When semi-professional poker player turned Jeopardy champion Alex Jacob tweeted that he hadn’t been paid the $20,000 he won on HQ, the social media outcry against the beleaguered trivia app was swift. Payment was not.
Jacob, who did not respond to a request for comment, received more than 1,000 retweets on his request to get paid—but he might not have been the only one who got stiffed.
Since 2017, Robert Rios, who owns a general contracting company, says he played HQ almost every night. He even bought himself an HQ shirt. On June 10, Rios (HQ user “netspride15”) won $20,000 in the same game. Both Rios and another winner from that night, Josh Halbur (HQ user “Apeminkie”), confirmed to The Daily Beast that they have yet to see their winnings.
Rios tells The Daily Beast that the day after winning, he received a call from HQ asking him if he had played the game alone. Rios, not knowing that playing with fewer than 10 people was fine according to the game's terms of service agreement, told them he always played alone.
Rios remains unsure why the company thinks he violated its rules—he told The Daily Beast that he often invites some of his friends over to play with him on Sunday nights but it's never been 10 people.
Update: The Daily Beast viewed screenshots showing “netspride15” was an active member of Quizcord, a Discord chat where some players collaborate to cheat at the game, though it was not apparent that netspride15 participated in the chat on the day of the June 10 winning game. HQ did not respond for additional request for comment about any of the June 10 winners.
“I think it would be safe to say that they are going through some issues, but nothing that would justify them running a game show, announcing a prize pot, and then later not delivering on that promise to the winners,” Rios said. It’s not clear if HQ accused the night’s other winners, including a well-known Jeopardy player, of the same violation.
HQ may be regretting a misstep it made the night Rios, Jacob, Halbur, and two other players won. The trivia app had recently changed its format from 12 questions to 25 and after every few questions checkpoints arose, allowing players to either cash out or keep playing for more. If you continued past a checkpoint and got a question wrong, you’d lose it all.
HQ has had a rough go of it recently. HQ host Scott Rogowski, a.k.a. Quiz Daddy, left the company in April. In December, its CEO Colin Kroll was found dead of a heroin overdose. Afterward, the man who replaced him, Rus Yusupov, was so unlikable that staff staged a failed mutiny. Then 20 percent of their staff was let go as downloads plummeted.
The company did not respond to the Daily Beast’s multiple request for comment, but HQ previously told TechCrunch that 99 percent of players can cash out within 48 hours of winning, but some must wait 90 days to ensure they haven’t broken the rules. (This is not mentioned in the terms of service agreement.)
According to the HQ Terms of Service agreement, winners must cash-out the prize within 90 days. Failure to do so may forfeit them their money. But if players cannot press the cash-out button, and HQ ignores their requests for help for long enough, eventually they may forfeit their winnings.
HQ, which once required users to win at least $20 to cash out, took away that requirement in 2018 after criticism, replacing it with a $5 cash out requirement. Before that, players would win amounts under $20 and just leave it in the app. But even after the $20 restriction was removed, it still wasn’t easy for winners to collect. The app was glitchy, often freezing at a penultimate question, and full of lags and possible design flaws. The biggest one was the cash-out button.
The internet is full of complaints about players being unable to cash out. When they attempt to press the cash-out button in app, the button becomes grey and unclickable. Teepublic even sells a shirt depicting the unclickable cash out button.
“They pay me the low to medium amounts with no issues, but any large amounts they don’t like to pay out to people,” one HQ player wrote on a Discord chat dedicated to trivia games.
Many HQ players say that even after 48 hours they couldn’t cash out. Josh Reid, 19, who is a moderator on the Discord community, says when he tried to cash out, he saw a popup saying he needed $0.01 to cash out, even though he won $5. Reid, who played HQ on an Android, thinks that the popup is the equivalent of the grayed out button on the iOS version of the game. Forums are full of HQ players with similar theories.
HQ is full of features that are overwhelming to new players, all making it difficult for users to cash out. There’s the checkpoint feature mentioned above. There’s also the levels feature, where points can be won by answering questions, which can be used to level up and acquire passes on questions. For a short time, HQ also tried a points feature in which users won points instead of cash. All of this can confuse players and get them to cash out early.
“I think that HQ is running out of money,” Reid wrote on one thread. “They've been cutting games left and right. There used to be games at 3pm ET which were cut from daily to Tuesday and Thursday to none at all.”
HQ often advertises games with $220,000 available to win, but per HQbuff.com, they're usually giving away around $5000 nightly, split between a bunch of people and likely a few bots. This is because if there’s a person still in the game by the later questions who lacks an appetite for risk, they’re probably going to use the checkpoint feature to stop and collect while they’re ahead, rather than lose it all.
In forums, some said that the game's real scandal is that it's rife with bots. Some even believe that the system doesn’t aggressively moderate bots because their presence dilutes the final prize pool. On a game of HQ, if 100 bots win, and 50 real players win, and the prize amount is $150, each player, bots included, will get $1. If there were no bots, each player would get $3.
In May 2018, the app cracked down on cheaters, sending cease and desist letters to bot creators; would-be HQ champion JericBrual was kicked out for cheating. (Brual once tweeted "FYI: I had 5 bots ready for HQ lol.")
Now when more money at stake in the late game, HQ audits the accounts remaining in the game and removes illegitimate users, reducing the impact of bots. The three players from June 10 that haven't been paid weren't weeded out during this process, though the company is apparently questioning the legitimacy of their wins now.
“If I had to guess,” Rios told The Daily Beast, “I think they didn't really test the new format enough and made it too easy for people to win the jackpot. I'm guessing this because they immediately spiked up the level of difficulty and the sheer amount of questions the very next day.”
No one has won HQ’s jackpot since June 10.