⚡ Mashable Score
“What’s the capital of Pennsylvania?” “Finish this Talladega Nights quote.” “What was the Grammy album of the year?”
These were some of the questions the Drivetime app asked me as I drove across San Francisco last week. But it wasn’t like Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR, where I shout answers into the ether. Instead, I was competing against another driver, Susan, and my score was being tracked.
For the uninitiated, Drivetime is a commuter trivia app (iOS/Android) with ambitions to expand into other voice-based entertainment, like choose-your-own-adventure storytelling or even guided meditation. But for now, it’s just trivia while you drive.
Every workday there’s a new 30-minute trivia game, broken up into three topics with seven questions, each with three answers to choose from.
Using your voice, you respond out loud to questions by saying A, B, or C — or you can say the full answer out loud, and the voice-recognition system will accept that too. Other game styles are open-ended, like when it asked me to name one Disney movie trailer that came out last week (shouting “Frozen” earned me the points for Frozen 2). One of the game modes was all true or false questions.
The San Francisco-based company wants to become the go-to place for games in the car. With three Zynga and Rocket Games alumnus founding the company, it makes sense that they are working with the latest trend in tech: speech recognition.
CEO Niko Vuori told me out of their South of Market apartment-turned-office, “The car is a place for interaction and entertainment.” Drivetime is targeting the millions of commuters between the ages of 30 and 60 who sit in their cars for an average of one hour a day. Power users include a lot of Uber and Lyft drivers and truckers who spend more time in the car than the average commuter.
Vuori wants to make driving to and from work not only fun, but a bit more engaging than passive listening. “We believe commuting is inherently a negative experience,” he said.
Drivetime isn’t sharing its numbers quite yet unlike HQ Trivia‘s transparent player count on the app, but Vuori said it’s already achieved high retention and engagement rates. The Android app launched Monday, so it only has about 650 downloads and the iOS version has about 42,000 downloads since its November launch, according to data from Apptopia.
There’s a spike in activity during the morning and evening commute times, since playing outside the car and at your desk or on a lunch break is a bit strange (although there is a “passenger mode” deep within the settings). Some 20 percent of players log on everyday for the full 30-minute trivia show. For some drivers, they crave this type of entertainment on boring drives. It’s easy to get these type of people hooked. As a non-commuter, the trivia game replaced a crosstown drive during which I’d normally be hopping from different radio stations.
Drivetime is already going beyond trivia even though it just launched a few months ago. There’s “Would You Rather,” which is a game exactly like it sounds and pretty mindless, but somewhat enjoyable when I played during a late drive home after a long day at work, and hands-free Blackjack. Pending some licensing agreements, eventually music trivia and a choose-your-own-adventure fictional storytelling is in the works. Vuori sees “Jeopardy,” “Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?,” “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?,” and even mindfulness exercises as possible future games and uses for the platform.
It’s free now, and I didn’t have to sign in with my phone number until after my first game, but eventually Vuori says it will be subscription based. The daily trivia will continue at no cost, but for more features, games, or channels, he anticipates a monthly fee to access the full offering.
After every show, there’s 10 seconds to give any feedback to the company. About 40 percent of players talk to the game designers everyday. Those lonely solo drivers really want someone to talk to. Being a San Francisco tech company, Vuori said they take the 10-second tidbits, use talk-to-speech software, and plug in the comments into a Slack channel so the small 13-member team can read everything. So if you have thoughts or feedback, it’s literally received instantly. A new feature allows users to leave voice messages to friends also on the app. I didn’t use it, but seems like a good opportunity to gloat or admit your limited knowledge about history or the world.
I immediately compared the game to HQ Trivia, the popular trivia app, with daily competitions that award prize money. But it’s a completely different experience beyond the trivia and current events and news quiz element. Most noticeable, HQ is an event you go to — you don’t just turn on HQ like you turn on Drivetime. There’s a daily noon PT HQ Trivia game and that doesn’t move. The way you interact with the app is different, too: you have to click and read the screen to mark your HQ answer and it’s quick. If you aren’t paying attention, you’re swiftly eliminated.
Drivetime can be played whenever you want. “We’re not trying to change your day,” Vuori said. Working the graveyard shift? No problem. Click play on your 5 a.m. drive home. Had to stop at the toll booth? The hosts will repeat the question since you didn’t respond in a timely manner. It’s made for the car, truly.
Also, you’re only playing for points and street cred. There’s a leaderboard where you could fight to earn a top spot, but that’s nothing compared to the $96,000 available in prize money (to be split amongst winners) for the latest HQ Trivia game.
Future integration into CarPlay and Android Auto or made-for-car systems like Amazon Echo Auto would improve the experience which relies on your phone’s speakers to pick up your answers while in an inherently noisy car environment. On my older iPhone with ailing speakers, the app misinterpreted a fair number of my responses. Also driving through pockets of service disrupted the game until I was back to full bars and data.
Back to my face-off with Susan, I think we tied. I admit I couldn’t recollect the movie line, “If you ain’t first then you’re last.” But I knew Harrisburg, so it was a successful drive. I might’ve even learned a thing or two.