Over 2 million people opened a smartphone app on Wednesday night for their chance to win $250,000. HQ Trivia, the quiz app developed by the founders of Vine, has generated a lot of buzz since it launched last year. It’s part of a wave of mobile trivia games where users compete for real money. Wednesday’s game marked HQ Trivia’s biggest prize ever and brought out a record number of players.
Neal Pollock is a freelance writer, three-time “Jeopardy” champion and recently won $25,000 in a mobile trivia contest at South by Southwest. He talked with Marketplace host Molly Wood about how mobile apps are changing the equation for trivia enthusiast like him. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Molly Wood: So Neal let’s talk about this mobile trivia app landscape. How many of them are out there that you know of or do you play?
Neal Pollack: Well, I regularly play two or three but I know of at least a half dozen others that are out there. I mean once HQ debuted suddenly there was money being offered every day, all day. In the past if you wanted to win money playing trivia you had to either get on “Jeopardy” or “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” And those are — I can tell you that those are both laborious processes. So the fact that there’s this constant stream of money being offered, even in small increments which is usually what you win in these apps is a huge change.
Wood: And are people excited about it? Are trivia enthusiasts like yourself excited about it?
Pollack: I think I’m probably more excited about it than most people. But yeah I mean, 2.3 million people played Wednesday night. So you know there’s definitely a whole new generation of trivia fans being created by these, because I think a lot of the players are young.
Wood: Right. You also got that big dopamine hit though because you won $25,000 on an app at South by Southwest. Can you tell us about that? That was not HQ trivia right? What app was that?
Pollack: No, I won $25,000 on an app called Prove It which is a slightly different model. You bet money against other players. They had a contest in Austin and I won. They awarded me $25,000. So yeah of course I’m enthusiastic about this. I mean, it’s a profitable hobby all of the sudden.
Wood: Is there also a sense that it’s going to be profitable for these mobile apps like do you have any sense of of how these companies are going to make money and how that might change them going forward?
Pollack: Well there are different models. I mean Prove It, which is the app that one takes a rake, just like online poker companies do. So if I bet a dollar and the person against me bets a dollar the app takes some 24 cent rake or whatnot. So you know if you’re there are thousands and thousands of games playing per day then suddenly that turns into a legitimate money making model. In the case of HQ, the key is obviously going to be advertising and sponsorship. I mean the jackpot on Wednesday night was actually sponsored by Warner Brothers. It was a promotional stunt for “Ready Player One.” You know and they had a quiz the night before, a couple of days before, where they gave away $100,000 courtesy of Nike. So I think corporations are seeing that there’s an audience for this and so they’re investing in it.
Wood: Is there any like trivia purist backbone that’s going to get raised as the questions start to get more promotional like their placements for you know Nike shoes or movies?
Pollack: Oh, I’m sure there are going to be some trivia purists who think it’s beneath them to play a “Ready Player One” quiz or I don’t know a quiz sponsored by Carl’s Jr. or whoever is going to sponsor them, but the way I look at it is, this is money that’s being given away. And so, if there’s a Carl’s Jr. quiz then I’m going to study up on the names of Carl’s Jr. burgers for a few hours before — a few minutes before playing. I don’t think you’d need a few hours on that. I mean you can be a purist if you want but you know when “Jeopardy” gives out prize money it doesn’t come out of Alex Trebek’s pocket, it comes from advertisers. A win’s a win, as far as I’m concerned.
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