Why ‘HQ Trivia’ Fever Is Spreading Across the Nation

A husband and dad is hooked on the free game app, along with his family — as are millions of others

by John Cylc | Updated 13 Jun 2018 at 2:13 PM

Families are often spread out around the country and even the world today, making staying in touch a challenge. I was recently introduced to a unique way to experience consistent bonding and fun interaction with faraway relatives and friends through an app called “HQ Trivia.”

It’s fun and free, and it’s a good brain workout, too.

The game is on fire in terms of popularity: Celebrities such as Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, and others are getting in on the act to promote their show, “The Voice,” according to Billboard magazine, and advertisers are lining up, too.

“With a reach of up to 2 million thumbs per game, brands like Nike are starting to take notice of the live mobile game show sensation ‘HQ Trivia,'” noted The Drum.

“It’s completely addictive,” a Massachusetts college sophomore told me of the game. “It’s similar to ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire,’ the game show, and the simplicity — plus the hosts — make it hard to beat.”

My own obsession began like this: My wife, youngest son and I recently took a trip out West, stopping in Denver, Colorado, to visit my oldest son, John, and his wife. On our first night there, my son’s phone bleeped, and he looked down at the screen.

He then excitedly asked the three of us if we play “HQ.”

I had no idea what he meant, so he told us it was a free trivia game app in which we could win money. Though a little skeptical, we downloaded the app, signing up using a reference code John provided.

Soon after, the evening game began. It's a live, multiple-choice trivia game, normally consisting of 12 trivia questions, asked by the charismatic host of the session. The main host is Scott Rogowsky, truly a one-of-a-kind character. His fellow hosts include Casey Jost, Sarah Pribis, Sharon Carpenter, and a rotating cast of surprise guest hosts.

There is a cash prize announced, normally $5,000, and it's divided evenly by everyone who can answer all 12 questions correctly.

The game costs nothing to play. There are no in-app purchases, either; you don't have to buy anything to play this game, though you should understand there are advertising components within the game. "HQ Trivia" is broadcast daily in North America at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time.

The app launched in August 2017. It was founded by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, who also started the Vine and Hype apps. It seems that the normal participation level is somewhere about 1.5 million people playing each game. The current record for "HQ Trivia" is 2.38 million people playing at one time.

Recently, the game has had some new high-profile sponsorship, and the prize funds have ballooned up to $300,000. During the 2018 NBA finals, in fact, each game number played is multiplied by $100,000. So during game four of the finals, the price fund was — you guessed it — $400,000, for the highest prize amount so far.

Occasionally, "HQ" will change things up. In April, there was a winner-take-all prize fund on Sunday nights — questions were asked until only one person was left and got the final question right. The first night that happened, neither of the last two players answered the last question correctly.

A recent change allowed players to add friends to their player profile. During the 10 seconds you have to answer each question, as your friends answer it, the app will indicate what answer they chose, giving you an opportunity to trust their answer if you do not know for sure yourself.

I often find myself in social media and text conversations after each game, over discussions of "what question knocked us out."

My wife and I finally became "winners" during an "Oceans 8"-sponsored special round that had a prize fund of $88,888. Instead of 12 questions, of course, there were only eight. With 8,300-plus other winners, we each won the whopping sum of $10.63. (To receive the money, you must have a PayPal account.) For dedicated players like us, the money is not important (unless it's one of the game's big prizes). It's more the pride of victory and the chance to play with family and friends.

Related: How to Balance Work and Kids This Summer Without Going Crazy

Is everyone a fan of the app (which is available in both Apple's App Store and Google Play)? Here's how one writer for The Ringer put it: "You, a smartphone user, are enticed by the possibility of acquiring a large lump sum of money. To have a chance at winning, you must pause your life twice a day for 15 minutes and offer your undivided attention ... [And] your undivided attention is being exploited for ad money. We always knew this was how it was going to go. No app that gives out thousands of dollars in cash prizes twice a weekday would be able to sustain itself without some kind of corporate sugar daddy."

So go in with eyes wide open, in other words, as you would with any new product. But you might also stir up those friendly competitive juices, possibly win a little cash, and keep some long-distance relationships going, too.

John Cylc is an eight-year U.S. Army veteran and lives with his family in eastern Tennessee. His primary advocacy is promoting and protecting Second Amendment rights.

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