It’s the app which has taken the world by storm with its general knowledge quizzes for cash. But why has HQ become so popular? And where does the money come from? We decided to take a look back into the history of HQ and ask: what’s next?
It’s a simple format. A live trivia game show that anyone can enter is presented by one of a small roster of sharply dressed men and women who have gained their own individual cult followings (usually broadcast journalist Sharon Carpenter, below, in the UK) twice a day on weekdays, usually at 3pm and 9pm, and once per day at weekends.
UK jackpots are usually £550, split between those players who can answer twelve increasingly difficult general knowledge questions correctly, including the infamous ‘savage questions’, or ‘sausages’ as the HQ chat has coined them. The first couple of three-choice questions are generally exceptionally easy, the last few exceptionally difficult.
It’s worth first taking a look at a potted history of HQ. HQ was set up by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, initially in the US before expanding to Britain. Yusupov and Kroll were the co-founders of Vine – in other words, they know how to make a viral app.
Since then, HQ has seen an exponential rise in popularity both in the US and UK. It was named as number one in Time Magazine’s Apps of the Year list for 2017.
Last month it gave away its biggest ever jackpot, some $300,000 in a joint UK and US game presented by The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, to promote his latest film Rampage, the latest in a series of guest presenter slots. Since launching here early this year, HQ’s UK version has broken through the 100,000 player per game mark and now often exceeds that number.
However, an excellent Rolling Stone feature in March revealed that HQ’s Manhattan office where the questions are written and both the UK and US versions of HQ are broadcast from is surprisingly modest, with an expanding staff of “about 30”.
Naturally, there have been glitches and teething problems – no HQ game on iPhone or Android is complete, it seems, without some buffering, pixellation and pauses. But I’ve generally found it to be relatively reliable at least when the questions come up, even if I miss the odd shoutout or quip from Shazza.
Although the app has an impersonal general chat function which moves at an incredibly fast pace during games and now allows users to add friends, it seems that the biggest social element is players playing along in person, necessitated by the live app.
And it’s fair to say that HQ has taken UEA by storm. Practically every game on the chat function, there’s at least one mention of UEA, among the mentions of “Mo Salah”, “Tilted Towers” and “Sausages”.
One UEA student told Concrete: “I love HQ! I enjoy playing with my housemates. We help each other out and it’s nice to learn something and have a laugh even if there’s only a tiny chance of winning anything – and even if you win it might only be a tenner.”
So, as a free-to-play, ad-free app, where does the money come from? All the ‘FAQ’ section of the app says is: “The prizes are sponsored by Intermedia Labs, Inc.” the appdevelopment company which publishes HQ and is run by the Vine co-founders.
It is reportedly funded by investors and commercial tie-ins such as Johnson’s new film, which received plenty of publicity during his appearance and Nike, which produced limited edition Air Max trainers for the winners of a special edition of HQ.
Concrete contacted HQ to ask for a bit more detail about exactly where the cash comes from and what their plans are for future investment but are still awaiting a response.
HQ has not been without its controversies. In an opinion piece in The Atlantic, Ian Bogost called HQ “a Harbinger of Dystopia” while the sheer number of players nowadays has caused some prizes to be extremely low, sometimes little more than a couple of pounds. Questions have also been raised over the past conduct of the app’s founders.
Last year Yusupov, a hands-on CEO present in the office during broadcasts, was embroiled in a controversial incident where he berated a Daily Beast journalist for daring to interview Scott Rogowsky, presenter of the American edition, without his consent, and threatened to fire his star asset if the piece was published.
The article was posted, and Yusupov apologised, blaming the stress of running the startup for his widely publicised outburst.
Then, in February this year, the #DeleteHQ hashtag began to gain traction as news broke that HQ had sought cash from Founders Fund, which was set up by controversial PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who is also known for having supported Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
This aside, HQ is sweeping the nation and as its popularity increases, so will its revenue-generating power. Will this mean more profits? More advertising? More prizes for HQ’s ever-growing fanbase? Will competitors spring up? Will HQ implode or just fade away into nostalgic history like Vine?
Who knows, the only thing that’s certain is that HQ is still on the rise and looks to have transformed quiz apps, and the once-outdated live gameshow format, forever.