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HQ Trivia is the only game where push notifications matter


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Push notifications are a notorious pain.

It’s not the developers’ fault. Push notifications are meant to make a user excited or curious enough to open the app or game and spend more time with it. Push notifications may be benign but they are an annoyance, and apps allow users to disable push notifications. If you do so, you won’t miss much.

That’s not the case with HQ Trivia, a game where the push notification sent to your phone is of the utmost importance.

HQ Trivia is one of the most talked-about mobile games right now. HQ Trivia asks players 12 questions, with 10 seconds allotted to answer each question. Before the game begins, a push notification is sent out to alert players the game is about to begin. Players who make it to final round and win split a prize pool ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. HQ Trivia usually airs at 3 p.m. ET and again at 9 p.m. ET, but this past weekend, two $10,000 trivia sessions were held within an hour of each other.

When the push notification is sent out, players roughly two minutes to open HQ Trivia and get into the game. Then they have about 10 seconds to answer a question — this is to keep someone from looking up the correct answer if they don’t know it.

So when a round of HQ Trivia can give the user a share of $10,000, that push notification is more than a notice that a new game is beginning. It’s a reminder that you could earn a nice chunk of change.

The way HQ Trivia is designed, and the consistency with which its push notifications come, delivers on the developers’ original promise: It’s exciting. When that message pops up on your screen, it’s not met with the same frustrated sigh as a notification from First Strike or even Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. That’s because HQ Trivia’s push notification is critical to participating in the game.

HQ Trivia’s development team seems to be hyperaware of how people respond to push notifications and, as such, limits the number of notifications the app sends. If there are two games being played over the course of a day, only two push notifications will be sent. This isn’t enough to be resentful of the app — something I’ve come to be with news organizations whose push notifications I’ve enabled on my phon. But it is just enough to remind you that your favorite activity of the day is about to begin again.

It’s addicting. There’s been a lot of talk abut why HQ Trivia has become a phenomenon so quickly. Some people have argued that because the possibility of winning actual cash is involved, it triggers the same euphoric, adrenaline-fueled brain synapses that gambling does. Others have pointed to the reaction from large factions of people on Twitter and Facebook, who post about playing HQ Trivia and their inability to stop.

I don’t think HQ Trivia is a symbol of the dystopian, technology ruled future that we’re all so fearful of; colleges aren’t going to start using HQ Trivia results as a measurement for judging high school applicants. HQ Trivia is, however, a perfect example of how a development team can use push notifications the way they were intended and build an ongoing, dedicated and returning player base every single night.

HQ Trivia is just one of many games — let alone apps — begging for your attention. In 2013, Apple declared that more than 7.4 trillion push notifications were delivered to iPhone and iPad users. If push notifications aren’t disabled, your phone becomes a ferocious bee searching out pollen, delivering a never ending, annoying buzz to your ear. You glance down at your phone more often and, if we’re being honest, we don’t need about 80 percent of those push notification alerts.

As Wired’s David Pierce writes, push notifications “never existed for your benefit. They're for brands and developers, methods by which thirsty growth hackers can grab your attention anytime they want.”

HQ Trivia feels different — or at least it does right now. The push notification I get on my phone at 2:59 p.m. and 8:59 p.m. doesn’t feel intrusive or unnecessary. It’s one of the only apps where I haven’t disabled the option for developers to send me a little alert, promising me 15 minutes of good trivia and the potential to win money.

Mobile apps and games are a business, and HQ Trivia feels like the first app in a very long time that understands what people want from their in-game and out-of-game experience.