The obsessive reality of HQ

A look at why millions flock to the most popular and least functional trivia app on the market

Screenshots from the HQ app.
Credit: 
Screenshot from Apple

Have you been noticing that every night at 9 p.m. and every weekday at 3 p.m. everyone seems to drop whatever they're doing to yell at their phone? The reason for this strange new ritual lies in two letters now synonymous with the world's first live quiz app: HQ.

If you've somehow avoided the massively popular app up until now, HQ functions like any other trivia game. If you get a question right, you move on to the next round; if you get a question wrong, you're eliminated. What makes HQ stand out compared to others is the fact that there's money on the line. 

Cash prizes are awarded to any player who can get all 12 questions right, with the money being split equally if more than one person wins. The prizes range from the standard $1,500 to an all-time high of $18,000. Oh and the game is also live.

HQ broadcasts to the app twice a day — once on weekends — and is hosted by Scott Rogowsky, already labelled "Quiz Daddy" by the Internet powers. Players have 10 seconds to answer each question, making them virtually un-Googleable. There's no 'late' option for the game; you're either there or you're not. If you enter the app after it’s begun, you're subjected to the sidelines as a 'watcher' rather than a 'player' — which also happens to be the plot for 2016 tech thriller Nerve.

From the app's random and meteoric rise to fame, you'd likely assume part of its appeal is that it works well. Well, in the case of HQ, you’d be sorely mistaken.

Sometimes, players are randomly booted from the game without explanation. The games seldom start on time and can be delayed for hours on end. Beyond these flaws, games are even scrapped entirely without so much as a notification. HQ's technical difficulties make it less like a well-oiled machine and more like one about to be rolled off to the junkyard.

HQ's problems don't just stop at lags and glitches either. Questions are consistently torn apart online for their irrelevance. Chances are even a university education won't prepare most people for questions about rhododendrons or how many times 'sex' appears in the Constitution. 

The technical issues and discrepancies in content quality would probably turn users away from most other apps. Yet HQ's player count seems to multiply with each game. Even with its pitfalls, the number of players now comfortably hovers around the one million mark.

HQ's popularity is an anomaly in itself. Why are one million people — a number sure to grow as time continues — tuning into a game that barely works and leaves most players disappointed at the end of it?

One of the most popular lectures doled out to millennials by their parents — at least in my experience — is we’re the generation of wanting everything immediately. And it's not totally wrong. Services like Netflix and Amazon have conditioned us to expect whatever we want to show up on our screens or doorsteps with a simple click of a button. 

HQ preys on this idea to hook in viewers with the enticing offer of getting money for doing as little as possible. The premise of tapping a screen 12 times and ending up with cash attracts players craving the high that comes from the "diamond-in-the-rough" feeling. It's the same concept of plucking a lucky player out of obscurity and making them rich that once catapulted American Idol into the lives of 30 million weekly viewers.

HQ takes American Idol's appeal and brings it to the palms of players worldwide. The excitement of an immediate deposit into a player's PayPal account overrides the fact that, after dividing the prize amongst winners, it normally amounts to pocket change.

While HQ's trivia may not teach you any useful facts, it can at least offer some insight into the minds of millions of players. HQ shows us the value of feeling like the chosen one and beating out 1.5 million players overrides the actual value of what that winning means. Or it at least outweighs it enough to keep players lazily opening their phones twice a day. 

If getting worked up about not getting $10 twice a day doesn’t appeal to you, it’s probably for the best that you sit this HQ craze out. But if you’re like me and think you stand a chance, I’ll see you on the field at 9 p.m.

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