It’s not often that a mobile gaming app seeps into the public’s consciousness. 

Pokémon Go is perhaps the last prominent example. You couldn’t step outside during summer 2016 without seeing someone trying to catch a Magikarp. Candy Crush is another well-known favourite, of course.

Recently, you might have noticed your mates or colleagues hooked on another game – one that’s played by appointment only. HQ Trivia is a new mobile app that’s gaining huge popularity both in the UK and US, reportedly generating over five million downloads since its release last August. 

So, why is a simple trivia game gaining such traction? Here’s more on the app, and what we can learn from its success.

Shared moments

HQ Trivia has a fairly basic premise – one that mimics that of a live game show. Players log on to the app each day at 3pm and 9pm to take part in quiz made up of 12 multiple choice questions. The players who answer all questions correctly split the winning cash prize, which can extend into thousands of pounds or dollars.

Each game (which is hosted by Scott Rogowsky in the US and Sharon Carpenter in the UK) lasts for around 15 minutes. 

It might be a simple formula, but HQ Trivia is particularly clever in how it keeps users coming back for more. With other social or mobile apps, users can often be distracted or bored due to continuous play or browsing. Instead, the scheduled, live, and lightning-fast elements of HQ means that users are left wanting more each time.

Meanwhile, with two daily games set at specific times, gaming becomes a regular part of the user’s daily routine, enhanced by the knowledge that others are also sharing in the same experience.

Most interestingly of all perhaps, in a world where consumers are able to access content at their own leisure (proven by the huge popularity of Netflix and Spotify) - HQ Trivia shows that there’s still a place for live broadcasts, with the app becoming a must-visit destination for millions each day. 

Tangible rewards

While it is certainly entertaining, HQ Trivia wouldn’t be so successful if it wasn’t offering players something in return. The cash prizes certainly ramp up interest and excitement in the game, as users try and try again for the chance to win. 

Unsurprisingly, it's not all that easy. The questions are tough and often obscure, meaning the odds of winning are slim. Plus, the total cash prize usually ends up being pretty paltry due to the large amount of people playing each time. Even so, the mere opportunity to be victorious is enough for most to return.

This kind of strategy is nothing new, of course. Brands of all kinds typically use rewards to drive loyalty and engagement, but HQ Trivia’s gamification element shows just how effective it can be. 

Combined with the fast-paced, interactive, and competitive nature of the app - it makes for a frustratingly addictive user experience. 

Social & sponsored elements

While it’s nice to know that friends and family might also be playing along, the app has recently introduced a new feature to expand on social elements. ‘Friends on HQ’ (only currently available in the UK) lets users find and add friends in order to track their progress and compare scores.

It’s a clever move, as the feature will undoubtedly create even more healthy competition and incentivise players to return. It perhaps also signifies where HQ Trivia might be headed in future, with social elements (like messaging) being another way to keep players in the app as well as potentially encourage usage in between live quizzes. 

This is especially pertinent in relation to brand involvement - that’s if HQ Trivia goes on to accept more sponsored content or even ads in future. As a venture-backed company, HQ doesn’t appear in too much of a hurry to monetise the app – it has only recently started working with brands, with both Nike and Warner Bros. sponsoring quizzes in exchange for promotion. 

The more brands get involved, however, the more HQ will want to increase usage (and figure out an advertising model that doesn’t alienate users).

Flaws and all…

Finally, despite the swathes of people logging on to HQ Trivia twice a day, it seems not everyone gets the appeal. Just like Pokémon Go and other popular games, it has a 'love it or hate it' reputation, with some steering clear (perhaps out of fear of becoming entirely addicted.)

Interestingly enough, it also seems that even the most loyal fans find the app frustrating to say the least. The peppy nature of the hosts can be grating, while the technology is highly temperamental – there’s been reports of the app freezing and even games crashing half-way through. 

However, the slightly dodgy nature of the UX has in some ways added to the app’s appeal. As well as sharing in the excitement of the game, players also share their frustration over glitches and other infamous HQ Trivia traits. 

Where will it go from here?

While there’s a lot to appreciate about HQ Trivia, there are of course big questions about its longevity. Like with most apps, there’s certainly the danger of users getting bored. 

Will it be able to sustain current levels of excitement, or will it fade like just any other gaming fad?

As brand involvement increases, there's definitely the potential for games to become bigger and better (in terms of prizes and overall UX). However, there’s also the danger of a slicker and more monetised version diluting the company’s start-up origins, as well as alienating users in the process.

While we wait to find out, other brands could certainly learn a thing or two from HQ Trivia's interactive, competitive, and familiar format. Also proving that there's power in the destination experience - we could see others start to follow suit with in-app live-streaming in future.

Related reading:

Nikki Gilliland

Published 13 April, 2018 by Nikki Gilliland @ Econsultancy

Nikki is a Writer at Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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