The death spiral of HQ Trivia took a night.
The wildly popular HQ trivia app took the franchise through a series of steady increases and sudden drops as it built the sign-up, games and money tiers, gradually reaching near frenzy status in the final quarter. Rather than let the streak go, HQ decided to turn it into an hour of oblivion. Then, the “heat map” creators who designed all HQ’s different phases gathered in an office and plotted out the entire event on a grid. That way they could stream it live during peak usage times on the app, plus carefully adjust the clock so the last game is never longer than 40 minutes.
“We want to give everyone a 30-minute buzz,” creator Mark Demsky told TechCrunch. “As long as it’s more than 35 seconds on the clock, it’s not better.”
HQ’s massive stream of viewers watching final episode 48 in an hour. pic.twitter.com/HjmN7RJS0d — noa boccieri () February 15, 2020
The date set was January 30th. Co-founder Rus Yusupov announced HQ would be shutting down on March 30th, to give developers and others enough time to find alternatives. But with players waiting an agonizing hour-plus for HQ to pull the game out of its tentacles, it planned to cut its time.
Since the night was planned to cut out what Demsky describes as “the most luxurious section of it,” many of the usual dance moves you might expect from the climax took a backseat to Kanye West’s anthem “Power” playing over the spindly tape loop. A bank of costume bats flew out, and then they all landed close to the host who proceeded to silently play with one hand while simultaneously clutching a bottle of alcohol through the camera window. Everyone loved this.
A text from HQ’s postgame chat indicates that commenters don’t hate the work the heat map artists put into what became an evening of terror.
Demsky later clarified to me that the evening came together on multiple stages. The team began a grand experiment where playing HQ could go on every night of the week. But Demsky felt that the game no longer had the momentum needed to prevent on-going losses and fatigue.
One night we had an hour of relentless laughter. Every person had a massive party and had enough drinks to last a year. One person even threw another person’s vomit in the water fountain. This was our natural reaction. This made us laugh through every serious challenge, even the hardest ones. Another night it was a great show, even when we tried to lowball every question. A seventh day was excruciating. Your heart’s race, while your heart pounds and you furiously hope your stamina doesn’t drop. Each night we tried to hold ourselves out of the season finale, but we couldn’t. We’re all so proud of the success, though. We hope you all had a great run, and remember the good times from your favorite quiz nights. With thanks to the mods that made many of those hilarious videos we made with the rest of the team. Our hearts are forever grateful. We hope you have a great weekend. Mark Demsky
It turned out that the actual game was insane, though Demsky doesn’t call it that. The finale for the app was still 30 minutes long, but ran only 48 minutes. What people got out of it was an exciting night of craziness.
“It’s not the most fun [HQ] game, but the most fun” Demsky says. “It’s 90s kid in an underground parking garage.”
HQ ultimately failed due to its uniquely blunt advertising model. It blasted ads to its millions of daily active users on every quiz show for each day it aired. And with players endlessly filling out questions that were never going to be answered correctly, brands didn’t mind the expensive banner ads.
If the creators had focused on building a fun product and not just attracting new users through free up to 50 questions per session, they might’ve fought off HQ as an easily exploitable feature.