Trivia’s Turnaround: Can HQ Go On?

Courtesy of PBS.

Written by Jackie Yang

What’s more surprising is the sheer scale that this app has achieved. When it first launched, HQ enjoyed only a few thousand recurring players. But as of January,  over 1.2 million users tuned in to watch Rogowsky and compete for the prize money, which could range anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 on some Sunday nights.

Every night at 9PM, millions of people tune into HQ, a widely popular game-show application available now on both iPhone and Android. The app was created by developers Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, the minds behind the now-defunct social media company, Vine. Unlike Vine, HQ, is currently is rated #1 for Trivia in the iOS App Store, and was just released in its beta form for Google Play, with over 1,000,000 downloads.

In addition to going live every day at 9PM EST, HQ streams additional 3PM games on the weekends. Anybody with a Smartphone and internet access, no matter their location, can play this 12 question trivia game. But with only a few seconds per question, sharp spikes in difficulty level, and a jackpot worth thousands of dollars, the stakes are rather high. This is especially true since one wrong answer usually means elimination. Still, those who fall out of the running can spectate and enjoy the MCing of hosts Scott Rogowsky or Sharon Carpenter.

What’s more surprising is the sheer scale that this app has achieved. When it first launched, HQ enjoyed only a few thousand recurring players. But as of January,  over 1.2 million users tuned in to watch Rogowsky and compete for the prize money, which could range anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 on some Sunday nights. Of course, this sum is split between winners, meaning players can end up claiming anywhere from $6,000 to just $11.30. And given the fact that more and more people are competing for the jackpot every night, winning thousands for these dozen questions seems more impossible by the day.

However, for a while players didn’t even have a solid guarantee of receiving their winnings. Until January 26th, there were two caveats to claiming the promised cash. Before being allowed to place the money into the bank account via PayPal, users had to have won at least $20. This may not seem impossible, but they also only had 90 days to get that much. After that, HQ reserved the right to refuse the payout.

The rules have changed after outcry from fans. HQ eliminated the base $20 requirement,  reflecting recent changes, like an expanding fan base and attempts to raise capital. Although HQ famously doesn’t run ads during games or charge participants to play, the costs of operating are actually covered by investors, mostly Silicon Valley venture capitalists who believe this app will have a large future payout. Jeremy Liew, of Lightspeed Venture Partners and Snapchat’s first investor, has already backed HQ. After all, HQ has hinted that they might be moving towards sponsorships and branding opportunities. Others have bought in too, and as of December 8th, it HQ raised at least $8 million.

Yusupov and Koll have also called for another round of funding led by Founder’s Fund, this time asking for a valuation between $80-$100 million. But there has been some backlash, and not for the lofty valuation. The cofounders have been accused of inappropriate conduct towards female employees during their tenures at Vine and Twitter. Even Founder’s Fund has faced criticism due to its connection with Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and billionaire who vocalized his support of Donald Trump and the campaign that shut down Gawker. Some HQ users have deleted their apps in protest, and started the #deleteHQ hashtag to bring more attention to what they see as problematic behavior.

For now, HQ Trivia continues to expand its user base and its prize pools, with its biggest concerns now being controversial press and ties to unpopular individuals. Despite these issues, the company still seems to be on track to receive ample funding from investors.

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