CTRL: Revisiting “HQ Trivia” and the Tech Trends of Yesterday

The year is 2018. I’m a sophomore, trying to get ahead on readings on a Tuesday night in my Stillman dorm room. It’s 8:45p.m., and the “Stilly 3” GroupMe comes to life with messages proclaiming “HQ IN 15.” I head to the common room, where half the floor is ready, waiting expectantly for the voice of the host, Scott Rogowsky, to lead us through a game of trivia. All around the country, millions are doing the same.

During the HQ Trivia craze, nearly every single night went the same way. From one day to another, it felt like every single person on campus joined in the daily 9:00p.m. HQ ritual. However, this really wasn’t too much of a surprise.

There was something about Scott Rogowsky’s manic energy that made the trivia experience so unusually captivating.

In addition to the passionate host, the questions were well-designed so that virtually anyone could get at one or two questions right, feeding into the sense that maybe one day you’d be the one that gets them all right. If you did get them all right, you’d be looking at a cash prize that went as high as 400,000 dollars. All this—combined with the fact that everyone you knew was playing the app daily—meant that it was hard not to join the HQ craze.

But, just as quickly as HQ rose to prominence, it started to fade. I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but it did. The “HQ IN 15” messages stopped coming. I stopped playing every night. People stopped talking about it. And then, without knowing it, I played my last ever game of HQ trivia and let it escape from my memory.

This week, I was sent on this trip down memory lane when I read the news that HQ Trivia had officially shut down. The news was doubly surprising. On one hand, I couldn’t believe HQ had still been going years later. It felt like ages since the HQ craze. On the other, it was hard to register how an app that had gained such a following so fast it could just fade away.

From a rational perspective, it’s easy to see how the business model was unsustainable. I’m not a finance expert, but it’s obvious an app whose core functionality revolves around massive daily cash prizes can’t have longevity, especially while running minimal ads. It certainly seems that this was the nail in the coffin, as the presenters in the final ever HQ show openly admitting that its investors had run out of money. However, from a less reasonable perspective, it remains hard to come to terms with the fact that an app’s unprecedented success can fade into nothing in almost no time.

Unfortunately, this seems to be a staple of our venture capital, startup-centric world; people with bright ideas are given huge amounts of money to build products that simply just aren’t profitable or sustainable. HQ Trivia is hardly the first or only app to go this direction—Yik Yak, Vine and Moviepass all went from ubiquitous to disappearing in similar timespans.

While HQ may not have been the best business idea, I will forever miss the nightly trivia sessions, complete with all my friends, impossibly difficult questions and Scott’s surreal, manic energy.