ Trivia app is worldwide, though it is geared toward both US and UK audiences. The prize money is always in USD, and there are often quite a few questions that are American-centric. But the UK version, which just launched, features questions more specific to the UK’s culture and history. As of right now, it has smaller payouts, and it has a much smaller audience. It’ll likely increase as it gets more popular.

  • Host appears and starts talking
  • Question and three answers appear you to choose

Once the game starts, the host of that game will appear on your screen and start talking. The question – along with the three potential answers – will pop up on your screen. You have 10 seconds to select an answer, and if you get it right, you’ll move on to the next question. If you happen to answer all 12 questions correctly, you will win money. If not, you will lose, and then you can then exit out of the app for the day.

Can you win money on HQ Trivia?

  • You need to answer 12 questions correctly
  • Money will be added to your account, connected to PayPal

Yes. If you answer all 12 questions correctly, you will win your share of the prize money. When you win, the money will be added to your HQ account, which can be connected to a PayPal account of your choice. As soon as you win any amount of money, you can transfer the funds from HQ into your PayPal. And you can cash out immediately after winning any amount of money.

What do you need to play HQ Trivia?

  • You need an Android or iOS device
  • Also need the HQ Trivia app

You need an iOS or Android device. The iPhone, iPad, and Android phones and tablets can all download the HQ Trivia app.

How do you get an extra life in HQ Trivia?

  • You can invite friends or family to get an extra life
  • They will need your HQ username/referral code

If you get a question wrong or don’t answer in time, you’re automatically eliminated from the game. However, you can receive extra lives by inviting people to play. An extra life allows you to stay in the game – even if you answer a question wrong. Just hit the invite button to share the app with a text message, social post, or email. You essentially need to invite your family and friends to download the app.

Note: Friends or family will need your referral code, which is just your HQ username. Also, when you’re eliminated from the quiz and you have an extra life, you will be asked if you want to use it. If you choose to use it, you will get back into the game. If not, you’ll have to wait until next time. Just keep in mind you can only use one extra life per game – so you need to use them wisely.

Can you chat with others on HQ Trivia?

  • There is a chat room available
  • You can swipe it away

HQ Trivia has a chat room on the bottom of the screen that allows users to type messages to everyone in the room. Fortunately, you can get rid of the chat by swiping right on it at any point during the game, so you can focus on the questions, rather than pointless chatter.

What is ‘Friends on HQ Trivia’?

Launching soon in the UK and the US is a “Friends on HQ” feature. It lets you connect with friends in order to see who’s actively playing in any given game and compare high scores and wins. An HQ spokesperson says: “This update forms the basis of a variety of new features that HQ will be rolling out soon, leveraging friends’ connections.” However, we don’t yet know what form those new features will take.

We’ll keep you posted.

Is HQ Trivia a modern reinvention of the game show or a glitch-filled scam?

It’s nearly 9 pm, and if you’re like the one million other avid users of HQ Trivia, the new live trivia app from the creators of Vine, you’re itching to grab your phone and play along with all the other “HQ-ties.”

Will you reach the end and walk away with a mildly life-changing sum of money (or even $11)? Almost certainly not — but that hasn’t stopped people from flocking to this curious app-based trivia show. And controversy and confusion over its business model hasn’t stopped venture capitalists from lining up to invest in the game — or rather, it’s only stopped some of them.

There’s no question that HQ Trivia is a hit. But if you’re wary about an app that gives you money (or withholds your money, depending on how you look at it) without asking for anything in return, you’re not alone. From its founders’ history of shady behavior to where the money comes from, HQ is sometimes short on answers.

HQ Trivia took the classic TV game show and turned it into the perfect game for the internet: a group activity you can enjoy alone

HQ Trivia

The concept of HQ Trivia, a twice-daily quiz show that usually airs at 3 pm and 9 pm Eastern, is simple: A friendly host livestreams to you 12 multiple-choice trivia questions. Each round, the questions get harder, winnowing down the participants. If you make it to the end, you and any other winners split that game’s cash prize, which can vary from $2,000 to $10,000, and once even $20,000.

The app appeared to great fanfare in October 2017 from two of the former co-creators of Vine, Colin Kroll, and Rus Yusupov. It’s currently available only for the iPhone; earlier this month a beta version for Android appeared, but there’s no official release date for the full Android version.

HQ Trivia is an elaborate modern-day spin on the traditional televised game show, borrowing from that format the use of live hosts — HQ has several rotating hosts, though the most famous by far is prime-time host Scott Rogowsky — and the anything-could-happen excitement of live programming.

But the show also has to juggle the difficulties of livestreaming in a mobile app format, delivering the instant interactivity that makes the game actually playable. This isn’t always smooth sailing: If the game glitches mid-stream, as it often does, hosts have to vamp their hearts out, in hopes of keeping frustrated players from bailing while the technical difficulties are resolved.

That doesn’t happen very often in televised game shows, but HQ’s frequent technical difficulties do at least heighten the immediacy of the environment and the sense that we’re all in this together.

The game’s connectivity is, so far, its chief selling point. A frequent image touted in media stories about HQ is that of a generic group of co-workers taking a break from the daily grind every afternoon to play the game — a 15-minute diversion enjoyed by all, the modern-day corporate equivalent of “fun for the whole family.”

The stalwart trivia-based game show has been launched and re-launched in every conceivable way, from The $64,000 Question in the 1950s to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the early aughts — and, of course, Jeopardy, the longest-running trivia game show of all. But those shows, as fun as they are to watch, are still passive experiences for the viewer.

HQ Trivia lets you play along at home while connecting with everyone else who’s playing along at home. Because HQ Trivia is a live app with a chat, you can instantly see hundreds of thousands of other players joining, leaving, or reacting to the game (and just as easily make them disappear with a swipe that hides the app’s chat function).

This heady atmosphere is intensified further by the 10-second time limit to answer a question. Anyone who’s played the game has had the experience of Jimmy Kimmel’s aunt, watching the clock wind down while they’re still trying to weigh in with the correct answer — and most of us have probably responded as she did: “Is that it? This is bullshit!”

It all feels not totally unlike a frenzied dystopian reality show, except that instead of winning a ticket to paradise, you just get a tiny amount of cash with nebulous origins and a shower of colorful digital confetti. And, if you lose, instead of getting killed, you just get a vague sense of annoyance and the consolation of knowing that up to tens of thousands of people just lost at the same time you did.

HQ’s breakout star is known for being likably chill. Its founders, less so.

HQ Trivia

The game’s other biggest selling point is its most popular host, Scott Rogowsky. Typically, the game’s hosts rotate through a few regulars, including Sharon Carpenter, Sarah Pribis, and Casey Jost, with occasional guest turns from stars like Jimmy Kimmel. Rogowsky usually hosts the 9 pm slot, drawing the biggest crowds — which has led to him becoming a minor celebrity.

He’s known for his dapper suits, his gallant stalling tactics when the game inevitably glitches, and for this Daily Beast article, in which HQ co-founder Yusupov showed a bizarre, megalomaniacal overreaction to Rogowsky’s attempt to do a basic, get-to-know-you sort interview.

Yusupov threatened to fire Rogowsky for doing the interview, even though both the questions and his responses were about as light and pedestrian as you’d expect from a game show host. (He mentioned liking Sweetgreen salads.)

Rogowsky, by contrast, came across like a pretty chill, nice, cool guy — an image he’s successfully maintained even as his app’s founders have been milkshake ducking it right and left. While Yusupov later apologized for his bizarre freakout over the Daily Beast article, a December investigation by Recode would turn up even more reason to be wary of Yusupov and Kroll.

Recode’s article followed news that the duo was attempting to achieve a valuation of $100 million in a round of venture capital funding for HQ Trivia. Initially, plenty of VC investors seemed eager to sign on board; but Recode spoke to several who confessed they were wary because of the pair’s history.

At Vine and subsequently at Twitter, Kroll gained a reputation for exhibiting “creepy” behavior around women, as well as being a bad manager with an “abrasive” and “abusive” temperament. Kroll only lasted 18 months at Twitter after the platform acquired Vine; he was fired in 2014. Yusupov, who was never given managerial responsibilities at Twitter, was laid off in 2015. Numerous anonymous sources told Recode they were worried Kroll’s reputation might mask instances of sexual harassment — an increased concern for potential investors in the #MeToo era.

Despite this worry, Recode reported in February that HQ Trivia had indeed moved ahead with its $100 million valuation and was vying for a new $15 million round of funding. The round reportedly kicked off with an infusion from a firm founded by notorious billionaire and venture capitalist Peter Thiel. Thiel’s affiliation with Donald Trump and his ongoing pursuit of the destruction of Gawker Media has made him a frequently loathed public figure, and the news that he’s now involved in HQ Trivia led to a backlash among some users, resulting in the hashtag #DeleteHQ — though it didn’t seem to make much of a dent in the app’s number of daily players.

Is HQ Trivia a kind of scammy app? Signs point to yes.

This is what the game usually looks like for most of us. Note the half-hour delay in start time, too.

There are other reasons to be wary of HQ Trivia beyond the conduct of its founders — most notably, ongoing questions about where the prize money is coming from, and how the app can make money when so far all it’s doing is purportedly giving money away without advertising or pursuing any visible revenue streams. Yusupov has handwaved away this question by implying that the game’s investors just want to make something fun for now, and aren’t worried about revenue.

“I can’t really speak to it — they’ve got a strategy and they’re figuring it out,” Rogowsky said when asked recently about the app’s financial vision. The app seems to thrive on this breezy uncertainty; it won’t even confirm what the “HQ” stands for. So far, it seems most people are content to play along — literally — with this cavalier disregard for sustainability.

But increasingly, it seems the shine is wearing off. “The hottest trivia game around is a laggy app,” Pajiba recently declared. Indeed, HQ’s constant glitches, lags, and unreliability make winning an unlikelihood, stacking the odds against the player in a game that feels increasingly more like a scam than a good time.

“HQ isn’t fun anymore,” opined the Verge after the game “started to feel gross” when it ratcheted up the prize money despite still having the same unwieldy technical difficulties it had when just a few thousand people were playing.

The Atlantic went even further: “HQ Trivia Is a Harbinger of Dystopia,” it announced, pointing out that the game’s unreal presentation, paired with its ability to pit thousands of users against one another in a frenzied quest for “table scraps,” smacked of a classic cyberpunk-esque society on the verge of collapse.

The coup de grace of the app’s minuscule award handouts: Even if you win, you’ll likely find it very difficult to claim your payout.

This is because until very recently the game had a loophole that prevented you from cashing out until you’d made at least $20 — a catch-22 that ensured people have to keep returning and battling the incredibly small odds of winning a few dollars.

All she has to do is win 19 more times to see some cash ‍♂️

— BigMike McD-Bo (@eagleyez317) January 19, 2018

Not only that, but a sneaky clause in HQ’s terms of service mandates that you only have 90 days to claim your winnings — or else you forfeit your entire prize, and HQ can “choose not to award the Prize at all.”

On January 26, seemingly in response to backlash over these stipulations, HQ Trivia announced that it would no longer be enforcing the $20 minimum threshold before allowing players to cash out. The 90-day window to claim your prize remains, however, so if you do manage to eke some money out of the game, don’t sleep on cashing out.

(Vox has reached out to HQ Trivia for comment on this clause in its terms of service — a feat that was made difficult by the undeliverable email addresses strewn across the scant web presence of its parent company, Intermedia Labs. We have not received a response.)

To be fair to HQ Trivia, one argument for the game not being a scam is the fact that the cash pool keeps climbing higher, while the questions keep getting more advanced and the game glitchier.

That means more people exiting the player pool — through either user error or technical glitch — which means those who do make it through to the end have a chance of winning larger sums of money. For instance, on Friday, January 19, just 21 winners split a $2,000 prize, so they each walked away with a smooth, ready-to-claim $95. That’s not too shabby — but given that the game began with nearly 800,000 contestants, it’s not exactly a guarantor of future high payouts.

It’s significant that the lead-in to most stories about HQ Trivia isn’t, “This laggy app run by sketchy founders won’t tell you about its monetization plans, and probably won’t let you take home whatever tiny amount of money you manage to win.”

Instead, the media presentation of HQ Trivia has fallen more in line with TechCrunch’s initial breathless assessment. “It’s simple, but feels extraordinarily fresh and urgent,” Josh Constine wrote in October. “I’ve played just once, and it’s already craveable.”

In other words, HQ Trivia lies at the complicated intersection of technology and sociopolitical dysfunction that seems to sum up much of the modern internet. You say craveable, I say dystopian; let’s call the whole thing app.

This article has been updated to include HQ’s removal of the $20 cashout minimum and additional information about HQ Trivia’s funding.

HQ Trivia Is Finally Making Money. Here’s How It Pays Its Winners

More than 2 million people logged onto their phones at the same time during the Oscars. But it wasn’t to tweet about Jimmy Kimmel or Frances McDormand.

It was to play an app called “HQ.”

HQ is a trivia app craze that invites users to play a quiz game show in real-time with live, professional hosts. And—thanks to new sponsors like Nike and Warner Brothers—the app is handing out hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Every day at 9 p.m. EST (and, during the week, 3 p.m. EST), players load up the mobile app to play for real prize money. If a player answers 12 questions correctly, she splits the jackpot with other winners. Players typically win between $10 and $12, and some jackpots have reached $18,000. Winners get their money through a PayPal deposit.

Got to question 10 on HQ and was freaking out, but so many people won they only got $13

— Trevor Koepke (@TrevorKoepke) January 3, 2018

HQ’s popularity—and the fact that the trivia app is free—has led some to wonder: How does HQ make enough money to gives away thousands of dollars in prizes?

The company is backed by venture capital, a rep for HQ Trivia told Money in January, months before it raised an additional $15 million in venture funding. At the time, HQ Trivia said it was not focused on profitability, meaning those jackpots were being paid out by deep-pocketed Silicon Valley investors betting the game will get big enough that, eventually, companies will pay to be associated with it.

That bet seems to have paid off. HQ Trivia recently inked advertising deals with Warner Bros. and Nike that will allow it to hand out record-breaking jackpots. Warner Bros. is partnering with HQ Trivia to promote its upcoming film ‘Ready Player One,’ based on the science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, and giving away a $250,000 jackpot. Ad Age, citing a person familiar with the marketing program, says HQ Trivia will name the sponsor and include questions that relate to the film.

This Wednesday, Ready Player One and HQ Trivia invite you to join the leaderboard! Download the HQ Trivia App to play: https://t.co/FsnefCe3T9 pic.twitter.com/xLwhxvhNM4

— Ready Player One (@readyplayerone) March 26, 2018

The trivia app is also partnering with Nike for Air Max Day, an annual “holiday” commemorating the release of Nike’s first Air Max sneakers on March 26, 1987. The shoemaker is releasing a limited edition of the iconic Air Max 1 this year and sponsoring a $100,000 jackpot. HQ Trivia told MONEY it will be giving away “a prize that money can’t buy, for 100 winners” and offered this tweet as a clue to what the prize could be.

Don’t miss it. #AirMax Day. https://t.co/2XH5TJJhJh

— Nike (@Nike) March 25, 2018

Yusupov and Colin Kroll, two founders of the now defunct social media company Vine, launched HQ Trivia last fall. It was built by Intermedia Labs, the app developer they created after they left Vine. While their individual net worths are not known, Twitter bought Vine in 2012 for $30 million.

HQ Trivia is still in the early stages of becoming profitable. Prior to its most recent round of funding, the company raised $8 million and was asking venture capitalists to value it at between $80 million to $100 million, according to Recode.

HQ Trivia founders Rus Yusupov (L) and Colin Kroll (R) Gabe Ginsberg—Getty Images for Variety

Recode also reported that “at least three prominent investors have decided against funding the startup after finding troubling conduct on the part of the founders they uncovered during due diligence.” It is not clear what that behavior was. The Daily Beast published a story last year in which one of HQ Trivia’s co-founders threatened to fire HQ’s most popular host, Scott Rogowsky, if the story ran because Rogowsky was initially not given permission to speak to reporters. Yusupov later apologized for “being a jerk.”

The app launched on Android earlier this year, making it available to an even wider audience.

What Happens When You Win HQ Trivia Live, From Two Actual Winners

Every day, at approximately 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST, hundreds of thousands of eager mobile gamers hole up in their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, office cubicles (or literally anywhere else), thumbs curled over their smartphone screens, ready to play HQ Trivia. But with each 14-minute lightning round yielding a relatively meager pool of victors (usually between seven and 15), the other 99.9 (and then some) percent is left wondering what actually happens when you win HQ Trivia. To shed a bit more light on the elusive gameshow victory, a pair of real, live champs, Sami and Justin, spoke to Bustle via email about how they came out on top.

At 9 p.m. sharp on Sunday, Dec. 3, 27-year-old Sami and her boyfriend, 27-year-old Justin, whipped out their phones, ready to go. The two have made quite a habit of playing HQ Trivia, which usually pays out around $1000 to be split among the winners, but, as is the case for the vast majority of players, an actual win seemed next to impossible.

On the evening of Dec. 3, though, the HQ Trivia jackpot was set at a lofty $8,500. “It was so exciting,” Sami remembers. And then, at the host’s cue, questions began flashing across her smartphone screen: What is the color of puce? What is the closest major city to Japan? What language was 99 Balloons originally written in?

HQ Trivia on YouTube

Their joint strategy, Sami says, was the same as always: “Sit down on the couch with both of our phones.” When they were unsure of an answer, she would select one option and Justin would select another in the hopes that one of their two answers is correct. Justin (who Sami describes as something of a “history buff”) took on the history-related Q’s (i.e. Which of these names is not the name of a President?), while Sami stepped up for the pop culture and food-related inquiries.

Then, the twelfth — and final — question flashed across Sami’s iPhone screen. It asked players which Soviet Bloc leader opposed Stalin during the time of Soviet Russia — fortunately, Justin’s world history wheelhouse. And, as it turns out, he knew the answer. “After we submitted our answer for question 12, our hearts were beating so fast,” Sami says, “as if we just ran a marathon. After we saw we answered correctly and saw how much money we won, we were dead silent.”

Because, for Sami (and the rest of the sparing crowd of victors like her), winning HQ Trivia isn’t for real for real until you’ve watched your earnings rack up in your PayPal account just minutes after you’ve won. She and Justin, who have been dating for 4.5 years, split the cash 60-40, respectively, since they played using her phone that night. Rules are rules, after all.

Courtesy of Sami

For those not yet in the know, HQ Trivia is, among other things: a viral mobile game show app for iOS (think Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?, but digital, and from the comforts of your own home), brought to you by the co-founders of Vine. The app allows players to tap in from anywhere in the world and compete for some pretty generous cash prizes. Per the go-ahead from one of HQ Trivia’s now-famous hosts — either British TV personality, Sharon Carpenter, or New York-based comedian (and fan-favorite) Scott Rogowsky — players are presented with a conceivably bizarre string of 12 Jeopardy-style questions. Whichever players have answered every question correctly take home the cash; if there is more than one winner (and there usually is), the cash prize is divvied up among them.

“I did a crazy dance, and I don’t dance,” Sami says of her win, “I also didn’t believe that it was real at first.” As for Justin, his feelings about the victory were “indescribable,” but he does have one memorable metaphor: “It’s like passing a kidney stone.”

Sami and Justin may have won on one of HQ Trivia’s biggest cash prize nights, but replicating their success isn’t as hard as it seems. In fact, they have advice for perspective HQties who are waiting on their own wins.

“Don’t give up! Miracles can happen! Always go with your first instinct,” Sami says.

“Keep playing. Keep your head up. You’ll get your shot at the leaderboard one day,” Justin agrees.

As the numerous tweets and social media posts from people who have done the seemingly impossible and won the game prove, your time to pass that kidney stone could be just around the corner.

Sources say the external response was just one facet: HQ employees had no idea about the new initiative, leading to confusion internally.

That’s just one example of the internal confusion at HQ Trivia, which in October 2017 was heralded as the future of TV. A few months short of two years later, the company’s future is in question, and the company has now turned down a new funding round from Lightspeed Venture Partners, Digiday has learned.

To its credit, HQ did become a viral sensation and made millions of dollars in revenue over the last year, unlike many consumer app startups that leave that for much later in their history. HQ had made $15 million since the company’s inception to February, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. It launched sponsored games with Nike and Warner Brothers and later secured other big-name advertisers like NBC, ABC and CBS. This month, HQ’s sponsored show for “The Lego Movie 2” was nominated for an Emmy.

But HQ needs money, not just Emmy nominations. TechCrunch reported in April that HQ was burning through $1 million a month. The games may be free to play — for now — but they’re far from free to produce. To keep existing, HQ is looking beyond advertising to monetize its user base with more in-app purchases like gaming apps have done. (For HQ Trivia, extra lives go for $3.99 for one and $9.99 for three.) An HQ spokesperson told Digiday that the company has made $5 million from in-app purchases alone. Simultaneously, HQ is working on programmatic advertising, the spokesperson said.

HQ also sought to cut costs through layoffs. On July 1, HQ laid off 20% of its staff, shrinking to under 30 employees. It’s another step in low morale that has pushed other HQ employees to voluntarily leave for new positions, including its marketing manager and two brand partnership leads, per LinkedIn. HQ is hiring for engineering roles, according to LinkedIn.

All these efforts come as HQ recently turned down a term sheet of new funding from Lightspeed Venture Partners.

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The new funds could have helped HQ make some big hires in charge of making more shows or be put toward marketing to boost its declining viewerships. But the deal came with a caveat. In February 2018, HQ raised $15 million at a $100 million post-money valuation, led by Founders Fund with participation from Lightspeed. This round would have been a down round, sources say.

Lightspeed and Founders Fund did not respond to requests for comment.

These moves come months into HQ’s reported search for a new CEO. Co-founder and former CTO Colin Kroll had taken on the role of CEO, previously held by co-founder Rus Yusupov, in September 2018, in part motivated by conflicts between the co-founders and under the advice of Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew, Recode reported. But following Kroll’s death in December 2018, Yusupov was put back in charge as interim CEO. The board would search for a replacement, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But that replacement has yet to surface.

Since then, Yusupov has reigned over a series of unfortunate events. In February, employees circulated an internal petition to depose Yusupov from the CEO role which led to the firing of three employees, TechCrunch reported. In April, the show’s original main host Scott Rogowsky left for a hosting gig at DAZN. In July, the layoffs came.

HQ has still been running trivia every day at 9 p.m. (no longer at 3 p.m. too) along with less frequent airings of HQ Sports and HQ Words. But HQ is no longer the phenomenon that you see strangers playing at bars or hear people talk about in the office. A recent episode of HQ trivia with the theme of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” had under 300,000 viewers, a far cry from the millions of people the game used to attract daily.

Shortly after HQ made its public debut, Airbnb’s head of marketing Musa Tariq tweeted his amazement in the product.

Just watched my first episode of @hqtrivia – basically the future of TV. If you’re a network or media company, buy them NOW. pic.twitter.com/adi1caNOt4

— Musa Tariq (@MusaTariq) October 15, 2017

Now, HQ is in a bind to secure its future with no buyer in view.

HQ Trivia: what you need to know about the viral quiz game app

So you’ve not not heard of HQ Trivia, the smartphone gameshow app that’s stolen your loved ones from you for the last month? Do you a) Need to try this hot new craze, b) Want to know more, or c) Say, “No thanks, I learnt my lesson with Tide Pods”?

If a) or b), let me explain. Every day at 3pm and 9pm around 60,000 players tune in to an ersatz TV quiz show live, where 12 cheery questions are posed by a bubbly host, each with three possible answers. Players who answer all of them correctly split a cash prize of up to £4,000.

Presented in the UK by broadcast journalist Sharon Carpenter, it’s akin to tuning in to a late-night phone-in quiz channel — only less seedy — as Carpenter freewheels through birthday shout-outs, nods to user comments on the on-screen Live Feed and current events, asking questions such as “Who was Eugene Cernan?” (answer: the last man to walk on the Moon). You’ll also need a username — Quiz on My Face, sadly, is taken.

My experience was short-lived: I did it and crashed out on question four because I had no idea Cernan was an astronaut rather than a music producer. The Live Feed also made me panic.

Broadcast journalist Sharon Carpenter will host HQ Trivia’s UK game (HQ Trivia)

The game is already wildly popular in London. With a “Google-proof” 10 seconds to answer each question, two heads or more are encouraged. It’s not unusual to see gaggles of excitable teens (and pensioners) huddled around a phone, shouting the five- second countdown to the game’s start. Videos with titles such as Watch This Woman React to Winning HQ Trivia have driven the frenzy further among a cleverly cultivated community which feeds itself on Snapchat and Twitter updates throughout the day.

Its viral success is no accident: the game was created by the founders of Vine, Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov, who know a thing or two about capturing youth markets, having sold the web video loop platform to Twitter for £21.5 million in 2012.

The game launched in the US in August, where up to 1.5 million people can play, and where it has already spawned pseudo-celebrities.

Bearded host turned hearthrob Scott “Quiz Daddy” Rogowsky, who bears a passing resemblance to actor John Krasinski, has his own cult following.

How to play the HQ Trivia app

Allan Gibbons — better known by his username AllanG — is an HQ Trivia celebrity, born from his knack of dominating the show’s daily competitions.

US TV talkshow star Jimmy Kimmel has guest-hosted while former US President Barack Obama was reported to have won $21.98 on his wife Michelle’s birthday in January (the former president’s communications director, Katie Hill, later confirmed it was an imposter).

Will it kill the great British pub quiz? The Atlantic has already cheerfully labelled the phenomenon a “harbinger of dystopia”, representing “some awful, plausible future not yet realised but just over the horizon: one where expertise isn’t measured by knowledge but by instinct tripped out on illusion”.

Or, it’s just a quiz. Your choice.

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HQ Trivia was a blockbuster hit — but internal turmoil and a shrinking audience have pushed its company to the brink

HQ could use another win.

The company behind HQ Trivia, the once-viral game-show app created by the same guys who invented Vine, is facing a pivotal moment.

HQ is preparing to launch a new game show, one that it hopes will legitimize its place as a rising player in the world of mobile entertainment. But it’s also dealing with some serious issues, including a declining audience for HQ Trivia and the aftermath of a dramatic change of CEOs.

Publicly, it’s clear that HQ Trivia’s viral ride is over. The app, where users can win cash prizes for correctly answering trivia questions presented live by a wacky host, captured the internet’s attention late last year. Some saw it as the future of media, and HQ Trivia spent much of January and February in the Top 10 list of most-downloaded free iPhone games. It’s now fluctuating between No. 250 and No. 500 on that list in the U.S. The audiences it pulls for its trivia shows, while still in the hundreds of thousands, are a fraction of what they were earlier this year.

Privately, HQ is going through different growing pains. The company recently forced out its CEO, replacing one co-founder with another following a contentious boardroom battle between the two, Recode has learned.

Adding to the drama is the fact that an HQ employee filed a formal complaint to HR in August against new CEO Colin Kroll for his aggressive management style, according to multiple sources. The alleged behavior was not sexual, these sources said, but was elevated to HQ’s board of directors.

HQ’s board was made aware of the complaint before Kroll was appointed CEO, but felt comfortable promoting him after an outside investigator looked into the alleged behavior.

Recode reached out to HQ and Kroll with our reporting. A company spokesperson sent the following statement:

A complaint was filed during the course of the leadership transition. We initiated an external investigation through a 3rd party to vet the complaint, and that investigation yielded no concerns. We take pride in our company culture and strive to create an environment where everyone feels safe, respected and valued.

It’s been a lot of drama for a young company, and all of it comes at an important time. HQ recently announced its second game show, a “Wheel of Fortune”-style game for smartphones called “Words,” and many close to the company believe this new game needs to be a hit.

HQ expects to do more than $10 million in revenue this year, according to sources, but has also taken millions in venture funding and has a $100 million valuation. The belief is that HQ can’t survive on one trivia show alone — not if it wants to become a legitimate media business and live up to its outsized expectations.

Whether that one hit, HQ Trivia, is still a success depends on how you look at it. HQ Trivia used to draw more than a million players per contest and had more than two million for some of its largest games with the biggest prizes.

A large part of that audience has vanished. A recent Sunday night contest with a $25,000 prize drew 580,000 players. Last Sunday, a Disney-themed contest drew a more sizable 818,000 players, but mid-week shows have been in the 200,000 to 400,000 player range.

On the other hand, HQ Trivia makes enough in sponsorship deals and in-app purchases — users can buy “extra lives” in case they get a question wrong — that the show pays for itself, according to multiple sources. HQ’s user numbers are similar to the audience size that some cable networks pull in for Sunday night prime-time windows. Disney Channel, for example, averages 836,000 viewers in Sunday night primetime, according to Nielsen.

The reality, though, is that Disney maintains this audience for a three-hour window. HQ gets it for just a few minutes. HQ needs to find a second act.

“HQ commands the largest live audience on mobile daily,” a company spokesperson told Recode. “We’re excited to introduce new interactive shows that will continue to engage and entertain them in new ways.”

HQ co-founder and recently replaced CEO Rus Yusupov was more blunt on Twitter. “Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever,” he admitted in a tweet in August. “More soon!”

As HQ’s prominence has died down, disagreements between its founders and investors have started to increase.

Over the summer, HQ’s small board of directors started discussing the idea of replacing then-CEO Yusupov. HQ Trivia’s audience was declining, and some believed that Yusupov wasn’t executing fast enough on the company’s product roadmap.

Instead of spending time and money developing new trivia game shows, Yusupov, who is design- and content-focused, was blowing out the production for HQ’s flagship game show with big prizes and celebrity guests, these sources say. HQ has launched a U.K. version and a sports-themed spinoff of HQ Trivia, but the plan for some time has been to create even more themed spinoffs and other games outside of the HQ Trivia format.

In August, Kroll and Lightspeed’s Jeremy Liew, an early investor who is on HQ’s board, decided that Kroll should take over as CEO. The company’s two founders had at times been at odds with how to manage HQ’s operations, like how and where to invest company money, according to multiple sources. Kroll was also HQ’s “technical” co-founder — the engineer who some believed could better execute in getting the company up and running as a platform for hosting and launching multiple shows.

Those differences, plus the decline in HQ’s audience, were enough to convince the majority of the board that a change needed to be made.

HQ’s only other board member, Founders Fund’s Cyan Banister, refused to get involved, sources say. Founders Fund operates under a strict founder-friendly code, boasting on its website that “Founders Fund has never removed a single founder.” Banister viewed a vote in favor of one of HQ’s founders as a vote against the other.

She technically gave up her board seat, and thus her vote, to avoid the conflict. She is now a board observer, according to multiple sources, and it’s unclear if she will rejoin the board at a later date.

It was a two-against-one decision: Kroll and Liew on one side, Yusupov on the other. Yusupov was out as CEO and Kroll was in.

Then came the complaint. Shortly after a decision to swap CEOs had been made — but had not yet been formally voted on by the board — an HQ employee filed a formal complaint with HR against Kroll for what was described by one source as “inappropriate and unprofessional” management behavior. The complaint includes allegations that Kroll used aggressive language in the office, according to two sources.

The complaint was elevated to HQ’s board of directors and set off alarms, given Kroll’s past. He was previously fired from Twitter for poor management, and his behavior toward some female colleagues during his time at Twitter made some people uncomfortable. Word about that behavior started making the rounds in Silicon Valley last year while HQ was trying to raise a new funding round and prompted some investors to pass on an investment, Recode reported at the time. Kroll has since apologized.

An outside investigator hired by the board looked into the new complaint and found that Kroll’s behavior “yielded no concerns,” according to the company’s statement. The board of three then voted unanimously to appoint Kroll as CEO.

In an email announcing the change to company investors, Yusupov, who is now HQ’s chief creative officer, said that he “stepped down”; he characterized the move as “just an evolution of our partnership as we grow as entrepreneurs and leaders.” In reality, Yusupov was upset. He technically voted for the change, but only after seeing the writing on the wall. He wasn’t happy to lose his job running the company, according to multiple sources.

Games are a hits business and don’t grow exponentially forever. HQ has massive early traction and still millions playing daily. Also developing new game formats, one of which we think is really special and complements Trivia nicely. More soon! Until then thanks for playing https://t.co/wnAcztBuJU

— Rus (@rus) August 14, 2018

That saga was the latest in what has been a long history for HQ’s founding team. Yusupov and Kroll have worked together for years, mostly on mobile video projects. They’ve had a lot of success. They co-founded the looping video app Vine, which they sold to Twitter for millions in 2012. It was a cultural force in helping spur a new wave of internet celebrities before it was ultimately shut down in 2016.

The duo started another company together in 2016 called Intermedia Labs, which is the parent company of HQ Trivia. Their first few mobile video apps never took off, but HQ was a quick hit. After launching in August of 2017, HQ routinely pulled in more than one million viewers per game, sometimes twice per day.

About six months after launch, HQ was attracting interest from major advertisers like Nike and celebrity guest hosts like Jimmy Kimmel and The Rock. The show’s regular host, Scott Rogowsky, became such a wild internet star that he generated Justin Bieber-like hysteria when he spoke at an event for Jewish teens and community leaders early this year.

But the relationship between Yusupov and Kroll hasn’t always been smooth. Yusupov was unaware of the extent of Kroll’s issues at Twitter, according to multiple sources, and it created a “rough patch” for the co-founders earlier this year when that behavior was affecting the company’s fundraising efforts. Then, of course, Kroll replaced Yusupov at HQ.

Despite all this, those close to him believe that Yusupov will stay at HQ and help build out the production of the company’s new shows.

But questions remain.

Can Kroll succeed as CEO? He was fired from Twitter for what he himself described as “poor management,” and now there’s the formal complaint from an employee at HQ. Kroll and Yusupov are both working with an executive coach, according to multiple sources, which is not uncommon for business executives. But their prior management experience was one of the reasons investors were wary of investing in HQ. Employee complaints don’t alleviate those concerns.

Then there is the business itself. The company has multiple game shows in the works, according to a source, including ideas centered around comedy and shopping. Is HQ capable of creating another hit show? Or was this a one-hit wonder?

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that an email from Yusupov was sent to HQ employees. It was sent to HQ investors.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

What Does HQ Stand For In HQ Trivia?

There is one savage question that continues to stump even the guys who make the viral quiz show app HQ Trivia: What does “HQ” actually stand for?

In a recent interview on CBS This Morning, co-founder Rus Yusupov said the company didn’t have an official answer.

That didn’t stop star HQ host Scott Rogowsky, who was seated next to him, from chiming in. “Whatever you want it to be,” he said, and then suggested the name “Hard Questions.”

In fact, Rogowsky has a habit of teasing HQties about what lies behind the acronym. This week, Rogowsky opened an envelope that promised to reveal the answer … announcing that it stood for “Humpbacked Quail.”

Late last month, Rogowsky offered up an even more improbable answer.

Indeed, it seems to be a running joke among the app’s developers to keep players guessing.

However, one user of the site reddit is convinced there is an official answer to the “HQ” conundrum, an answer found buried in the game’s software.

“If you capture the packets that are sent to your phone, you will find that the server has “quiz.hype” in its name,” LegendaryB3ast wrote, saying that “HQ” thus stood for Hype Quiz.

Still, HQ has not confirmed any of these theories. A rep did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

HQ is fast approaching 2 million daily users, and recently increased its total pot to $15,000. The app was founded last fall by the co-creators of defunct social media app Vine and just secured a funding round of $15 million that valued the company at as much as $100 million.