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The Future of Game Shows

The origins and history of game shows and matching consumer demands for the future

The Future of Game Shows

Game Shows in Western Culture

Bob Barker, the host of The Price is Right from 1972-2007, said “we play games at home, we play games at parties, we go to clubs and play games. Americans love games.” This phenomenon is not unique to just Americans, people around the world love games and humans crave live social experiences. Trivia game shows have long brought people together, either synchronously or asynchronously, and they have existed nearly as long as radio broadcasting itself.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was the first to attempt the trivia game show concept in 1923 with a live quiz on current events over the radio (Real Clear History). The first scheduled radio broadcast was in 1920 by Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company. Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s a plethora of game shows emerged, innovating on different formats. By the 1950’s, over 25% of the American population was tuning into game shows on a regular basis. Many people today likely have fond memories of watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune in a living room surrounded by family members, the virtual contestants that evening.

Jeopardy, the most iconic and successful trivia game show of all time, launched in 1964. After over 50 years of production, it still averages over 9.2m weekly viewers, and it is the most watched non-sports show on TV (The Wrap). Wheel of Fortune, launched in 1975, still averages a commanding 8.3m weekly viewers (The Futon Critic). Their formats have not altered dramatically since launch; these game shows have cracked the science of getting viewers bought into the success of other contestants and challenging their own intellect.

Millennials Discover Trivia

Since the rise and continued staying power of the mainstream trivia shows, there have been a few short-lived genre successes. The most popular in recent years was undoubtedly HQ Trivia, launched in 2017. The avid fans of HQ Trivia were nicknamed “HQties” by the comedic host Scott Rogowsky. In October of 2017, just a few months after launch, they had a modest 14k concurrent players which quickly grew to 1.2m concurrent players a mere three months later (Pocket Gamerz).  

By March of 2018, HQ Trivia peaked with more than 2.3m concurrent players before it started its descent and ultimate closure in February of 2020 (CNN). The start of the decline was driven by technical issues which consistently introduced latency problems and the booting of players. Many also cite an ineffective management team, unable to manage the growing HQ Trivia community and the inability to iterate on new and engaging versions of the product. Ironically, HQ Trivia closed right at the cusp of COVID, when it is plausible it would have attracted a large resurgence of players. They later attempted to relaunch but saw stalled traction throughout the remainder of 2020 and have not hosted a game since November of 2022.

HQ Trivia experienced viral growth in large part because of its network effects; more players attracted more ad dollars, which allowed for larger prize pools. HQ Trivia also modernized the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire help mechanics (which enabled people to phone a friend or eliminate two answers) by granting an extra life if someone used your referral code, which drove word-of-mouth promotion amongst players. HQ Trivia fully embraced the concept of audience participation versus merely broadcasting content to users, they had players not viewers.

Interestingly, HQ Trivia focused on minimizing push notifications, something often abused by many social apps and games. The average US smartphone user receives 46 push notifications per day (Business of Apps). Instead, HQ Trivia established a predictable schedule by hosting two sessions twice a day. “Apart from live sports or the Oscars, there are very few live events that people commune around,” said Mike Miley, the author of “Truth and Coincidences: Game shows in truth and fiction”. An established cadence is not novel to HQ Trivia, however, they saw the importance for it in long standing shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.

Social Media Says “Why Not Us Too?”

TikTok launched TikTok Trivia, which ran from Feb 22-26 this year, giving away a total of $500k over the course of the experimental mini season. It covered topics around pop culture, sports, and did a brand partnership with John Wick 4. You had to be 18+ years old and based in the US to compete. The host of the show was James Henry, an influencer on TikTok with over 4m followers. They copied a similar HQ Trivia format and hosted two quizzes per day.

There were mixed reviews of this experimental run; however, many users complained that it was difficult to avoid the almost “forced” user flow of funneling through the trivia game (Distractify). The other common complaint was that the host, James Henry, drew out the questions too long, which runs counter to the instantaneous expectant TikTok user base. It took over 9 minutes for the first question to be asked, over double the amount of time it took on HQ Trivia.

What is Next for Game Shows?

We have gone from watching contestants, and participating silently (like shouting the answer to the Jeopardy question in your living room so your relatives would hear you), to now expecting to be the direct participant. In a world where everyone expects to be the contestant, new methods need to be adopted. In Jeopardy, every show has 61 questions (sometimes not all are asked due to time constraints), often moving from one question to the next in 10-15 seconds, a rapid pace. Why then, in an era where our attention spans have decreased by 33% in the past two decades, do we expect people to be more patient?

There are 5 things we believe should exist in the next game show:

  1. Shorter Response Time: Respondents should be given something closer to a 3 second response time versus the 10 seconds that were granted on HQ Trivia. It is important to have a shorter answer time given the enhanced search tools now available to us and the sheer amount of people that would attempt to cheat via tools like Chat GPT.
  2. More Questions: There should be more than 12 questions, we should increase this to >30. This will weed out more players and allow for the end prize pool to be bigger and more rewarding for winners.
  3. Less Time In Between Questions: It should be closer to 15 seconds versus the 1-2 minutes that HQ Trivia and Tik Tok Trivia had.
  4. Gulag Ghost Mode: When a player guesses incorrectly, they should be able to continue playing and win their way back based upon their answers. There should also be a secondary smaller pool that those eliminated ghosts can compete for to keep the eliminated contestants engaged.
  5. Stand Alone Application: We believe, like HQ Trivia, this needs to be a standalone application, not a bolt on to an existing social media platform. Tik Tok Trivia has proven that this should not be a feature.

Takeaway: People have proven through the test of time that they enjoy measuring their intellect against others via interactive entertainment. HQ Trivia proved that this generation has an appetite for game shows and that users want to actively participate; however, we believe we have yet to see a game show incorporate the learnings from both the legacy staying powers and the overnight sensation of HQ Trivia.

The Future of Game Shows

The origins and history of game shows and matching consumer demands for the future

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