07 March 2023 |

From 2.4M Users to 0 in 3 Years, the Rapid Fall of HQ Trivia

By Daniel Murray

We have so much content at our fingertips. 

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is 3 clicks away. Want to read the news? One Google search away. Want to see what your friends are up to? Look at their Snapchat story.

You get the point. Our lives are full of online networks that seem to be taking the “social” out of social media.

That was until, a LEGENDARY app gave consumers exactly what they wanted… at first.

Today we are talking about the rise AND fall of HQ, the trivia game that took the world by storm.

As important as it is to learn the success stories, us Marketers also need to know what NOT to do. And HQ Trivia is a great teacher of both.

So let’s get into it.

The year was 2017 and Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov had recently sold Vine to Twitter (ily Vine).

The two had made some noise in the tech space but were eager to build something new.

That’s when the pair developed a daily live trivia game with cash prizes that anyone with a phone could play, named HQ Trivia.

And the game spread like wildfire.

Within 3 months, HQ reached 250,000 downloads. 0-250K in 3 months. 


By including a tally in the top left corner that showed the number of current viewers, the game became a cultural event.

Your mother, your sister, and your neighbor’s dog were all tuned into HQ. This built a community, and the bandwagon effect kicked in. 

Because everyone you knew was giving their answer to who the 17th President of the United States was (Andrew Johnson btw), you were influenced to join the fun too.

The event was only on during specified times so FOMO was in full effect for those missing out on the show.

This had users FLOCKING to the next episode.

But the biggest single factor in their rise? Creating viral loops.

HQ was a 12 question trivia game with increasingly difficult questions and you only had 1 life.

So if you didn’t know the capital of Alaska (Juneau btw) you’d be out for good. UNLESS, you shared your referral code with someone.

HQ gave every user a referral code and if someone signed up using it, you would get an extra life.

As the cash prizes increased, the incentive to get extra lives increased, and the likelihood that users shared their referral code increased.

Creating a positive feedback loop that resulted in a peak viewership of 2.4M people on their live stream.

As quick as their rise to fame was, their fall to the depths was even quicker.

HQ failed for one simple reason. They were out of touch with what their customers wanted.

A big factor in their initial success was the cash prizes that participants could win, starting at $5 when they launched to $400,000 at their peak. 

But slowly users grew annoyed with HQ’s unreliable live stream quality and extremely long money transfers.

So when you won your $5.07 in yesterday’s trivia, it would take months to see it in your bank account.

This posed a huge hurdle for HQ, yet they ignored it.

And continued to solely lean into an increasingly large cash prize each week.

They thought they were attacking the consumer right where they needed to, by presenting them a huge opportunity to make money.

When in reality, users just wanted a better customer experience on the live stream (aka no lagging video) and a streamlined money transfer process.

Creating a perfect example of how a brand can fail to pivot.

Just because a Marketing strategy got you to a certain point of success, doesn’t mean that it is the answer moving forward. 

HQ fell victim to conservatism bias.

HQ didn’t revise their strategy when posed with tangible customer feedback and evidence that their current methods were not the solution for growth in the future.

Intense stuff, but it’s not all sunshines and rainbows in Marketing. There are winners and losers and you my friend, are a winner.