How we’re taking on HQ Trivia and building the “YouTube for Game Shows”

Showdown Live launches in the App Store and Google Play in May. Visit http://showdown.live to join the early beta.

When HQ Trivia came out in August last year, the Internet went crazy over it. It quickly amassed over a million players per game, and the media heralded it as the future of game show entertainment. It took everyone by surprise as fans from around the world flocked to play. Inside our company, however, the mood was somber. Shock really. The release of HQ hit us like a ton of bricks. As fate would have it, we were working on our own live streaming trivia game, and it looked a lot like HQ. Witty comedic host? Check. Live streaming questions that you answer on your phone? Check. Punchy graphics, and fixed game times? Check. The similarities were stunning. I still remember one of our developers remarking to me “It’s as if they hacked into our project management software and stole our game!” Of course, that wasn’t true, but it sure felt like it.

After HQ launched, we decided to stop development on our app. We had a lot of soul searching to do as we stumbled around in a haze of confusion wondering how it was possible that someone was working on virtually the same app that we were. In order to continue with development, we needed a better understanding of how we would enter the market now that we wouldn’t be first. After almost throwing in the towel and killing the project, we decided instead to study HQ and identify all the places we thought it fell short. If we were going to launch, we didn’t want to be a copycat app, we wanted to be something different; something better.

What HQ knocks out of the park

We couldn’t tear HQ apart without first appreciating what it’s done well, and there’s a lot of it. First, they deserve the credit of being first to market and opening up the category. They beat us to the party and kudos to them for doing so.

Secondly, the traction and PR has been really impressive. Boasting such accomplishments as a Superbowl Sunday game with two millions players, Jimmy Kimmel as a guest host, $15 million in funding from the Founders Fund, and press out the wazoo. These guys know how to work the media machine. And of course we can’t deny that the games are fun to play. Scott is a great host, with the right balance of humor and wit. The production is on point, with a snazzy graphics package and consistent branding throughout. They also have an effective viral distribution system through their “extra life” incentive.

Positives aside, as we dug deeper into the game, it became clear to us that there are some things at the game’s core that we didn’t align or agree with. In these perceived “shortcomings” lay our opportunity.

Our fundamental issues with HQ

After evaluating HQ for five months, we settled on 5 keys things that we didn’t align with. We decided that these five things would be the driving factors in how our app would be different.

#1 — It’s not all about the money (or at least, it shouldn’t be)

Ah the money. The absolute number 1 reason why HQ has been able to get the traction it has. Everyone loves free money, and the fact that an app would just give it away for answering 12 questions has people clamoring to play. It’s a brilliant game mechanic, but is it sustainable, and is it necessary? To answer that you need to look at those who came before HQ. For that we turn to the reigning trivia champs: Trivia Crack, and Quizup. Both apps have millions of active users, far more than HQ, but neither give away money. Winning money is a very powerful way to get people to play the game, but is in enough to keep them? It’s a purely external reward, but building a successful app is more than just external rewards, you need internal rewards too. It’s the joy of winning, the sharing with friends, the community among peers. That’s what keeps us coming back to an app in the long run. Personal fulfillment! Not just the chance to win money. To that point, did you ever actually win any money from HQ? Do you know anyone who did? The odds are against you my friend. And the more people who play HQ, the less likely it will be that you’ll ever see a dime.

#2 — Getting eliminated sucks

In HQ, when you get a question wrong, you’re out of the game. Unless you have an extra life from sharing the game with a friend, you’re done. Gameplay over. If you’ve played HQ and experienced this, you can understand how frustrating it is. We were fascinated by how many people stopped playing once they were eliminated. A game that started with one million players, would end up with less than 150,000 players in the final round. That’s a loss of 85% of their users! That’s a staggering number and a missed opportunity to keep those players engaged. We wondered how we could do better. Even if they weren’t going to win money, would they still play if they could? This was a big factor in constructing our gameplay decisions.

#3 — The questions are hard, and all over the place.

If you’ve played HQ, you understand that the questions are all over the place. They range from sports to American history, to pop culture. Once you’re 6 questions deep, it starts to get really hard and you’re often left wondering how the hell anyone knows the answers to these? As HQ only has two games a day, they’ve created questions that cover a wealth of categories. They bounce from one genre to another with little regard for the type of trivia each individual player might want to answer. If you’re going to win HQ, you need to know a lot, about a lot. That’s perfectly fine, and generalist games are great, however there are swaths of users that would rather compete in areas that they are experts in. Even Jeopardy, the toughest trivia competition on the planet, lets contestants pick from categories. This style of ‘anything goes’ trivia almost guarantees that you’re going to fail at some point in the game.

#4 — Set game times are great, until they’re not

We’re firm believers in the concept of set game times and our initial app also had live games. The challenge however is that users play games on their phones when they have time to kill. They sneak moments throughout the day based on their ever-changing schedules. If you’re available to play HQ when it’s live, that’s great — but what about the other 23.5 hours of the day? Then you’re out of luck. So, while HQ has the advantage of pulling great numbers for the two games they have each day, they’re missing out on millions of other players who want to play at a time that’s convenient for them.

#5 — Nothing sours users more than a buggy experience

HQ has stumbled along the way with respect to their apps stability. Now I can’t fault them too hard on this because after being entrenched in the live streaming industry for the past 8 years, I know how difficult it is to host 1 million simultaneous, low-latency live streams, on mobile devices. In fact, just a year ago this technical feat wouldn’t have been impossible. They rely on Ultra Low Latency (ULL) to sync the questions and answers and the tech behind that is very new. HQ had to overcome a huge technical hurdle to get this working and it was a rough ride to start. Games not loading, the live stream buffering, questions failing to launch. The majority of negative reviews in the app store are related to buggy games and laggy streams. Since we are going to launch our own live streaming trivia app, we better figure out how to deal with scaling it from the start. While users were willing to put up with it from HQ because they were first, they certainly wouldn’t from us.

Our plan to do things differently

Once we had identified all the things we loved about HQ, and all the things we didn’t, we applied our findings back to our initial concept. What came out of it was not a direct competitor to HQ, but instead our vision, and the next evolution of what HQ could be. With that, I’m announcing that:

We’re building the YouTube for live game shows — and it’s called Showdown Live

Showdown live is a live streaming game show app that democratizes game play. Here’s how we are addressing each of the issues we’ve identified above, and putting our own spin on them.

#1 — We play for glory, not for money

In Showdown Live, we place the focus back on the fun of playing trivia with friends. While we’re not ruling out giving out prizes in the game, our focus is on helping you prove to your friends that you’re a better trivia player than they are. We realize that not giving away money will keep some players away, but we’re more focused on players who love trivia for the sake of the game — and judging by the success of Trivia Crack, there are millions of them out there.

#2 — You’ll never get eliminated

Showdown Live is not an elimination game. You get points based on how fast you answer a question correctly. You have 10 seconds to answer each question and the faster you answer it, the more points you get. Get it wrong, and you’ll lose points but you won’t get kicked out of the game. Everyone deserves to play to the end, regardless of how they perform. You’ll be rewarded for speed and accuracy and at the end of each game, your points are weighted towards your global leaderboard ranking.

#3 — Host your own live games anytime you want

In Showdown Live, you can host your own games! That means everyone can be a “quizz daddy” or “quizz mommy” just like Scott on HQ. This allows for games to be created at all hours of the day allowing users to play whenever they like. You can also subscribe to your favorite creators to get updates on when they’re going to host their next game. Imagine being able to play games that your friends are hosting, and subscribe to creators who you love to watch. And if you enjoy hosting, you can build your own fan base of players who get notified every time you go live.

#4 — Trivia questions on topics you care about.

One of the huge advantage of allowing users create their own games is that these games can be created in any category and niche they can come up with. Games are tagged with keywords to identify their categories. Players can then search for games with those tags. So while you can still host general trivia games, you can also play and host games around topics that you love. Consider yourself a huge Game of Thrones fan? Create some trivia around it and you’ll find players who love it too. The options are endless and we believe that niche categories will be the glue that helps us build a thriving trivia community.

#5 — Smooth video playback with no lag

It would be ill-advised for us to say that our app will not have bugs. That’s just the nature of software development. We are however taking a different live streaming approach than HQ which should eliminate video lag and any gameplay issues that come with streaming to millions of players. This will insure that questions are always in sync with the video and no one receives buffering video on their phone. You’ll ultimately be the judge on how well we do with this, but it’s something we’ve focused on from the beginning to make sure we don’t suffer the same growing pains that HQ did.


And there you have it. What started out for us as a simple live streaming trivia app has evolved into a complete game show platform. We’ve learnt a lot from studying HQ, and we’re excited to share our app as the next evolution in the genre. We can’t wait to see the games that you create and we’ll be hosting our own daily games as well.

If you’re interested in what we’re building and want to become a beta tester, you can sign up at http://showdown.live. We’ll be going live in the App Store and Google play in May and would love to hear your feedback on the new platform. At the end of the day, we want to create a live streaming trivia community of users who simply love to play.

-Mike Dawson