Twice a day, my afternoon and evening are punctuated by an eagerly awaited push notification inviting me to join a growing crowd of fans all over the world playing HQ Trivia, a modern take on the classic TV game show. The brief, fifteen minute games usually end for me with a “savage question” that eliminates my chance of winning a growing cash prize, but leaves me excited to try again tomorrow. The thrill of the game is no accident; it’s all part of the app’s clever design.

9to5Mac asked Rus Yusupov, co-founder of HQ Trivia and the former social network Vine, just what makes the new game so captivating.

The concept of HQ Trivia is simple: answer twelve, multiple choice questions correctly and you win a real cash prize, split between anyone surviving all twelve rounds. Questions have a ten second time limit, and you can earn extra lives that keep you in the game when people sign up for the app using your unique referral code. (Shameless plug: my referral code is “Steeber.”)

The game has gone from attracting just a few thousand players per game in mid-October, to well over 200,000 during recent evening games. The momentum doesn’t show signs of slowing.

“In a time where we’ve grown accustomed to DVRing TV shows, streaming on-demand and picking up mobile games wherever, whenever, the concept of a live, mobile trivia game is both captivating and nostalgic,” said HQ Trivia’s Rus Yusupov. Both Yusupov and Colin Kroll, also building HQ Trivia, launched the defunct video-sharing app Vine in 2012 with Dom Hofmann.

Vine was purchased by Twitter, and quickly skyrocketed to success among a new wave of online content creators before being shuttered in early 2017. Yusupov and Kroll went on to launch the video apps “Hype” and “Bounce” before building HQ Trivia, neither of which gained much traction. Hofmann announced just yesterday that he is planning a follow-up app of his own.

According to Rus, the knowledge garnered from the successes and challenges of Vine, in concert with continuous improvements in iPhone technology shaped the gameplay of HQ Trivia.

“We’ve learned that people aren’t interested in committing too much time to any one experience on their phone. With Vine, specifically, we learned that creative constraints — 6-second, square, looping videos — can inspire a new generation of video creators. We watched as people worked within these limitations to create truly brilliant content. With HQ, the spirit of creating within constraints is strong. It’s setup in a specific way where, if you remove any one element, the thing will fall apart.”

HQ Trivia comes at a time when creating a successful new app is more challenging than ever before. While smartphone users are spending a growing amount of time using apps, iPhone owners are only downloading an average of 33 apps per year. Capturing the attention of a new audience is no easy task. Apple has spearheaded efforts to increase App Store discoverability, launching a redesign of the store interface with iOS 11, and a dedicated App Store Games Twitter account in 2015.

Some of HQ Trivia’s earliest competitors

Other live game show apps competing with HQ Trivia have already begun popping up, the two most notable being The Q Trivia and Qriket. While both borrow heavily from concepts central to HQ (the former bordering more on an outright clone), neither have managed to attract a loyal fanbase anywhere near the magnitude of the “HQties,” as they’re nicknamed. Part of the appeal might lie in HQ Trivia’s thoughtful design, endearing and nostalgic in a modern way. The app’s motion graphics were created by Russell Wyner.

“…We wanted to leverage that flat, bright, poppy look of 60’s/70’s TV game-shows, with a bit of a modern twist,” said Yusupov, speaking on the game’s art direction. “The overall effect is fun and playful, like a simple toy… It comes alive during gameplay with 3D animations. These elements are blurred together where you can’t really tell if you’re interacting with an app, or with TVLand.”

The colorful world of HQ Trivia

An Android app is also in the works, although Yusupov didn’t offer a specific timetable for its release. The game’s unique graphics aren’t tied to the look of a specific platform, so the app should feel at home outside of iOS. “We developed a set of icons that make up the graphic elements, and the animation gives context in the form of a visual lexicon with floating elements: there’s your HQ universe. The shapes can be deconstructed into smaller components, adding a modular freedom to create new designs.”

It’s too early to say for sure whether the game’s loyal fanbase can be maintained long-term or if enthusiasm will fade, but it’s off to a promising start. At a time when some have argued that the App Store “gold rush” is over, HQ Trivia has proved that new and exciting ideas can still flourish on the platform if given the right amount of care.


Top image courtesy of Saif Aslam.

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About the Author

Michael Steeber

Michael is a Creative Editor who covered Apple Retail and design on 9to5Mac. His stories highlighted the work of talented artists, designers, and customers through a unique lens of architecture, creativity, and community.

Contact Michael on Twitter to share Apple Retail, design, and history stories: @MichaelSteeber