HQ Trivia app review: Become a game show contestant with just your phone

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HQ Trivia app review: Become a game show contestant with just your phone

Do you tune in every night to watch Jeopardy? Are you hopelessly addicted to the Game Show Network? Have you always wanted to compete on live TV, but the closest you’ve gotten is the studio audience? Do you want a chance to win actual money on a live game show without ever leaving the comfort of your couch? Then you need to download HQ Trivia right now (iOS only right now, but Android coming soon).[1]

HQ Trivia is a live game show built from the ground up for phones. At 9 PM ET every night and 3 PM on weekdays, thousands of trivia freaks get a notification to join a new game of HQ Trivia. There to greet them is host Scott Rogowsky, who ushers viewers through 15 trivia questions. You have ten seconds to answer each question. Get it right, and you move on to the next round. Get it wrong, and you’re eliminated from the game. Make it all the way to end, and you could win actual money delivered to your PayPal account.

Unlike other game shows, an HQ Trivia game can have any amount of winners, including zero, and the prize money is split evenly among them. Prizes have typically been $250, but some have gone up to $500 or even $1,500. If no one wins a game, that prize money rolls into the next game. (HQ Trivia doesn’t actually make money yet, but it seems obvious that the future is ad sales and sponsorships.)

The fact that you have to actually tune in to the show at a specific time can seem anachronistic, but that’s a huge part of the charm – by looking to live television for inspiration, the team at HQ Trivia has created one of the freshest mobile apps to come out in a long time. I have no idea what it’s like to actually be on a live TV game show, but if it’s anything like HQ Trivia, it must be incredibly nerve-wracking. The fact that you’re actively competing against thousands of other players is incredible – it’s especially intense when a difficult question eliminates thousands of players at once.

HQ Trivia launched a month ago, and had quickly grabbed grown its audience from just a few thousand players to well over 20,000. This virality shouldn’t come as a huge surprise – HQ Trivia was created by two co-founders from Vine, an app that provided the internet with many of its best cultural cornerstones . HQ Trivia seems poised to be this generation’s Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – if it can work out some of the kinks.

For starters, the game has been plagued by “Technical Difficulties”:

When other apps have a little downtime, it’s annoying but ultimately okay because otherwise, the app is available 24/7. But when your app is supposed to do something at a specific time, and is only useful at that specific time, it’s incredibly frustrating when it doesn’t work. HQ Trivia have sometimes delayed games up to 30 or 45 minutes. Other bugs have plagued the game, too; recently, a question about Jennifer Hudson never popped up for some users, automatically eliminating me and several others from the game.

What’s worrying about this is that while HQ Trivia has received a big influx of users in the past week, it’s still only a few thousand people. If HQ Trivia wants to be as big as Jeopardy, it’s going to have to figure out how to host games featuring hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people. It’s also going to have to squash unacceptable bugs that make users question the validity of the final results.

Another quirk of the game: because any amount of people can win a game, your actual winnings can be pretty small. A $500 jackpot can easily turn into just a few dollars of winnings. One night HQ Trivia offered a $1,500 jackpot, but so many people tuned in that winners ended up with less than $15 each. $15 is nothing to sneeze at, but it’s not $1,500. HQ Trivia is experimenting with increasing the length of the game to 15 questions for larger jackpots, which does help eliminate more players.

Most importantly, the structure of the game can be thrilling, but it also leaves something to be desired. Once you’re eliminated, you don’t really have any reason to stick around to watch the rest of the game – in fact, thanks to the viewer count in the top left corner, I know for a fact that thousands of people quit watching after they lose. A good game show makes you want to stick to the end because you’re rooting for somebody. In HQ Trivia’s case, you’re rooting for yourself. Once you’re out of the game, who’s there to root for?

Digg suggests that HQ Trivia look to pub trivia for inspiration , which breaks questions in categories and doesn’t penalize players for answering questions incorrectly. I would love it if HQ Trivia took a cue from pub trivia and let players form teams within the app. Imagine a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? style “Ask the Audience” poll that automatically shows what your eliminated teammates think the answer is. HQ Trivia is best played with friends, and I hope they lean into that.

You can also imagine a whole slew of other show styles that could work well, and it seems natural that HQ would experiment with that in the future. If HQ Trivia gets enough critical mass, I can see that show becoming a cornerstone for an almost constant channel of live game shows, covering a multitude of styles and topics. They just have to fix their “technical difficulties” first.


  1. When you sign up, use my referral code “fakeadam”. You don’t get anything, but I get an extra life that can help me survive a wrong answer. ↩︎