Comment & Opinion

How will HQ Trivia monetise?

It's giving away thousands of dollars, but how will it turn a profit?

How will HQ Trivia monetise?

A mobile-based quiz show, broadcast with a live host to thousands of real-time players across the world, with cash prizes awarded instantly to winners via Paypal.

With such a tantalising pitch, it's hardly surprising that HQ Trivia has been generating such hype. Perhaps more surprising is that the simple idea at its heart has not been attempted previously.

To have the idea and to execute it, however, are two very different things. The latter comes with two related challenges: finance and scale.

Twice on each weekday (3pm and 9pm EST) and once a day on weekends (9pm EST), Trivia HQ goes live. Those who have the app are given a push notification before each quiz begins and you have to be on time if you're to participate.

An enthusiastic host then runs through the rules: 12 multiple choice questions on various topics, with players eliminated for a single wrong answer. The number of players is thus whittled down quickly, with the cash rewards – which vary from day to day – eventually split between those who answer all 12 correctly.

Honey pot

You can see, then, why cash is a prerequisite to create such an experience. The thousands of dollars given away every single day is just the start: you then have the technological costs of having so many players and viewers interacting synchronously, not to mention hosts to pay.

The players and audience experience is always going to be the most important to us.
Rus Yusupov

The obvious answer to this would be to have players pay money to enter each quiz, but that might have a detrimental effect on scale, HQ Trivia's other major pillar.

As such, HQ Trivia is completely free to play. And it's paying off, with a recent peak recording 1.1 million concurrent players in a game.

But how is this sustainable? At present, HQ Trivia is being bankrolled by its developer Intermedia Labs – a start-up founded by Vine co-founders Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll.

The company has received seed funding in the millions (declining to disclose the specific amount) and in an October 2017 interview with Techcrunch the founders appeared laid-back about monetising HQ Trivia.

Yusupov admitted the team was “playing around with options” for sponsored games and the like, but insisted that “the players and audience experience is always going to be the most important to us".

In another interview with Variety, he states: "If we do any brand integrations or sponsors, the focus will be on making it enhance the gameplay. For a user, the worst thing is feeling like, ‘I’m being optimised – I’m the product now'.”

Glitz and glamour

True to its word, growing the audience really does seem to be Intermedia Labs' priority with HQ Trivia. This was underlined with the appearance of US TV presenter Jimmy Kimmel as a host – whether as a guest or a fully-fledged addition to the roster – in a recent game.

Recruiting celebrities on this scale – Kimmel has more than 11 million Twitter followers – is one obvious way to grow the audience. But interestingly, growing the monetisation side could have a similar effect.

Yusupov told Techcrunch that running a sponsored game “let us give away the biggest prize”. It's an easy equation: the bigger the sponsor, the bigger the prize, the greater the participation. And ultimately, the greater Intermedia's profits.

This is one route HQ Trivia may take. Another, perhaps more immediately obvious, would be to introduce some semblance of advertising into an app that is currently devoid of it.

The game's 1.1 million concurrent viewers is something any advertiser would be keen to capture and Intermedia could surely generate good revenues from this.

Softly softly

However, the firm's wariness to have adverts break up the pace of an incredibly high-speed game – with only 10 seconds given to answer each question – is understandable. It's a fine line to tread.

Is this the future of the TV quiz show?

But there are other avenues, too. If HQ Trivia can continue pulling in such crowds, there will inevitably be one question: is this the future of the TV quiz show?

It would certainly not be at all surprising if Intermedia is already fielding enquiries from networks about using its technologies on major TV properties.

Even if the television industry is not willing to learn from HQ Trivia, then Intermedia will no doubt be looking the other way to see how broadcast media makes its money.

That is, after all, more in line with what HQ Trivia is aiming to achieve than anything currently in the mobile games industry.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.