By Paul Schrodt
November 17, 2017

I’m watching well-dressed, bearded, young comedian Scott Rogowsky bark a joke about Dunkaroos while explaining today’s $1,000 prize on HQ Trivia, and I feel like I’m staring into the future of TV. Or mobile gaming. Or something new all together, it’s still unclear.

I mean that as a compliment. The game show has long been one of the most enduring, popular formats on television and now it’s inspired a viral new app that could transform how people earn a quick buck, like me, wherever I am. The bus. The airport. During a boring work meeting.

HQ Trivia, launched this past August, comes from the founders of the defunct Vine, and it’s a free app that combines live video, cash prizes, and what’s known as “appointment gaming.” Basically, by offering payouts only at certain times of day, HQ drives a large, active group of users hoping to get a little richer in roughly 15 minutes.

Curious? Here’s what you need to know.

The HQ creators said Hollywood productions like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune were an inspiration as they developed HQ. Like those shows, it’s very straightforward and easy to play. After creating a username, you launch the app at one of the only times the games take place: On weekdays at 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST, and on weekends, just 9 p.m. EST. The app is currently only available on Apple iOS, but HQ has plans for an Android version.

courtesy of HQ

After launching the app just before a game begins, you’ll see the counter of players increase. HQ has rapidly grown, from a few thousand concurrent users just last month to nearly 100,000. On a recent weekday at 9 p.m., a little over 83,000 people played, which easily beats the viewing statistics for many major publishers’ Facebook Live videos.

The total pot on that day was $1,000, split among all the winners who correctly answered all 12 questions. You have 10 seconds to answer each question using multiple choices shown on the app. And for those of you who think it would be easy just to look something up, the limited timeframe makes Googling your way to victory very hard. After each question, it cuts back to a live video of the host explaining the answer and cracking a goofy joke. Then onto the next.

courtesy of HQ

If you get one question wrong, you’re out, though you can still watch — I did, and it helped me get a sense of how hard the later rounds get. I was lured into thinking I might win by the first few questions, which asked things like “What country Havana is the capital of?” and “What MB stands for in computing.” Later questions focused on the scientific names of dinosaurs and the origin of Alcatraz’s name, which weeded out a lot of players, me included.

There’s a way to keep going even if you miss a question, though. When you refer a friend to the app, you get an “Extra Life,” which gives you another chance to make it to the end of a round.

While there isn’t much friend engagement in HQ now, the founders recognize the possibilities. “We get these screenshots and videos of whole offices playing together, stopping meetings, and we know that something’s working,” Yusupov said. “So now we’re thinking about both solo and group play as we move the format forward.”

There’s a live comments area, but it’s generally overrun with juvenile asides and in-jokes. You’re better off swiping it to the right to get rid of it and focusing on the game.

Unlike a lot of gaming apps out there, you won’t see any ads or product placement when I played. HQ reportedly has seed funding in the millions of dollars, but the opportunities for revenue are obvious. Sponsored prizes and ads could be lucrative, especially given the captive audience. Right now HQ says it’s not commenting on funding or revenue.

In the round I played, 15 people made it through all the questions and each got their $66.67 share of the $1,000 total. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them. Had I been, HQ would have Paypal’d me my winnings.

Yusupov hopes the pots will only get bigger as more people join. “Can we keep going until we hit $1 million? I bet we can,” he said.

HQ is offering its biggest prize yet on Sunday at $7,500. Wish me luck.

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