QuizUp’s Mobile Play May Be Anything But A Trivial Pursuit

This week’s column is about the hottest consumer mobile app out there, QuizUp, and some nonobvious lessons other developers can learn from how this product was built, designed, and launched:

About every three months or so, the early adopter tech crowd fixates on a new mobile app as the hip, new thing. It’s not too similar from fashion, I’d imagine, when certain looks go in and out of style. With mobile apps, however, those that break through the noise of the App Store do usually have something unique and compelling about them — for instance, FrontBack designed a mobile interface which made it easy and fun to combine pictures from two cameras into one image, or before it, “Dots” from Betaworks used simple, elegant design and the fear of a 60-second live counter to capture users’ attention. Today, the “hot” app is QuizUp, a new social, mobile trivia game. From the app’s design, the mobile ecosystem may be able to draw new lessons from its success (for a great background on QuizUp, make sure to read Ryan Lawler’s piece, here):

One, most mobile app successes are games. QuizUp is a game…check! Yet, it is not just a game in the traditional sense, as QuizUp could transform into a learning platform where users consume information and even get to contribute content that turns into future trivia. Moreover, unlike traditional games, QuizUp won’t likely be under pressure to create entirely new games, like the hits-driven business of most games, but could rather expand its content (akin to Angry Birds) while keeping the experience fresh.

Two, natural competition among friends encourages users to authenticate with Facebook for login. This gives Plain Vanilla, the parent who birthed QuizUp, access to real names, avatars, and most coveted — the friend graph data associated with each login. The advantages here are obvious, as QuizUp scores are explicitly shared in various social channels as a vanity share, as well as giving the company the data to create richer user profiles with game data and history, to find new people to play with. In a way, QuizUp feels like the mobile-equivalent of what Zynga provided to Facebook on the web, back in the day — something to do that was fun. In fact, it would seem that Facebook would want to provide a similar type of experience inside its mobile app and web site to keep users around once they’ve skimmed through their notifications and newsfeed.

Three, giving users other things to do inside the app “may” be worth the development time and effort. Right off the bat, QuizUp has a packed settings menu, giving users the option to private communicate with other gamers through messages, or by offering digital goods related to the game. Competition for mobile eyeballs is intense, especially in an area as fickle as gaming, so offering users additional options once inside the app may, at scale, help control bounce rates. Plain Vanilla has a larger team and perhaps had the time and resources to pull this off before launch, whereas most startups on a tighter budget may not have had that chance.

Four, social trivia on mobile devices maps to a regular, historical, social, offline behavior. For millions of people who go to weekly or monthly trivia nights at their local pub, QuizUp brings that functionality — minus the hops, of course — to users’ fingertips multiple times a day in an asynchronous fashion, making the app feel as if it’s a live-multiplayer experience when in fact people are playing at different times.

And five, the most striking aspect of QuizUp is they seemed to have built the ontology and infrastructure to classify information by various categories and also planned to accept additional areas of trivia (knowledge). The content of trivia today may be just trivial, but things start to get interesting when you group experts around topics and allow the community to expand the game’s footprint within a known structure. Much in the same way SF-based flash-card site and app Quizlet has grown on the back of user-generated  content, what if QuizUp could benefit from a similar model? Of course, it’s too early to tell, but so far in this game of Trivial Pursuit, the folks have QuizUp seemed to have earned three pieces of pie in their game piece: One, for creating a slick, novel mobile game; two, for cracking distribution early and having a chance to break out; and three for building an infrastructure that could help the content of the game grow in new and exciting ways. Of course, the remaining pieces won’t be earned easily and are the hardest to obtain. The big, overarching trivia question is — will QuizUp be able to keep users engaged and coming back to the app with new games, or will it be stuck on the board with three pie pieces? The answer to this question, no matter the result, will be fascinating to watch.