Last Friday came the news that HQ Trivia is game over. Citing a last minute withdrawal from investors, this suddenly ended a wild, two and a half year ride. Despite challenges everybody in the industry knew HQ was facing, it still came as a shock to employees, insiders and players alike.
This demise makes us reflect on the legacy of a breakthrough app. I believe HQ will turn out to have a long lasting impact on the way mobile video, games and interactive entertainment in general are created, distributed and consumed. So let’s celebrate and admire what they achieved, learn from what went wrong, and look at what the future holds.
First, HQ showed that, in an era of ‘on-demand everything’ and ‘death of linear TV’, appointment media is still a thing: at its peak, millions of people would join a live session and have multiplayer fun on a scale not seen before — nor since. Packing it as an app instead of a TV show and cleverly using push notifications, it managed to bring in a hard-to-reach daily audience to an app while only producing one or two new pieces of content a day.
Second, it went against the common wisdom that for video content to reach a massive online audience, you have to go through social video platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or Twitch. Instead, HQ launched its own app, giving it full creative, technical and business control. It ensured exclusive and non-diluted attention for its content, while avoiding being associated with the privacy concerns people hold against Big Tech.
Third, it proved that low latency live streaming finally allows us to deliver on the decades-old promise of interactive TV. Due to real time, on air, personalised feedback and two-way communication, users are not merely addressed; they’re acknowledged and rewarded in a way that no other attempt at interactive TV has been able to. This is audience engagement as it should be.
This is audience engagement as it should be.
Fourth, it showed what it takes to unite people across generations and social divides: easy to understand gameplay with a believable chance to win a prize. Served as a recognisable format and an all-inclusive, comedic and lighthearted tone. Especially when Scott Rogowsky was the main host, HQ achieved something magical in a fragmented, micro-niche world. It brings back memories of the golden age of TV game shows and built on You Don’t Know Jack and 1 vs 100 on Xbox as earlier digital breakthroughs in TV-style interactivity for the masses.
Summing up all its achievements, you can only respect and admire what HQ tried to do. Unfortunately, HQ made so many mistakes on its path that it never managed to live up to its potential. Since the beginning and to its last day, it was held back by glitches. All too often, games couldn’t be completed, video would be out of sync, stutter or break down completely, people lost data and bots deployed by cheaters would ruin the experience. This alienated all but the most patient users.
In search of revenues, sudden and unpredictable changes to game mechanics and prizes were made, estranging fans while failing to bring in new users. Halfhearted advertising attempts battled it out with bizarrely prized in-app purchase schemes that at times made it seem that HQ was trying to combine the worst of TV ad breaks and pay-to-win mechanics. And then there was no small amount of drama, accusations, poor decisions, controversy and tragedy that’s been giving off an increasingly bad vibe to players, advertisers and, as it now fatefully turns out, investors.
This leaves us with a number of questions. Was HQ a fad, a dead end that ran its course and deserves to be forgotten? Or was it a brilliant concept that combined a rapid ascent with inferior technology and management? And if that’s the case, what will emerge from its ashes? Perhaps HQ is the AltaVista of interactive video. If so, when will the Google of interactive video rise?
You can call me biased. As co-founder and CEO of Ex Machina, I’ve been working for about twenty years on various forms of interactive video. From multiplayer mobile games and formats for Xbox to second screen apps and Twitch Extensions; hundreds of interactive online video and TV projects reaching countless millions of people. But with all that experience and looking at the HQ story, I believe we are still only at the very beginning of what interactive video will achieve. If we apply lessons learned and look at the bigger picture, HQ will turn out to be but the tip of an iceberg. A stepping stone for a new era of live, multi-user, interactive, appointment-style, gamified, video-centric experiences. This will not just transform entertainment, but education, e-commerce and one-to-many communication at a much broader scale.
The good news is that today, the technology challenges that HQ struggled with are solved. Low latency, synchronous live streaming is here and can run on traditional CDNs. It reliably scales to millions of users while costing no more than any other form of online video. Interactivity runs in the cloud, available around the world and able to scale to any capacity needed in an instant. A wide range of off-the-shelf features and game mechanics makes it quick and easy to create, test and launch new interactive video formats. APIs and integrations offer valuable insights and allow direct and indirect monetisation options.
In the wake of HQ, the reach of interactive video will venture way beyond trivia. Beyond entertainment, even. Live, interactive, mobile video will touch and delight people in more and more domains. We look forward to seeing how millions of people will discover for the first time the fun and value of interacting on their phone, together with many others, while playing a live video feed. This can and will take many different forms, for instance:
- Re-invented and newly created game shows
- Direct audience engagement for sports — especially eSports
- New opportunities for talent & reality shows with in app auditions and voting
- Shoppable video and live e-commerce events
- In-company gamified learning, communication and collaboration
- Education and live homework guidance
- Real-time research, loyalty boosters, and interactive events like live streamed wine tastings
The future of interactive television is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.
In five years time, most of us will have forgotten that HQ ever existed. Because by then, there will be examples that surpass it across many areas, used daily by millions. Just like today, in a world where AltaVista is no longer on anyone’s mind. But still, without that early, but ultimately flawed attempt, we could not get to where we’ll go tomorrow. All in all, we should be grateful for what HQ brought to this world as pioneers of interactive video. To paraphrase William Gibson: the future of interactive television is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.
P.S. Ex Machina is growing! We are looking for passionate developers, designers, and project managers in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Montreal. Consult all of our available positions on our website.