Playing the Game 

Bill Cullen The Price Is Right 1963

During our BiTE team call last week we got all nostalgic for the days of real game shows. Joe went down the YouTube rabbit hole and spent his weekend watching old episodes; we mused on where those big winners are now. We talked about how much better they were Back When — not the new, staid, modern contests of relative knowledge but the garish, earth-toned extravaganzas of weirdness, questionable categories, and Paul Lynde in the center square

Now that’s entertainment.*

In these days of mobile and social distancing, what’s the state of mobile game shows? Are there any worth your notice? Well, there’s HQ Trivia, the once wildly popular live, trivia app that lets you win actual money. In fact in 2018 25-year-old Ohioan Jason Varney won $20,833 by remembering the origin of the line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.

Of course, HQ mysteriously shut down completely and laid off all its employees this past February after a year of utter internal turmoil following the overdose of its co-founder.

Wait, what? 

HQ was launched in 2017 by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, two of the masterminds behind Vine. And it was astonishingly successful in its first year, hitting that perfect sweet spot of novelty, actual money, and charming host. The Verge called it “the future of both mobile gaming and live TV.” But over time it lost its mojo, super-popular host Scott Rogoswsky left to pursue other projects and then, in December 2018, founder Colin Kroll was found dead of an opioid overdose in his SoHo apartment. 

Through Kroll’s death, the NYPD uncovered a heroin delivery ring called Mike’s Candyshop, which sounds like a terrible video game.

Anyway, it looked like curtains for HQ, but at the end of March of this year it mysteriously reemerged. No one from the company will discuss whether it’s under new ownership or not, but Yusupov is, apparently, still CEO. And now they’re trying to turn their dubious fame to good, raising money for COVID-19 relief in New Jersey

That’s…great? Weird! But great. 

OK, so, this week’s column didn’t go at all as we expected. The idea was to explore the ecosystem of mobile game shows, but instead we fell into this bizarre rabbit hole of founder deaths and dubious fame.

And the thing is, HQ is really the only representative of live, mobile game shows. Perennial TV favorite Who Wants to Be a Millionaire has created an app companion to its show that allows players at home to win actual money, but that’s not a standalone game.

With the success of TikTok and now Houseparty, the time seems absolutely right for a return to the face-to-face glory of a $25,000 Pyramid or Super Password. And we’re pretty surprised there isn’t one yet.

It occurs to us that we’ve gone full circle a bit — from enjoying in-person experiences to wanting everything done in the privacy of our 6.1-inch worlds, to again craving at least the sensation of community again. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the absence of other people has made us think of them quite fondly.

*In 1984, Michael Larson beat the Press Your Luck system by memorizing the board pattern and winning an unprecedented $113,000. Here’s his utterly bonkers episode.  


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