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How long will the HQ craze last?

  • HQ, a mobile trivia game app that launched last October, currently draws over 1 million players for each live game, at 3pm and 9pm every weekday.
  • While HQ gives players the chance to earn prizes up to $18,000, it's the difficulty of the game and the satisfaction of answering all questions correctly that keeps users coming back.
  • HQ's rapid rise has some wondering if it will be short-lived like prior viral sensations Angry Birds and Vine, but the company is betting big that its habitual nature will keep it around for the long-term.

A new trivia craze has people, particularly millennials, glued to their screens.

HQ, launched last October by Vine co-founders Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, is a free trivia game app in which players compete against each other and the clock for the chance to win a cash prize, split between those who answer all questions correctly.

Trivia app HQ Trivia streams live games every day at 9 p.m. ET, as well as at 3 p.m. ET on weekdays.
HQ Trivia
Trivia app HQ Trivia streams live games every day at 9 p.m. ET, as well as at 3 p.m. ET on weekdays.

It's a modern-day mobile game show in the vein of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" or "Jeopardy," both of which have been running for decades. (HQ even has a host, Scott Rogowsky, who has risen to semi-celebrity status since the launch.) There are two live trivia games every weekday at 3pm and 9pm EST, and one live game on weekends.

But winning the game is no simple task. With only 12 questions and ten seconds to answer each one, the questions quickly escalate in difficulty. For many players, it's considered an impressive feat to even make it past question five.

The obsession with HQ has skyrocketed to over 1 million players every game. Just earlier in March, the app raised $15 million in new VC funding at a $100 million post-money valuation, Axios first reported.

But the rapid rise also has some worried that the game could just be another passing fad.

This past Christmas Eve, LA-based freelance filmmaker Casey Donahue won $6,000, the largest individual cash prize since the app's launch. He was one of two winners who split that game's $12,000 jackpot.

HQ Trivia is a live trivia game for cash prizes, created by two co-creators of Vine.
Intermedia Labs
HQ Trivia is a live trivia game for cash prizes, created by two co-creators of Vine.

While Donahue, of course, likes the idea of extra cash, his motivation to keep playing isn't a monetary one. Instead, his main goal is to be the number one winner on the app's "Leaderboard," which tracks the most successful players.

Luckily, Donahue won again last month. His cash prize was smaller -- $34 out of a $2,500 pool split among 73 people -- but he met his goal to be at the top of the Leaderboard, and he intends to keep playing religiously.

The quick and habitual nature of the game also keeps him coming back. "Now, it's just a game -- I like playing games. It's just a habit I do for 10 minutes at the end of my work day," he said.

Like Donahue, Paul Pacquet of Ottawa, Ontario plays HQ because he loves trivia. So far he's won the game 12 times, bringing home $753.15 after sharing the jackpot with co-winners.

"I think if you've won once, then you have to think you can win again. And even if you've only won $2 once, you might win again someday, and the prize might be bigger then -- a few hundred, thousand dollars, even," Pacquet said.

Pacquet believes HQ has real staying power, unlike once-popular apps such as Angry Birds or Vine, both of which became cultural phenomena before fading into obscurity.

"One of the things HQ has going for it, even if you're doing poorly, is it's a lottery," Pacquet explained. "Someone, even doing nothing at all, has a chance of winning just by guessing things randomly. Most of us aren't in that boat -- so if you know even half the questions and have some lucky guesses, you could go through. And since it's free, all it costs is ten minutes to play."

Donahue, on the other hand, isn't convinced that HQ will be around for the long haul. He believes the app might even be a victim of its own success.

"I got lucky at the right time. I won when HQ wasn't super popular, so I didn't have to split my small fortune much. Now HQ might be getting too saturated," Donahue said. "I think everyone keeps playing because they want to do what I did, which is win a few thousand dollars. But now that over a million people are playing, HQ has to be giving out $100,000 at a time to have people coming back."

Donahue and Paquet's relatively large winnings are the exception: the majority of games involve payouts averaging $10, since there are many more winners. But for now, at least, many players aren't as preoccupied with the quantity of the prize as they are with the satisfaction and pride of completing all 12 questions. A video of a girl freaking out after winning $11 even went viral.

"With all the other game apps, it's thinking, 'I've got some free time; I'm going to play on an app' -- but not a lot of people have a lot of free time," Pacquet explained. "With HQ, it's a habit. Every day at 3pm, I take a break and I play the game. It even notifies me of the time to remind me it's there. When you're used to doing it every day, it's not really like a fad where you get tired of it and move on to something else."

"It's the same sort of habit for TV shows," Pacquet added. "If 'Dallas' is on every week at this time and you've made a point of watching, you're going to continue to watch. That's the future of apps -- getting used to the idea of checking or doing something every day."

With the fleeting longevity of apps today, it's yet to be seen whether HQ will prevail. But for now, believers and naysayers in HQ's survival are still tuning in every day at 3pm.