The alert pops up on my phone twice a day. “HQ is live. Are you ready to play?” I almost always am.
HQ is an app-based trivia game where anyone can answer a dozen multiple choice questions. Get them all correct and winners split a prize that ranges from $1,000 to $10,000. The game went from unheralded to a bona fide phenomenon during December, and now nearly half a million people are playing the twice-daily games. The number is sure to rise as Android capability and an international edition in the United Kingdom come online in the weeks to come.
HQ is a revolutionary technology wrapped in a somewhat banal package, which makes it ripe for the trend story. Already we’ve seen people say it is “the future of television” and the “future of mobile gaming” and “a harbinger of dystopia.”
I do not have such grandiose claims – I guess I’ll just have to wait around a few decades to see if it really is the end of society – just a few thoughts that might be of use to communications professionals.
Seeing is believing. A big part of HQ’s success is the manic energy of host Scott Rogowsky. The gangly millennial deftly alternates pop-culture filled nicknames, shout-outs to users and additional information about questions. Technically a trivia competition could just be questions and answers, but the presence of the host (and a frantic chat feed) very much means this is a live event. Compare the HQ app to any number of turgid webinars where PowerPoint slides and slowly moving cursors dominate and it’s night and day. While I do not suggest executives start referring to themselves as the “Quiz Khalifa,” some live video might be helpful.
A prize is nothing but a number. HQ gives away real cash, transferred into a PayPal account when the balance reaches $20. But the strange thing is, it is not very much money. Split between a few dozen winners, each person may only get a few dollars at the end of a competition. The ability to win something is more important than the amount. Something for marketing people to think about when designing the incentive to take part in an industry survey or event at a trade show.
Technical infrastructure is important. The popularity of HQ took many people by surprise, probably most of all the HQ team. Especially in the second week of December, the game was negatively impacted by lag and overloaded servers. When adding capacity, companies need to think in the big picture. How can things continue to function if this is very successful? Look at the edge cases, and have contingences on how to keep functioning.
Be sorry and move on. When HQ falters, however, they have been very transparent about what has gone around. There are missed queues, wrong answers and even the stray curse word. Scott – or the smattering of guest hosts who showed up around the Festival of Lights – are always quick to acknowledge what happened. Then they get back to the trivia. It is an effective tactic. The hundreds of people in the chat may howl when something breaks, but as long someone gets a timely explanation, it is relatively easy to move on. Consider that at the next client crisis.
HQ’s current cultural dominance is destined to fade. But the collective, smartphone-enabled event, where millions of people are called to do something because of a push alert, is clearly just in its infancy. This new form of mass gathering will challenge marketing and communications professionals. As with all new mediums, there will be opportunities to tell new stories and reach people in new ways.
But for now, I must go. It is nearly three o’clock and I have money to win.
Jon Schubin is a vice president at Cognito