Source Code: Your daily look at what matters in tech.

next-upnext upauthorJanko RoettgersNoneDo you know what's coming next up in the world of tech and entertainment? Get Janko Roettgers' newsletter every Thursday.9147dfd6b1
×

Get access to Protocol

Your information will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
People

How Sporcle followed trivia fans from bars to Zoom and built a $2.5M business

Sporcle's move from bar trivia to virtual trivia is a prime example of the potential of Zoom — and perhaps its competitors — as platforms for third-party developers.

Various people in a Zoom chat

Zoom allows hosts to segment their audience into different breakout rooms, a crucial feature for Sporcle's virtual trivia.

Photo: Courtesy Sporcle

When stay-at-home orders shuttered bars and restaurants in March, they also put an end to trivia nights — a disaster for Sporcle, a company that had planned to host about 40,000 such events in watering holes across the country this year.

But not all was lost: Without bars, consumers turned to Zoom to meet their friends for online happy hours. Sporcle took the hint, followed the crowds home, and quickly developed a service for Zoom-based trivia nights. That service has since become a huge success story with a $2.5 million annual run rate.

Sporcle's creation of a virtual trivia business is a prime example of the potential of Zoom — and perhaps its competitors — as platforms for third-party developers. And it captures the collision of hardship and opportunity that has allowed some companies to build completely new lines of businesses in this unique moment. The company is now not only looking to take the same approach to other types of live entertainment, but it wants to continue offering Zoom trivia nights even after bars and restaurants open up again.

Sporcle, founded in 2007, is best known for its online quizzes, which have been played around 3.5 billion times to date. "We've quietly built the company into one of the world's largest trivia companies," said Sporcle CEO Ali Aydar, whose resume includes being among the first employees at Shawn Fanning's Napster file-sharing service. Sporcle has been running trivia nights in bars across the U.S. since 2012, and it generated $10 million in revenue in 2019, according to Aydar. The company's live events business accounted for 40% of that.

When COVID-19 spread, two things happened: Sporcle's live events business ground to a halt overnight, and its web traffic exploded.

In April, consumers played an average of 1.83 million quizzes on its site per day, compared with 1.24 million per day in February. That's how Aydar and his team got the idea to experiment with hosting trivia games on Zoom, which had become everyone's favorite quarantine videoconferencing app. Sporcle ran a few trials at the end of March, quickly built a companion scoring app, and officially rolled out the new service on its website in the first week of April.

The response was nearly instantaneous. In just a few weeks, Sporcle hosted more than 1,000 virtual trivia nights. "We realized we have a hit in our hands," Aydar said. The company is now hosting hundreds of virtual trivia nights on Zoom every week, with participants paying $5 per device they use to join the game. Each single game can be attended by up to nine teams, and each team can have up to 10 participants on individual devices.

With 300 million daily participants, Zoom has been one of the breakout stories of the pandemic lockdowns. However, Aydar said he didn't just pick the service for its popularity. "Actually, Zoom is the only choice for this," he explained. Zoom allows hosts to segment their audience into different breakout rooms, a feature meant to enable group work within virtual classrooms and large company gatherings.

For Sporcle, the feature allows trivia teams to work together, much like they would at a bar table. "People crave social connection," Aydar said. Trivia was a good excuse to go out, mingle with friends, and work together as a team before the pandemic. Now, Zoom is filling that void.

Zoom's success has prompted speculation about its ability to turn the company's business into a platform, complete with robust APIs and payment infrastructure to support third-party apps and services. "I suspect if Zoom had a 'paywall' feature, there would probably be $100B+ in economic activity overnight," mused Box CEO Aaron Levie on Twitter. "Surprised Zoom doesn't have a more robust API/platform ecosystem," tweeted Lambda School CEO Austen Allred. "Imagine the apps you could build."

The flip side of building your business atop someone else's platform is the lack of control, and the possibility that the platform provider may simply copy your idea and run with it. "We have not talked to anyone at Zoom," Aydar said. However, he dismissed concerns about possible competition from the company, or from any of the other video chat providers, as unwarranted.

Building out the back end to manage show hosts and participants and gathering the knowledge necessary to facilitate trivia games at scale — all of that takes time, Aydar said. "It's actually hard to do." With an established brand, over a dozen years of operational experience and 100 million page views per month, Sporcle also has an advantage over any newcomers looking to break into the virtual trivia market, he said.

Those years of experience also led Aydar to believe that virtual trivia will remain an opportunity even after bars and restaurants open up again. Some of the players who sign up for the company's Zoom trivia games are parents of young children who used to participate in bar trivia nights years ago. Others are introverts, or folks who just don't like bars. "The market has grown," Aydar said. While he revealed that he is thinking about expanding to other forms of live entertainment beyond trivia, he was coy about specifics.

Getting consumers comfortable with virtual trivia would have been challenging if it hadn't been for the pandemic, he admitted. "It's accelerated the adoption of certain technologies by years."

Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

Keep Reading Show less
Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Fintech

Beyond Robinhood: Stock exchange rebates are under scrutiny too

Some critics have compared the way exchanges attract orders from customers to the payment for order flow system that has enriched retail brokers.

The New York Stock Exchange is now owned by the Intercontinental Exchange.

Photo: Aditya Vyas/Unsplash

As questions pile up about how powerful and little-known Wall Street entities rake in profits from stock trading, the exchanges that handle vast portions of everyday trading are being scrutinized for how they make money, too.

One mechanism in particular — exchange rebates, or payments from the exchanges for getting certain trades routed to them — has raised concerns with regulators and members of Congress.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Latest Stories