One of the strangest things any company can do is suddenly shove a social network in your face. It's even worse when a service you're used to suddenly gets socialized in a way that is unavoidable. A recent example of that is Google requiring a Google+ account for anyone to comment on a YouTube video or sign up for a new Google account. It seemed arbitrary and artificial, and the company's at least partially relented on the rule for people who were making new accounts. But what if the social networking features that were seemingly tacked on ended up being the thing that kept people coming back?
You can now play on your computer too
A year and a half into its existence, QuizUp — a trivia app that lets you compete with strangers from around the world — says that's just what's happened. As a result, it's introducing social networking features to keep users around after they're done playing. It's also laying the groundwork to expand beyond trivia into other games. But for starters, it's debuting profile pages, the ability to follow other users and topic pages around quiz genres that feel more like tiny Reddit communities than something associated with casual gaming. QuizUp is also launching a desktop version of the service that you can play inside your web browser.
From the outside, QuizUp looks like one more faddish game that grew quickly and raised a ton of money only to fade into obscurity, forcing it to come up with this new strategy. In 2012, a Pictionary-like game named Draw Something rocketed to 50 million downloads in less than two months, and was snapped up by Zynga for $180 million. It promptly fell out of the App Store charts, and soon Zynga's stock price had lost half its value. More recently, King.com went public on the strength of its signature hit, Candy Crush. Investors are so skeptical of its future that King is now the fourth-most-shorted stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
As a private company, QuizUp has a bit more room to maneuver. According to the company, its move into social networking is simply a reaction to the way QuizUp's users were already behaving. Fans have started spending as much time chatting with one another and on the service's group discussion boards as they are challenging one another to rounds of trivia, which only run about a minute to a minute and a half in length. Those places that were once envisioned as a side feature have morphed into the places where people gravitate. Now the company wants users to stick around even longer — even if it's not playing the company's games.
Facebook is "kind of creepy."
"When you think of the social networking landscape, there isn't a good place where you can meet new people. Facebook is all about connecting with existing friends, so it's kind of weird when somebody [you don't know] adds you — it's kind of creepy," says Thor Fridriksson, QuizUp's founder and CEO. "Here, you can safely get to know new people, and we think doing that through interests is the way to go. We're trying to create communities where people play each other, and interact with each other."
This is Kimberley, another player I got matched with based on the two of us liking similar topics.
Fridriksson likes to point to one instance of this happening when two users from completely different parts of the world began chatting with one another after trading victories in Lord of the Rings trivia. They got to talking to one another and eventually decided to meet in real life. They later got married. "For the new QuizUp, we thought, ‘Could this become something more than a popular trivia game?'" Fridriksson says. "We could use shared interests like games and challenges as an icebreaker, and make it easy to connect to each other."
To help users begin exploring the new features, QuizUp is taking people's existing topics of interest and putting them in a feed. If there's a new item posted to one of those topic pages, you see it in the home feed. The same goes for if you start following people.
Trivia could soon be just one of several games
The new platform will allow QuizUp to expand beyond quizzes and into other types of entertainment, Fridriksson says. "The trivia itself is an evergreen thing. We will start to add more game modes, and other parts of entertainment connected to the topics," he says. "I think that what we want to do, and our vision going forward, is connecting people with shared interests. We have built a platform we can iterate on."
That could eventually include things like a Facebook-like news feed, and what Fridriksson only referred to as "procured, good quality content." The company's also ditching in-app purchases inside of QuizUp in favor of creating sponsored trivia and topic pages that Fridriksson says everyone will be able to use, instead of just allowing people with disposable income to improve their score (the company previously sold experience point boosters to users, which ranged from $1.99 to $5.99).
QuizUp became an overnight success in 2013, gaining 1 million users in its first week. At the time, its parent company, Plain Vanilla Games, had just 12 employees. In the year and a half since, it has raised $27 million and increased the size of its team to 90. Most of those employees work in engineering or moderation — user profiles were overwhelmed with lewd photos after they launched. Moderation will only become important as the company invites users to share photos and links.
QuizUp's popularity ratings have plummeted
While Fridriksson says it still manages to bring in about 30,000 new players a day, QuizUp has rarely broken into the top 500 most-downloaded apps on iOS this year. Meanwhile, fellow trivia app Trivia Crack has been a top 10 mainstay for much of the year. Fridriksson insists that it's unfair to compare the two given QuizUp's move into social networking. "There are lots of cool trivia games, but Trivia Crack is just like the opposite to us," he says. "It has five or six categories. They're not about communities, and not about getting to know people. But [it's] a great game, and there's absolutely room for more than one trivia game."
Whether QuizUp's network features will help it climb back atop the charts remains to be seen. In the interim, Fridriksson believes the most important challenge is keeping people coming back in a way that is not annoying or scummy. That's been a tall order for just about any game that are not named Minecraft — even some of the more well known ones.
"You don't see everyone playing Angry Birds. In some ways, that's why we're making the change," he says. "We want to be more of a daily habit."