HQ Trivia

Mutiny at HQ Trivia fails to oust CEO

Posted by | Apps, Colin Kroll, founders fund, funding, HQ Trivia, Jeremy Liew, lightspeed venture partners, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Scott Rogowsky, Social, Startups, TC, trivia, Video | No Comments

This week’s banishment of host Scott Rogowsky was merely a symptom of the ongoing struggle to decide who will lead HQ Trivia. According to multiple sources, over half of the startup’s staff signed an internal petition to depose CEO Rus Yusupov who they saw as mismanaging the company. But Yusupov then fired some core supporters of the mutiny, leading to a downward spiral of morale that mirrors HQ’s plummeting App Store rank.

TechCrunch spoke to multiple sources familiar with HQ Trivia’s internal troubles to piece together how the live video mobile game went from blockbuster to nearly bust. Two sources said HQ recently only had around $6 million in the bank but was burning over $1 million per month, meaning its runway could be dwindling. But its early investors are reluctant to hand Yusupov any more cash. “

Employees petitioned to remove HQ Trivia’s CEO Rus Yusupov

HQ reimagined gaming and mobile entertainment with the launch of its 12-question trivia game in August 2017 where players all competed live in twice-daily shows with anyone who got all the answers right split a cash jackpot. The games felt urgent since you could only participate at designated times, fun to play against friends or strangers, and winning carried a significance no single-player or non-stop online game could match.

When TechCrunch wrote the first coverage of HQ Trivia in October 2017, it had just 3500 concurrent players. But by January it had climbed to the #3 game and #6 overall app in the App Store, and grown to 2.38 million players by March. Quickly, copycats from China and Facebook entered the market. But they all lacked HQ’s secret weapon — its plucky host comedian Scott Rogowsky. Affectionately awarded nicknames like Quiz Daddy, Quiz Khalifa, Host Malone, and Trap Trebek from the “HQties” who played daily, he was the de facto face of the startup.

Yet HQ had some shaky foundations. Co-founder Colin Kroll, who’d also started Vine with Yusupov and sold it to Twitter, had been fired from Twitter after 18 months for being a bad manager, Recode reported. He’d also picked up a reputation of being creepy around female employees, as well as Vine stars, TechCrunch has learned. Rapid growth and an investigation by early HQ investor Jeremy Liew that found no egregious misconduct by Kroll paved the way for a $15 million investment. The round was led by Founders Fund’s Cyan Bannister, and it valued HQ at over $100 million.

Yusupov failed to translate that cash into sustained growth and product innovation. His public behavior had already raised flags. He yelled at a Daily Beast reporter after the outlet’s Taylor Lorenz interviewed Rogowsky without Yusupov’s approval, threatening to fire the host. “You’re putting Scott’s job in jeopardy. Is that what you want? . . .  Please read me your story word for word,” Yusupov said. When he learned Rogowsky had expressed his preference for salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen, Yusupov shouted “He cannot say that! We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that.” The next day, Yusupov falsely claimed he’d never threatened Rogowsky’s job.

With HQ’s bank account full, sources say Yusupov was extremely slow to make decisions, allowing HQ to stagnate. The novelty of playing trivia for money via phone has begun to wear off, and people increasingly ignored HQ’s push notifications to join its next game. But beyond bringing in some guest hosts and the option to buy a second chance after a wrong answer, HQ ceased to evolve. HQ fell to the #196 game on iOS and the #585 overall app as concurrent players waned.

That’s when things started to get a bit Game Of Thrones.

Pawns In A CEO War

Liew pushed for HQ to swap Kroll into the CEO spot in September 2018 while moving Yusupov to Chief Creative Officer, which was confirmed despite an HR complaint against Kroll for aggressive management. However, three sources tell TechCrunch that Yusupov pushed that HQ employee to file the complaint against Kroll. As the WSJ reported after Kroll’s death, that employee later left the startup because they felt that they’d been exploited. “There was definitely what felt like manipulation there, and that’s also why that employee resigned from the company.” one source said. Another source said that staffer “believed Rus used their unhappiness about work to use them as a pawn in his CEO war and not because Rus actually cared about resolving things.”

Cyan of Founders Fund stepped down from HQ’s board after the decision to swap out Yusupov due to her firm’s reputation of keeping founders in control, Recode’s Kurt Wagner reported. Sources say that despite Kroll’s reputation, the staff believed in him. “Colin loved HQ and was dedicated to all the employees more than Rus. Rus cares about Rus. Colin cared about the content” a source tells me. 

Three sources say that in a desperate ploy to retain power and prevent Kroll’s rise, Yusupov suggested Rogowsky, a comedian with no tech or management experience, be made CEO of HQ Trivia. He even suggested the company film a reality show about Rogowsky taking over. That idea was quickly shot down as preposterous.

“It was a very personal desperation tactic not to have Colin be CEO. It was not a professionally thought-out idea” a source tells me, though another said it was always hard to tell if Yusupov’s crazy ideas were jokes. Both Yusupov and HQ Trivia declined to respond to multiple requests for comment, but we’ll update if we hear back.

HQ Trivia co-founder Colin Kroll passed away in December

Then tragedy struck in December. Kroll, then CEO, was found dead in his apartment from a drug overdose. Employees were distraught over what would happen next. “Colin’s plan was to ship fast, and get new things out there” a source says, noting that Kroll had pushed for the release of HQ’s first new game type HQ Words modeled after Wheel Of Fortune. “He wasn’t perfect but in the time he was in charge, the ship started to turn, but when Rus took over again it was like the 9 months where we did nothing.”

Coup d’éHQ

By February 2019, HQ’s staff was fed up. Two sources confirm that 20 of the roughly 35 employees signed a letter asking the board to remove Yusupov and establish a new CEO. With HQ’s download rate continuing to sink, they feared he’d run the startup into the ground. One source suggested Yusupov might rather have seen the whole startup come crashing down with the blame placed on the product than have it come to light that he played a large hand in the fall. The tone of the letter, which was never formally delivered but sources believe the board knew of, wasn’t accusatory but a plea for transparency about the company’s future and the staff’s job security.

At a hastily convened all-hands meeting in late February, HQ investor Liew told the company his fund Lightspeed would support a search for a new CEO to replace Yusupov, and provide that new CEO with funding for 18 more months of runway. Liew told the staff he would step down from the board once that CEO was found, but the search continues and so Liew remains on HQ’s board.

Mostly everyone was on Jeremy’s side as no one wanted to work under Rus. Jeremy wasn’t trying to screw him over the way Rus would screw other people over. He just wanted to do what was right, getting behind what everyone wanted” a source said of Liew. 

Instead, HQ’s board moved forward with instituting a new executive decision-making committee composed of Yusupov, HQ’s head of production Nick Gallo, and VP of engineering Ben Sheats. Yusupov would remain interim CEO, and he continued to cling to power and there’s been little transparency about the CEO replacement process. Until a new CEO is found, HQ must subsist on its existing funds. The staff is “always worried about running out of runway” and are given vague answers when they ask leadership about how much money is left.

On March 1st, the committee emerged from a meeting and fired three employees — two who had spearheaded the petition and been vocal about Yusupov’s failings.

One who wasn’t fired was Rogowsky, despite sources saying at one point he’d tried to organize the staff to go on strike. Other employees had been cautious about standing up to Yusupov. “Everyone was terrified of retaliation. Their fears have totally been validated” a source explains. Engineers and other staffers with strong employment prospects began to drain out of the company. Those left were just trying to hold onto their jobs. Without inspiring leadership or a strategy to reverse user shrinkage, recruiting replacements would prove difficult.

Yusupov remains on the board, along with Tinder CEO Elie Seidman who Yusupov appointed to his additional common seat. Liew retains his seat until the new CEO is found and given that seat. And Kroll’s seat appears to have gone to Lightspeed partner Merci Victoria Grace. Lightspeed and Cyan of Founders Fund declined to respond to requests for comment.

[Update: Seidman tells TechCrunch that the he sees the internal struggle for the CEO role as over now that Yusupov has accepted that a new CEO will be installed. That search is moving along, and the CEO chosen will report to the board but otherwise be given full autonomy to run the company as they choose. That includes having hiring and firing power over Yusupov. He did not dispute any other claims from this article. Seidman rightly believes HQ has contributed important ideas to the mobile gaming ecosystem, and now it’s the startup’s responsibility to turn those ideas into a steady business.]

Losing Face

Tensions at HQ and a desire to diversify his prospects led Rogowsky to pick up a side gig hosting baseball talk show ChangeUp on the DAZN network, TMZ reported this week. He’d hoped to continue hosting HQ during its big weekend contests. But tensions with Yusupov and the CEO’s desire for the host to remain exclusively at HQ led negotiations to sour causing Rogowsky to leave the startup entirely. TechCrunch was first to report that he’s been replaced by former HQ guest host Matt Richards, who Yusupov bluntly told me Friday had polled higher than Rogowsky in a SurveyMonkey survey of HQ’s top players.

In tweets, Rogowsky revealed that that “Sadly, it won’t be possible for me to continue hosting HQ concurrently as I had hoped” noting, “I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show.” Finding a way to preserve Rogowsky’s ties to HQ likely would have been best for the startup.  TechCrunch had raised the concern a year ago that unless Rogowsky was properly locked in with an adequate equity vesting schedule at HQ, he could leave. Or worse, he could be poached by Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube to host an HQ competitor.

“Rus is a visionary but not a good leader. He is extremely manipulative in an unproductive way. He’s a dude who just cares a lot about his reputation” a source noted. “A lot of the negative sentiment amongst staff is the belief that he cares more about his reputation than the company itself.”

HQ’s next attempt to revive growth appears to be HQ Editor’s Picks, is described as “a new live show on your phone where our host shows funny viral videos and you decide on who gets paid.” Finally it seems willing to embrace the potential of interactive live video entertainment outside of trivia and puzzles. HQ Editor’s Picks will face an uphill battle, since HQ dropped out of the top 1500 iOS apps last month, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower estimates that HQ saw just 8 percent as many downloads in March 2019 as March 2018.

After the loss of its spirit animal Rogowsky, the employees’ chosen leader Kroll, the supervision of veteran investor Cyan, and its product momentum, tough questions are what remain for HQ Trivia. The company’s struggles have paralyzed its progress towards finding a new viral mechanic or game format that attracts users. While HQ Words is fun, it’s too similar to its trivia competition to change the startup’s trajectory. And all of the in-fighting could scare off any talent hoping to turn HQ around. Unfortunately, securing an extra life for the game will take a more than a $3.99 in-app purchase.

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HQ Trivia replaces Quiz Daddy Scott Rogowsky

Posted by | Apps, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

Quiz Khalifa aka Host Malone aka Trap Trebek aka HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky has been pushed out of the live mobile gaming startup. The two split due to disagreements about Rogowsky attempting to take a second full-time job hosting sports streaming service DAZN’s baseball show ChangeUp while moving to only hosting HQ on weekends, TMZ first reported. HQ wanted someone committed to their show.

Now HQ co-founder and CEO Rus Yusupov confirms to TechCrunch that Rogowsky will no longer host HQ Trivia. He tells me that the company ran a SurveyMonkey survey of its top players and they voted that former guest host Matt Richards rated higher than Rogowsky. Yusupov says HQ is excited to have Richards as its new prime time host. It’s also putting out offers to more celebrity guests to host for a few shows, a few weeks or even a whole season of one of its time slots.

HQ Trivia’s new host Matt Richards

The departure could still shake HQ’s brand since Rogowsky had become the de facto face of the company. But he was also prone to talking a lot on the air and promoting himself, sometimes in ways that felt distracting from the game. Rogowsky has also been using HQ’s brand to further his stand-up comedy career, splashing its logo on advertising for his shows like this one below at a casino where “The centerpiece is a live trivia competition,” he told WPTV5.

[Update: Rogowsky has since commented on his departure via tweetstorm. He thanked the team and viewers for their support but didn’t mention the startup’s founders, confirmed his ChangeUp gig led to leaving HQ, and threw a dig at the company noting “I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show.”]

Sadly, it won’t be possible for me to continue hosting HQ concurrently as I had hoped, and because I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show, please allow me to use this thread to say all the things I would have said on my final broadcast. (2/5)

— Scott Rogowsky (@ScottRogowsky) April 12, 2019

Rogowsky also issued TechCrunch this statement:

“Nothing in my decade-plus entertainment career has meant more to me personally and professionally than my involvement with HQ. I am tremendously grateful to the talented team of engineers, writers, animators and producers at Intermedia Labs who helped me grow the show into the international phenomenon it became, and above all, I will forever be thankful for the millions of HQties around the world who will always hold a special place in my heart. While the decision to leave HQ was a difficult one, I am delighted to begin this next chapter in my career with the amazing people at MLB and DAZN. If you miss me on HQ, you can now get three hours of me every weeknight watching ChangeUp on DAZN.”

TechCrunch had predicted that Rogowsky might depart if he wasn’t properly compensated with equity in HQ Trivia that would only vest and earn him money if he stuck around. The damage to HQ could worsen if he’s scooped up by Facebook, Snapchat or another tech company to build out their own live video gaming shows.

Rogowsky used HQ Trivia branding to promote his own in-person comedy and trivia shows

HQ Trivia provided this statement on Rogowsky’s exit:

We continue to build an incredible company at HQ Trivia, from drawing hundreds of thousands of players to the platform daily, to increasing the size of the prize, to attracting strong talent. We’ve come a long way since Scott Rogowsky’s first trivia game and we’re grateful for everything he’s done for the platform. This is a team that creates products for talent to really shine—we’re just getting started at HQ Trivia, and as he makes his next move, wanted to take a minute to thank him for being part of our journey.

Yusupov tells me he’s excited about exploring new hosts, noting that Richards is a person of color who brings more diversity to HQ’s lineup. Richards is a stand-up comic who has appeared on CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Nickelodeon’s School of Rock and was a voice-over host for game show Trivial Takedown on FUSE. Yusupov says the team feels jazzed about the new creative opportunities beyond Rogowsky, though the CEO says he appreciates all that its former host contributed.

Richards will have the tall task of trying to revive HQ’s popularity. It climbed the app store charts to become the No. 3 top game and No. 6 overall app in January 2018, and peaked at 2.38 million concurrent players in March 2018. But it’s been on a steady decline since, falling to the No. 585 overall app in August, and it dropped out of the top 1,500 last month, according to App Annie. HQ Trivia was installed more than 160,000 times last month on iOS and Android, with approximately $200,000 in in-app purchase revenue, according to Sensor Tower. But that’s just 8 percent as many downloads as the 1.97 million new installs HQ got in March 2018.

Exhaustion with the game format, so many winners splitting jackpots to just a few dollars per victor and laggy streams have all driven away players. The introduction of a new Wheel of Fortune-style HQ Words game in August hasn’t stopped the decline. And the tragic death of HQ co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll may have impeded efforts to turn things around. There’s a ton of pressure on the company after it raised $23 million, including a $15 million round at a $100 million valuation.

Even if HQ Trivia fades from the zeitgeist, it and Rogowsky will have inspired a new wave of innovation in what it means to play with our phones.

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HQ Trivia launches HQ Words tonight under reinstalled CEO

Posted by | Apps, Colin Kroll, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Personnel, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, Talent, TC | No Comments

HQ’s expansion beyond trivia emerges from beta tonight, but the question is whether it’s different and accessible enough to revive the startup’s growth. HQ Words opens to everyone with today’s 6:30pm pacific broadcast within the HQ Trivia app after several weeks of closed beta testing of the Wheel Of Fortune-style game. The launch will be the first big move of Rus Yusupov now that’s been officially renamed CEO a week after the tragic death of fellow co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll, HQ confirms to TechCrunch.

“Intermedia Labs introduced the world to a category defining product, HQ Trivia. Once again, with HQ Words, Intermedia Labs is poised to captivate the world with a revolutionary experience that will bring people together in new ways around live mobile video” Yusupov tells us. “HQ Words is the most interactive experience we’ve ever made.”

Kroll’s passing comes at a tough time for HQ. Its daily player count has declined since it became a phenomenon a year ago. The novelty has begun to wear off, and with so many experienced trivia whizzes, cash jackpots are often split between enough people that winners only get a few bucks. Interrupting your days or nights to play at a particular time can be inconvenient compared to the legions of always-available other games. Yusupov, who was HQ’s CEO until Kroll took over in September, will have to figure out what will attract casual crosswords players and those who flocked to Zynga’s Words With Friends — the kind of disruptive thinking Kroll excelled at.

“Colin and I shared many incredible life moments over the last 7 years. We embarked on an incredible journey co-founding two breakthrough companies together – and the lessons we learned at Vine and HQ will continue to have a big impact on me. Like many relationships, we’ve also had our challenges – but it was during these challenging times that Colin’s kind soul and big heart would truly shine” Yusupov wrote in a statement about his co-founder that was originally published by Digiday in a touching memorial post. Between building Vine and HQ together, the pair have reimagined mobile entertainment, giving millions a chance to show off their wits and creativity. “He had this incredible ability to make everyone feel special. He listened well. He thought deeply. But above all, he cared about people more than work. The driving force behind his innovations was the positive impact they would have on people and world. Colin’s innovations and inventions have changed many people’s lives for the better and will continue to impact the world for years to come.”

HQ Trivia’s co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll passed away earlier this month

How To Play HQ Words

In HQ Words, players compete live to solve word puzzles by correctly choosing what letters are hidden. You can find the game inside the existing HQ Trivia iOS and Android apps. Host Anna Roisman pluckily provides a clue and then dispenses hints as the 25-second timer for each puzzle counts down. If the clue is “gemstone” and you’re shown “_ _ _ m _ _ _”, you’ll have to tap D, I, A, O, and N in any order. Choose three wrong letters or fail to fill out the words and you lose. You’ll spin a wheel before the game starts to get one letter that’s automatically revealed each round.

Make it through ten rounds and you and other winners get a cut of the cash prize, with the three who solved the puzzles fastest scoring a bigger chunk of the jackpot. The startup earns money through selling you extra lives inside Words, though it will probably feature sponsored games and product placement like Trivia does to pull in marketing dollars. Words will go live daily at 6:30pm pacific after Trivia’s 6:00 game, so you can turn it into HQ hour with family and friends.

HQ Words is much more frenetic than Trivia. Rather than picking a single answer, you have to rapidly tap letters through a combination of educated and uneducated guesses. That means it really does feel more interactive since you’re not sitting for minutes with just a sole answer tap to keep you awake. And because it doesn’t require deep and broad trivia knowledge, Words could appeal to a wider audience. The spinner also adds an element of pure luck, as a weaker player who gets to auto-reveal a vowel might fare better than a wiser player who gets stuck with a “Z” like I always seem to.

Fill In The Blank

The concern is that at its core, Words is still quite similar to Trivia. They’re both real-time, elimination round-based knowledge games played against everyone for money. Both at times feel like they use cheap tricks to eliminate you. A recent Words puzzle asked you to name a noisy instrument, but the answer wasn’t “kazoo” but “buzzing kazoo” — something I’m not sure anyone has ever formally called it. Given the faster pace of interaction, even tiny glitches or moments of lag can be enough to make you lose a round. An HQ Words beta game earlier this week failed to show some users the keyboard, causing mass elimination. The pressure to get HQ’s engineering working flawlessly has never been higher.

The phrasing of some HQ Words answers seems like a stretch

HQ originally agreed to let TechCrunch interview Kroll about what makes Words different enough to change the startup’s momentum. Yusupov was supposed to fill in after Kroll was sadly found dead last Friday of an apparent drug overdose. He later declined to talk or provide written responses. That’s understandable during this time of mourning and transition. But HQ will still need to build an answer into its app. Meanwhile, Chinese clones and US competitors have begun co-opting the live video quiz idea. Facebook has even built a game show platform for content makers to create their own.

HQ could benefit from a better onboarding experience that lets people play a sample game solo to get them hooked and tide them over until the next scheduled broadcast. Mini-games or ways to play along after you’re eliminated could boost total view time and the value of brand sponsorships. A “quiet mode” that silences the between-round chatter and distills HQ to just the questions and puzzles might make it easier to play while multi-tasking. Head-to-head versions of Trivia and Words might help HQ feel more intimate, and there’s an opportunity to integrate peer-to-peer gambling like ProveIt trivia.  And branching out beyond knowledge games into more social or arcade-style titles would counter the idea that HQ is just for brainiacs.

Around the height of HQ’s popularity it raised a $15 million funding round at a $100 million valuation. That seems justified given HQ will reportedly earn around $10 million in revenue this year. Gamers are fickle, though, and today’s Fortnite can wind up tomorrow’s Pokemon Go — a flash in the pan that fizzles out. Words is a great bridge to a world outside of Trivia, but HQ must evolve not just iterate.

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Live streaming studio, Culture Genesis, launches its first show, the quiz-based Trivia Mob

Posted by | Apple, Culture Genesis, executive, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Jeopardy, live streaming, Los Angeles, mlb, Netflix, player, qi, TC, United States | No Comments

A new generation of entrepreneurs is emerging to refashion the Los Angeles studio system for the digital age, forming companies that combine live-streamed video, podcasts and the newfound social media celebrities to craft entertainment for a new breed of consumer.

Two of those startup founders, longtime Apple executive Cedric Rogers and former developer for VEVO and MLB digital Shaun Newsum, are now pulling the curtains back on the first fruit of their production studio, Culture Genesis, with the launch of TriviaMob — a new quiz show targeting urban audiences.

The two creators envision their company as a combination of 106 & Park and Jeopardy with questions aimed at cultural references for the Highsnobiety and Complex set.

TriviaMob banner

TriviaMob players can win up to $10,000 in cash by competing individually or as part of a group (or “mob”) to win collective prizes by tuning in and competing to shows that stream every Sunday. Each player has 10 seconds to answer 10 questions around art, music, science and history. Players that answer all of the questions correctly will get a share of the $10,000 prize and participants who opt to be part of the “mob” can earn points for sponsored prizes.

For its foray into live-streamed appointment entertainment, Culture Genesis has tapped Melvin Gregg, the influencer and star of Netflix’s American Vandal series along with a host of… well… hosts, including former Miss USA contestant, Brittany Lucio; DJ Damage, the co-host of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs’ flagship show, REVOLT Live; Jessica Flores; and TV host and comedic actress Dariany Santana.

Backed initially by Los Angeles-based accelerator MuckerLab and Betaworks’ latest LiveCamp program, the two founders see Culture Genesis as tapping into the twin trends of gaming and mobile technology adoption in young African American and Latinx communities. The founders cite statistics indicating that 73 percent of African Americans and 72 percent of Latinx consumers over 13 years old identify as gamers.

“We’re building software for an urban, multicultural audience that continues to lead and influence culture — not just in the U.S. but around the world,” said Rogers, in a statement. “We see this influence growing in Hollywood but it’s not happening fast enough in Silicon valley. We want to accelerate this shift.”

The business model mimics that of HQ Trivia, the once-popular quiz show whose success has waned even as it scored massive gains in venture fundraising — valuing the company at a reported $100 million.

But the founders of Culture Genesis see their first product as fundamentally different from HQ. “People want to see things for them by them,” says Rogers. “From our perspective HQ meant nothing to our audience.”

Newsum, the company’s chief technology officer, goes even further. “I think HQ was a prime example of our thesis. HQ from a multicultural perspective — that didn’t appeal to our audience. Part of what we’re doing with Cultural Genesis is bringing that urban understanding.”

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HQ Trivia nabs Target to sponsor game with biggest ever single winner prize of $100K

Posted by | Apps, games, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, mobile games, Social, Startups, Target | No Comments

HQ Trivia is aiming to attract more players following a slight decline in downloads with a new, large prize. The company announced today it has bagged Target to sponsor to sponsor a special Emmy-themed game featuring its biggest-ever single winner prize of $100,000. The game will air on Monday, September 17 at 9 PM ET, but will be played in a different fashion than usual.

Typically, HQ Trivia players compete to win or split a cash prize, which often doesn’t amount to much more than enough for a cup of coffee. But this time around, HQ Trivia will run in a “one winner takes all” format, meaning only one individual will earn the winnings from the game.

Instead of a normal 12-question round with 10 second to answer, the game will continue until only one winner remains. Players can still use their extra lives, but only until question number 15. After that, they won’t work.

The game’s content will be Emmy Awards-themed, featuring questions about shows, actors, the Emmy telecast, and other historical facts.

Target is stepping up as the game’s sponsor for this winner-takes-all milestone game. The game itself will also be branded, but the exact nature of the creative is something Target is keeping under wraps for the time being as it’s a first for the retailer.

HQ Trivia has worked with a number of other big-name brands in the past through its game, including Warner Bros, Nike, MillerCoors, National Geographic, Chase, Viacom, and NBCUniversal.

The news of the milestone game comes at a time when HQ Trivia’s downloads have been trending slightly downwards. As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine reported last month for the app’s Apple TV launch, the iOS version of HQ Trivia had fallen from being the No. 1 U.S. trivia game to No. 10, and the No. 44 game to No. 196.

Today, it’s the No. 135 game and No. 467 Overall app.

According to data from Sensor Tower, the app has 12.8 million downloads across platforms, the majority of which (11M) were this year.

HQ Trivia claims the app continues to have the “largest live audience on mobile daily.”

The company responded at the time that games are a “hits business” and “don’t grow exponentially forever.” Rus Yusupov, CEO of HQ Trivia parent company Intermedia Labs, also noted that HQ was working on new game formats as a result.

Despite the fickle nature of mobile gamers, HQ Trivia has spawned a number of clones and other live games, including Fox’s FN Genius, ProveIt, FameGame, Gravy, MajorityRules, Cash Show, and many others. Even Facebook caught onto the trend, launching its own gameshows platform to support interactive video.

However, it remains to be seen if live game-playing is a lasting interest for mobile gamers, or just a flash in the pan.

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Bet money on yourself with Proveit, the 1-vs-1 trivia app

Posted by | Apps, funding, Gaming, Health, HQ Trivia, Mobile, online gambling, payments, Proveit, Social, Startups, TC, trivia | No Comments

Pick a category, wager a few dollars and double your money in 60 seconds if you’re smarter and faster than your opponent. Proveit offers a fresh take on trivia and game show apps by letting you win or lose cash on quick 10-question, multiple choice quizzes. Sick of waiting to battle a million people on HQ for a chance at a fraction of the jackpot? Play one-on-one anytime you want or enter into scheduled tournaments with $1,000 or more in prize money, while Proveit takes around 10 percent to 15 percent of the stakes.

“I’d play Jeopardy all the time with my family and wondered ‘why can’t I do this for money?’ ” says co-founder Prem Thomas.

Remarkably, it’s all legal. The Proveit team spent two years getting approved as “skill-based gaming” that exempts it from some laws that have hindered fantasy sports betting apps. And for those at risk of addiction, Proveit offers players and their loved ones a way to cut them off.

The scrappy Florida-based startup has raised $2.3 million so far. With fun games and a snackable format, Proveit lets you enjoy the thrill of betting at a moment’s notice. That could make it a favorite amongst players and investors in a world of mobile games without consequences.

“I could spend $50 for a three-hour experience in a movie theater, or I could spend $2 to enter a Proveit Movies tournament that gives me the opportunity to compete for several thousand dollars in prize money,” says co-founder Nathan Lehoux. “That could pay for a lot of movies tickets!”

Proving it as outsiders

St. Petersburg, Fla. isn’t exactly known as an innovation hub. But outside Tampa Bay, far from the distractions, copycatting and astronomical rent of Silicon Valley, the founders of Proveit built something different. “What if people could play trivia for money just like fantasy sports?” Thomas asked his friend Lehoux.

That’s the same pitch that got me interested when Lehoux tracked me down at TechCrunch’s SXSW party earlier this year. Lehoux is a jolly, outgoing fella who became interested in startups while managing some angel investments for a family office. Thomas had worked in banking and health before starting a yoga-inspired sandals brand. Neither had computer science backgrounds, and they’d raised just a $300,000 seed round from childhood friend Hilt Tatum who’d co-founded beleaguered real money gambling site Absolute Poker.

Yet when he Lehoux thrust the Proveit app into my hand, even on a clogged mobile network at SXSW, it ran smoothly and I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of matching wits for money. They’d initially outsourced development to an NYC firm that burned much of their initial $300,000 seed funding without delivering. Luckily, the Ukrainian they’d hired to help review that shop’s code helped them spin up a whole team there that built an impressive v1 of Proveit.

Meanwhile, the founders worked with a gaming lawyer to secure approvals in 33 states including California, New York, and Texas. “This is a highly regulated and highly controversial space due to all the negative press that fantasy sports drummed up,” says Lehoux. “We talked to 100 banks and processors before finding one who’d work with us.”

Proveit founders (from left): Nathan Lehoux, Prem Thomas

Proveit was finally legal for the three-fourths of the U.S. population, and had a regulatory moat to deter competitors. To raise launch capital, the duo tapped their Florida connections to find John Morgan, a high-profile lawyer and medical marijuana advocate, who footed a $2 million angel round. A team of grad students in Tampa Bay was assembled to concoct the trivia questions, while a third-party AI company assists with weeding out fraud.

Proveit launched early this year, but beyond a SXSW promotion, it has stayed under the radar as it tinkers with tournaments and retention tactics. The app has now reached 80,000 registered users, 6,000 multi-deposit hardcore loyalists and has paid out $750,000 total. But watching HQ trivia climb to more than 1 million players per game has proven a bigger market for Proveit.

Quiz for cash

“We’re actually fans of HQ. We play. We think they’ve revolutionized the game show,” Lehoux tells me. “What we want to do is provide something very different. With HQ, you can’t pick your category. You can’t pick the time you want to play. We want to offer a much more customized experience.”

To play Proveit, you download its iOS-only app and fund your account with a buy-in of $20 to $100, earning more bonus cash with bigger packages (no minors allowed). Then you play a practice round to get the hang of it — something HQ sorely lacks. Once you’re ready, you pick from a list of game categories, each with a fixed wager of about $1 to $5 to play (choose your own bet is in the works). You can test your knowledge of superheroes, the ’90s, quotes, current events, rock ‘n roll, Seinfeld, tech and a rotating selection of other topics.

In each Proveit game you get 10 questions, 1 at a time, with up to 15 seconds to answer each. Most games are head-to-head, with options to be matched with a stranger, or a friend via phone contacts. You score more for quick answers, discouraging cheating via Google, and get penalized for errors. At the end, your score is tallied up and compared to your opponent, with the winner keeping both player’s wagers minus Proveit’s cut. In a minute or so, you could lose $3 or win $5.28. Afterwards you can demand a rematch, go double-or-nothing, head back to the category list or cash out if you have more than $20.

The speed element creates intense, white-knuckled urgency. You can get every question right and still lose if your opponent is faster. So instead of second-guessing until locking in your choice just before the buzzer like on HQ, where one error knocks you out, you race to convert your instincts into answers on Proveit. The near instant gratification of a win or humiliation of a defeat nudge you to play again rather than having to wait for tomorrow’s game.

Proveit will have to compete with free apps like Trivia Crack, prize games like student loan repayer Givling and virtual currency-based Fleetwit, and the juggernaut HQ.

“The large tournaments are the big draw,” Lehoux believes. Instead of playing one-on-one, you can register and ante up for a scheduled tournament where you compete in a single round against hundreds of players for a grand prize. Right now, the players with the top 20 percent of scores win at least their entry fee back or more, with a few geniuses collecting the cash of the rest of the losers.

Just like how DraftKings and FanDuel built their user base with big jackpot tournaments, Proveit hopes to do the same… then get people playing little one-on-one games in-between as they wait for their coffee or commute home from work.

Gaming or gambling?

Thankfully, Proveit understands just how addictive it can be. The startup offers a “self-exclusion” option. “If you feel that you need to take greater control of your life as it relates to skill-gaming,” users can email it to say they shouldn’t play any more, and it will freeze or close their account. Family members and others can also request you be frozen if you share a bank account, they’re your dependant, they’re obligated for your debts or you owe unpaid child support.

“We want Proveit to be a fun, intelligent entertainment option for our players. It’s impossible for us to know who might have an issue with real-money gaming,” Lehoux tells me. “Every responsible real-money game provides this type of option for its users.

That isn’t necessarily enough to thwart addiction, because dopamine can turn people into dopes. Just because the outcome is determined by your answers rather than someone else’s touchdown pass doesn’t change that.

Skill-based betting from home could be much more ripe for abuse than having to drag yourself to a casino, while giving people an excuse that they’re not gambling on chance. Zynga’s titles like Farmville have been turning people into micro-transaction zombies for a decade, and you can’t even win money from them. Simultaneously, sharks could study up on a category and let Proveit’s random matching deliver them willing rookies to strip cash from all day. “This is actually one of the few forms of entertainment that rewards players financially for using their brain,” Lehoux defends.

With so much content to consume and consequence-free games to play, there’s an edgy appeal to the danger of Proveit and apps like it. Its moral stance hinges on how much autonomy you think adults should be afforded. From Coca-Cola to Harley-Davidson to Caesar’s Palace, society has allowed businesses to profit off questionably safe products that some enjoy.

For better and worse, Proveit is one of the most exciting mobile games I’ve ever played.

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HQ Trivia’s first sponsored games roll out this week from Nike and Warner Bros.

Posted by | Apps, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile | No Comments

HQ Trivia, the TV-style game show in an app, is starting to make money. The company this week is rolling out its first sponsored games, including a $3 million deal which includes sponsored games from Warner Bros., as well as a sponsored game from Nike, arriving today.

AdAge was the first to report on HQ Trivia’s deal with Warner Bros., which is using the popular live trivia app to promote three movies, beginning with Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.”

According to the report – which HQ Trivia declined to comment on at the time – the overall deal with Warner Bros. is worth $3 million, and will include a $250,000 jackpot on a sponsored game that promotes “Ready Player One,” airing on Wednesday.

The jackpot would be the largest ever seen on the HQ Trivia app, AdAge noted. (HQ Trivia confirmed this is the case, in an email to TechCrunch.) The biggest jackpot the app had seen until now was the $50,000 prize from the game that aired on March 4, 2018, the night of the Academy Awards. The game also saw its peak audience that night, with 2.18 million people logged on at the same time, the company said.

On Sunday evening, Warner Bros. confirmed its sponsorship of a Wednesday HQ Trivia game in a tweet from the “Ready Player One” Twitter account:

This Wednesday, Ready Player One and HQ Trivia invite you to join the leaderboard! Download the HQ Trivia App to play: https://t.co/FsnefCe3T9 pic.twitter.com/xLwhxvhNM4

— Ready Player One (@readyplayerone) March 26, 2018

Today, HQ Trivia teased another big name sponsor, Nike, in another tweet.

“HQ x Nike Airing 3.26,” is all the tweet said.

Nike confirmed to TechCrunch it will be hosting a surprise game today, on Air Max Day – Nike’s made-up shoe-celebrating holiday.

Airing 3.26 pic.twitter.com/e3OpLdrrlr

— HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) March 26, 2018

Don’t miss it. #AirMax Day. https://t.co/2XH5TJJhJh

— Nike (@Nike) March 25, 2018

Nike’s game will offer a $100,000 prize pot, along with some sort “prize that money can’t buy” for 100 winners. While neither HQ Trivia nor Nike would provide more information on what that prize may be, folks on Twitter are speculating it’s some sort of special edition shoe to tie-in to Air Max Day.

The Nike game will be a separate, surprise game that airs in addition to its regular games, HQ Trivia tells TechCrunch. Typically, HQ Trivia runs games at 3 PM EDT on weekdays and 9 PM EDT every day.

These sponsored game launches are notable because they represent HQ Trivia’s first serious attempts at generating revenue. But they don’t come as a surprise.

The company has said for some time that it would collaborate with brands as a means of making money. For example, it told Variety in December that the focus with its brand deals would be on enhancing gameplay. And when HQ Trivia recently announced its $15 million round of funding, it again reiterated how it would work with brands to sponsor questions or provide bigger jackpots in the future, instead of just running ads.

However, with bigger jackpots, there comes a bigger risk of cheating – something that’s been an increasing concern thanks to the numerous bots that have been built to help people answer questions accurately.

In fact, HQ Trivia recently kicked the remaining player out of a $25,000 game, which it followed up by tweeting that moderators kick people out who violate its terms and contest rules. The company never officially confirmed what the players did, but the general consensus is that they were caught cheating.

The HQ Trivia app is a free download on both iOS and Android.

Update:

The Nike game was won splitting the prize money four ways ($25,000 each). The company gave away 100 pairs of Air Max 270 sneakers with an HQ logo on them.

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HQ Trivia had a weird night

Posted by | app-store, Apple, Apps, Entertainment, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Startups, TC | No Comments

HQ Trivia was removed from the App Store following a controversial ending to a $25K game on Sunday night, according to Business Insider.

HQ has introduced a new high-stakes version of the game where one winner takes home a larger prize. However, on Sunday night, no one won the $25K.

The company posted on its Twitter account that moderators kick players who break the company’s TOS.

HQ moderators kick players that violate HQ’s Terms of Service and Contest Rules. For more information, please refer to our Terms of Service here: https://t.co/septsPVgOm

— HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) March 19, 2018

HQ would not be specific about what rules were broken, but BI reports that Twitter users had suggested it was due to jailbroken iPhones, which could be running software that gives users a leg up in the trivia competition.

For those who missed the game last night, two players remained for the final question. One was removed due to breaking the TOS, and the remaining player missed the last question, resulting in no winner.

Cheating seems to be a growing problem with HQ Trivia. There are countless guides online about how to cheat, including obvious methods like using voice dictation and a second device to Google search each question. The time limit makes that more difficult, but not impossible.

But as HQ grows its prize pot — the original prize was $1000 — cheating on the platform, and the methods by which people cheat, is only bound to intensify.

Even more bizarre, the app was seemingly removed from the App Store following the game. It has since re-appeared on the App Store.

HQ says that last night’s game and HQ’s removal from the App Store are unrelated events. A spokesperson from the company confirmed Mashable’s report that the app was removed because of a clerical error. Long story short, someone at HQ forgot to update the expired credit card info in the developer portal of the App Store.

App analytics firm Apptopia confirmed that HQ Trivia was removed from the App Store briefly, and that it has been falling in ranking for the past 30 to 60 days.

We reached out to Apple and haven’t heard back. We will report back as soon as we know more.

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12 questions about the future of HQ trivia and its $15M fundraise

Posted by | Apps, Colin Kroll, founders fund, Fundings & Exits, game shows, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, TC | No Comments

 HQ is redefining mobile, creating through its twice-daily trivia games a sense of urgency that pierces the monotony of our social feeds. Now it’s raised a big round of funding to turn its scrappy operation into the Jeopardy from tomorrow. But just like its 12-round games, we’ve got 12 questions (and some answers) for HQ. Read More

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HQ Trivia Is Coming to Android | Crunch Report

Posted by | Alexa, Amazon, Android, beta, bot, Canada, China, crunch, crunch report, daily, Disrupt, echo, founder, free life, hamze, Hands On, Holidays, HQ Trivia, LeEco, News, recap, report, review, Silicon Valley, TC, Tech, TechCrunch, technology, tito, tito hamze | No Comments

HQ Trivia is coming to Android, Amazon Echo is the No. 1 best seller on the site and the founder of LeEco is ordered to return to China. All this on Crunch Report. Read More

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