Last week, on the 14th, it was suddenly announced that the popular live trivia app known as HQ would be shutting down and all its employees were laid off. Apparently, investors decided to pull out, so that was it. This news surprised and saddened me because I still played the game(s) daily.
This app launched in 2017, though I didn’t start playing it until 2018. The concept of the game was very unique. Twice a day (3pm and 9pm EST) the show would go live and a host would ask 12 multiple choice trivia questions, and you’d have ten seconds to answer each one. If you got one wrong, you were out of the game, but if you made it to the end, you got real money, though the prize (usually between $1000 and $5000) would be split between everyone who survived all 12 questions, so if you won, you were making probably a few cents. The game got very popular, often with several million players tuning in. I recall being in a computer lab one time in university and seeing several people quietly playing along at 3pm, myself included. The games only lasted around 15 minutes, so it was a nice excuse for a break.
Of course, like any popular thing, it had ups and downs, and I’m sure there were a lot more ups and downs that the general public was not privy to. Some stuff did go public, like how one of the original hosts named Scott, who I think most people liked enough, left his role after failed contract negotiations, or like how HQ’s cofounder was found dead in his apartment in late 2018 from a drug overdose.
The gameplay also changed a lot in ways that I as a user did not love, and I think the constant changes annoyed people so much they stopped playing. Twice a day gameplay got cut to once a day. Then they started doing more games again, but with specific themes (HQ Sports, HQ Tunes, HQ Words, HQX, HQ After Dark). Then they started offering in-app purchases like free lives. They started awarding points for right answers that allowed you free passes through questions and splitting their games into Seasons. Then they went from 12 Q’s to 15. Then to I think 20, but with chances to take a smaller prize after every ~7 and leave the game if you want. They introduced an in-game currency that you could buy/earn to then buy in-game things. They started using these coins as game prizes instead of real money (as well as points, sometimes). They tried international broadcasts for specific countries and then stopped. And all this in the span of three years.
I liked some of the changes. I enjoyed HQ Words and some HQ Tunes and I found HQ After Dark especially entertaining. I earned a lot of free lives and used them somewhat regularly. I liked earning points for the free passes even if I didn’t understand what constituted as a Season. I didn’t mind most of the new hosts they brought in. At the end of the day, playing the game took a measly 10-15 minutes out of my day, and it was overall fairly enjoyable. I even won a few games totaling a very nice $2.30.
And while I guess nothing bothered me so much that I stopped playing, I certainly did not like many aspects of HQ. I found their changes to be so random and unexplained and often seemed like a way for them to save money rather than do the thing they were there to do. Their latest game, HQX, provided no incentive for casual playing. And I disliked how the games often dragged on because the hosts were chatting. In hindsight, they certainly did act like a company struggling a bit to survive and with a lot going on behind the scenes.
Though the app lost a lot of users over the years, what they did accomplish was quite remarkable. They had a lot of celebrities on the game and did a lot of sponsorships of big movies and TV shows because they had a large reach. They had fun themed nights like Harry Potter night, one winner takes all night, and more. They made their app and various hosts household names to the many loyal players.
And I guess this was enough to perhaps save the app. A few days after the shut down was announced, the founder announced on Twitter that he had been on the phone all weekend and there a chance HQ could live on thanks to new investors and owners. Of course, we can only cross our fingers that if the game does get a second life, it learns from its mistakes and makes a game that lasts and thrives for longer than a few years.
Either way, the quick rise and fall of HQ could serve as a warning to other apps/companies. The investors didn’t pull out for no reason. Did people just naturally grow out of the game or did all the changes push people away? Was the company’s strategic plan of giving out money sustainable? Could a similar app pop up in the future and do it better (and will people play it)? I’m no business person, but it is a lot to consider. Especially when ex-host Scott is out here tweeting things like this:
But if the new HQ doesn’t actually work out, and I really saw the end of HQ, I’ll miss it. I think it’ll take a few weeks for my brain to not want to pick up my phone at 9pm and play.
Did you play HQ? Would you give it another shot if it comes back? Do you know of any other little trivia games I should be playing instead?
That’s all for now!