The now defunct HQ Trivia was an elimination trivia game in the format of a twice-daily live gameshow. Successful players won cash prizes by correctly answering a series of multiple-choice questions within a strict time limit. In the standard game, those left after 12 (or 15) increasingly different questions split the prize pot.
HQ Trivia announced it was shutting down in February 2020, broadcasting its final episode a few days later. It had, it claimed, run out of money, with a buyout falling through at the 11th hour. The final prize pot was $5 – split 523 ways – from host Matt Richards’s pocket.
Various special formats of the quiz game sometimes took place: specialised subjects, bigger prizes, sudden death formats (often used during winner-takes-all Sunday night HQ Trivia games), and cut off points based on the number of remaining competitors.
Standard daily evening HQ Trivia games saw $5,000 divided between the winners, while afternoon games offered a smaller pot of $2,500. The Sunday edition was the highlight of the week, with $25,000 often on offer. The highest HQ Trivia prize money offered was $400,000. The app was 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 were discontinued before the main US game (international players could still play the US edition). Apple TV compatibility was added in August 2018.
As well as the standard HQ Trivia game, participants could play HQ Trivia spinoffs. HQ Sports took 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 saw 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 hosted the main shows until April 2019, with a supporting cast including Sharon Carpenter and Anna Roisman (HQ Words). Rogowsky built something of a cult following as a result of hosting the quizzes. He was replaced by Matt Richards after leaving to present DAZN’s ChangeUp baseball show.
HQ Trivia was Time’s app of the year in 2017 and was regularly played by hundreds of thousands of participants – occasionally millions. It 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 played HQ Trivia, its financial operations, and how much HQ Trivia winners took home.
Table of Contents
Key HQ Trivia Statistics
- 12.8 million HQ Trivia downloads as of August 2018
- In June 2019, downloads had fallen 92% year-on-year
- 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
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 claimed that the player base regularly reached 500,000 upwards. For midweek shows, however, average HQ Trivia audiences were more likely to be in the 200,000-400,000 range. Special editions attracted more viewers – for instance a Disney-themed edition saw audience figures climb north of 800,000.
The Sunday editions, which offered bigger prizes, also saw spikes in usage. This effect was 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 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
Downloads had fallen from a monthly peak of two million in February 2018 to around 560,000 six months later. App Annie figures from March 2019 showed the decline continued unabated. It gell 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.
As of June 2020 it was reported that HQ Trivia downloads had fallen 92% year-on-year. 20% of its staff were let go as a consequence.
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
The decline could 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 was another resource for those looking to play dishonestly.
Reputational issues were 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 was 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 was $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 times to play HQ Trivia in terms of earnings per winner were reportedly Wednesday and Sunday. The least lucrative times were Tuesday and Thursday (it is unclear how this compared against number of winners).
Between October 2017 and early April 2018, HQ Trivia 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 was $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 stated a desire to increase the prize pot to $1 million. Typical winnings were quite low, but the social element of the site (which features a leaderboard) seemed 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 were 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 was backlash from HQ Trivia players. It was promised that the points could 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.
Some players reported problems collecting their HQ Trivia winnings for several months. 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 have been red-flagged – whether or not they were actually cheating.
HQ Trivia Questions and Formats
The 12 HQ Trivia questions usually came laced with ‘savage’ questions. These are those which saw 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 focused 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 ran twice a week.
HQ Sports ran 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 was rebranded as HQ Trivia & Words following the launch of the new game.
HQ Words ran after the evening broadcast of HQ Trivia. Players could purchase extra lives to get more chances at guessing words correctly (the usual threshold is three incorrect guesses at letters). Random letters were assigned to each user.
As well as these HQ Trivia spinoff games, the quiz often hosted themed rounds, such as the aforementioned Rampage special edition. HQ Trivia 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 spawned clones – including a spate of copycats in China, including Million Dollar Hero from TikTok/Toutaio parent company ByteDance. Baidu and Alibaba also produced HQ Trivia-aping games. Reuters reported 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 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. Facebook also 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 was 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 was 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.
HQ Trivia’s demise came after an anticipated acquisition fell through at the last moment.
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 was 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. It might be argued that since leaving HQ Trivia, Rogowsky’s star has also fallen, with his presenting currently limited to DAZN’s baseball show ChangeUp.
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 future.
And what about the app itself? HQ Trivia was never able to re-reach the dizzy heights of those early days. Yusupov has stated that the viral nature of games means that we couldn’t expect such peak activity to last forever. The ‘experiments’ carried out by HQ Trivia suggests that its makers were unsure about from where the next viral peak would come, however. Ultimately it never came.
On the other hand, high-profile sponsors did get involved with the app – again, perhaps showing the way for any other attempts at building a similar app.
Until we see such an app come into being, we can only wonder what might have been had things panned out differently…