As the new app called HQ has skyrocketed in popularity, so too has the number of people trying to cheat at it. HQ is a trivia app where players must answer questions right to move on. At 12 questions, all remaining players split a prize, which is typically $2,500. Players get 10 seconds to answer each question.
With money on the line, many players recognized that quickly searching for answers on Google could be beneficial. However, with only 10 seconds on the clock, some tech savvy players recognized that the task was better suited for bots.
The Screenshot-OCR Method
One of the first bot solutions for HQ was published on Hackernoon. This bot automatically took a screenshot of the phone screen and sent it to a computer to perform OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Then, the question was searched online using a variety of methods to determine the most likely answer. The method was published in this article, but the source code itself was not.
The results of this bot were effective, but clunky. It still required human interaction to run, and the process was significantly slowed down by taking a screenshot and OCR. Googling a question takes, at most, 2 seconds, but OCR alone on strangely formatted text can take 3-5 seconds. Hackers were not satisfied.
The Server Connection Method
The next significant bot to appear in public was Mike Almond's HQ Trivia Assistant. This bot took a significantly more graceful approach of connecting to the HQ WebSocket server as a client and getting the text directly when it was sent. It then scraped Google and Yahoo for the correct answer, assigning each answer point values for number of appearances. Finally, a fully automated method was available to cheat. The bot, however, required some tech skills to get set up, so it was not ready for the masses of HQ players.
HQ's Initial Response
We see the debates on cheating. Playing in a group is not cheating, neither is using Google. Those are parts of daily life. Using bots is a different story!— HQ Trivia (@hqtrivia) January 17, 2018
HQ Bot Websites
A few weeks later, everything changed. A new website called HQuack appeared, automatically sending the results of a script like Almond's to their webpage. Huge numbers of HQ players flocked in, hoping to win some extra money.
Just days after HQuack made its debut, HQHelp.com and HQuest.live came along as well. All of these websites offered the same thing: better chances of winning HQ. These sites were all running very similar, if not the same, scripts as Almond's to connect to HQ's WebSocket server, then to Google for answers.
The End of HQ Bots
So, the story is over, and more and more websites kept popping up to help win HQ Trivia, right? Wrong. About one week before this post was made, HQuack disappeared:
Initially, there was no explanation. Now, the creator of HQuack, Jake Mor, has published his explanation for the end of HQuack here. He decided that his website was ruining the game, so he shut it down. He published a variety of stats which showcased the sheer influx of users that he encountered.
The other popular sites, HQuest and HQHelp, lived on for a few more days. Then, based on information on social media and information we gathered, both sites were sent cease-and-desist letters from HQ on February 14th, requiring them to take down their websites. Evidently, both websites complied. Within a period of 2 weeks, cheating on HQ rose incredibly high, then crashed in an instant.
What does this mean for HQ? On the one hand, cheating has been brought back down to a minimum, so players will win more cash without the majority having bots to assist them. However, could the disappearance of bots cause a loss in players who think they have no chance to win without cheating? Either way, the answer is clear from HQ: No More Bots.