“Pawn Stars,” the History channel’s massive reality hit about the Vegas-based Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, has to be one of the most remarkable success stories in Las Vegas history.
Now, the show’s top “spotter,” Rick Harrison, is betting on an app sure to become every trivia buff’s newest obsession. We stopped by the Gold & Silver Pawn shop to speak to the man whose encyclopedic brain has entertained and enlightened millions of viewers around the world.
The free “Rick Harrison’s Trivia Challenge” app was developed with his longtime friend, Jim Scott.
Harrison says, “My buddy Jimmy, who was a professional poker player for years, he’s been one of my best friends forever, and he goes, ‘Dude, we should do an app.’ I said, ‘I really don’t know how to do an app,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.’ He’s always been a business guy, so he said, ‘Don’t worry, I can find the right people to do it.’ I said let’s go for it. He’s one of those guys where everything has to be perfect. I would hate to ever have to work for him.”
The app’s concept is simple: It’s a speed trivia game with thousands of questions in 15 categories, with many of the questions contributed by Harrison himself.
Harrison’s love of trivia is well-known, and even spawned a trivia contest format spin-off series on History, Pawnography.
Even though the app has just been released, it’s getting a great response.
“It came out a month ago and we’ve done zero advertising, because Jimmy wants to make sure every single bug’s worked out, ” says Harrison. “It’s sort of crazy, but we’ve had more than 20,000 downloads.”
Beyond the sheer number of people who have already downloaded it, the app’s also been able to succeed where many apps fail: It’s managed to keep players engaged.
“Our retention numbers are great. People are playing it four or five hours at a time. One guy a couple of weeks ago played for 19 hours straight. It’s a really fun game. There are a lot of other trivia games out there, but I didn’t like them because they were so easy. Then again, Jimmy had to remind me it’s a little different for me,” Harrison laughs.
One of the secrets of the game’s success will most certainly be that it takes trivia seriously, and the questions are anything but no-brainers.
“It’s not a fluffy trivia game. I’d say it’s ‘Jeopardy’ level,” says Harrison, smirking, almost daring us to take on his app.
Which we did, of course. It was humbling to say the least.
The app consists of successive rounds of play. Each time you answer the minimum number of questions within the time limit, you move on to another level. The first edition of the app has 99 levels. The release coming soon will top the game out at 300 levels. (We’re hoping for some Las Vegas trivia in the mix.)
“We wanted to make it so when you move to another level, it’s not the same thing,” says Harrison. “To get past some levels, you only have to get four questions right but we only give you 60 seconds. On some levels, you’ll get two minutes, but you have to get a lot right. We think it’s more fun that way.”
The questions in the “Rick Harrison’s Trivia Challenge” app are a combination of those concocted by Harrison and Jim Scott, along with those purchased for use in the app through what amount to trivia question brokerages. Which we didn’t exactly know existed until chatting with Rick Harrison.
“Jimmy and I came up with storyboards and how we wanted to do it. There are people who sell questions. We’d buy questions then realize they’re junk. We had to go through so many companies to find the level of quality and difficulty we wanted. Plus, we sit around all the time and just start jotting down questions,” Harrison comments.
Because the app’s trivia questions are multiple choice, it created a surprising challenge for Harrison and his partner.
Harrison says, “You know what we found out the hard part of the questions was? Making up the wrong answers. Because when you come up with wrong answers, you don’t want them to be ridiculous. But you also don’t want to try and trick people. Coming up with the questions isn’t the hard part, it’s definitely writing the wrong answers. Finding the right wrong answers.”
Beyond the quality of its questions, one of the things that makes “Rick Harrison’s Trivia Challenge” app unique is players can earn “gold coins” for completing various levels of the game, and those virtual coins can be exchanged for merchandise such as T-shirts and hats at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. One of the prizes players can earn is a meet-and-greet with Rick Harrison himself (a mere 100,000 coins).
Rick Harrison exhibits an impish joy when he talks about his app, and knowing what we know of his TV persona, we had to wonder if his impishness had anything to do with an app’s ability to generate money (even though it’s free to download). We thought about dancing around this topic, then realized it’s us, and Rick Harrison is Rick Harrison, so we just flat-out asked about it.
His reply was pure, well, Rick Harrison: “You’ve seen my show. Making money’s like my third or fourth favorite thing in the world,” he joked.
Seriously, though. Apps can be a goldmine, right?
“No, we plan on making money on it,” he says, “but I didn’t want people playing for five minutes, then having an icon pop up saying, ‘If you want to play more, spend money.’ So, we made it so you can play for awhile, you can put it down and hopefully we’ll make some money off it, but I wanted to make sure it was fun, and if you don’t want to spend money on it, you don’t have to.”
The money-making elements are subtle within the app, and include the option to buy more “lives,” as well as the option to “Ask an Expert” (sort of a virtual phone-a-friend) and “Buy More Time.”
“I dig the business model, though, I really do,” says Harrison. “Apple and Google are making a fortune. They’re the ones making money off apps. A developer spends a lot developing a game, then hopefully it makes money, then Apple and Google take 30%. Lots of game-makers lose money, but Apple and Google and Facebook make money on every game.”
So, while there’s some potential profit involved for Harrison, the fact the now-famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop gets 3,000 to 5,000 visitors every day of the week, we figure it wasn’t his main reason for doing the app. It feels more like he just wanted to have some fun and try his hand at something new.
He says, “I wanted to get the Old Man involved and Corey (Harrison, Rick’s son) and Chum (Austin Russell, Corey’s lifelong friend). It’s been a fun experience. I’ve learned a lot about online games. It’s been an experience.”
Talking about the gang at his pawn shop gave us the perfect opening to try and get a feel for how Harrison views the incredible turns his life has taken since “Pawn Stars” first aired.
Asked about his wild ride to fame, Harrison kids, “You mean the part where I’m a bald guy working in a pawn shop then suddenly I’m an international superstar?”
“For lack of a better term, I was always a media whore,” he says. “You get some international press and it was good for business. It was 10 years ago now, and I thought, ‘I should get one of these reality shows. If I could get a season or two out of them, it would be good for business.’ I never, ever, ever thought it would turn into this.”
Even after more than a few years of being a reality TV star, Harrison still seems genuinely shell-shocked by the fame. He whips out his phone to share video he took during a visit to the Filipines. A radio station announced he and Corey would be making an appearance at a shopping mall, and several thousand of people showed up. It’s like that everywhere in the world.
Harrison says, with a mixture of pride and disbelief, “We’re on in 150 countries, in 38 languages. We were the number one television show in South America for three years. It was so bad in Buenos Aires, we were told 400 people were going to show up, but 12,000 people showed up, in a venue designed for 2,000 people. They were rocking our van like we’re rock stars. It was exciting and cool and scary all at the same time.”
As a testament to the show’s international appeal, Harrison says, “Our second biggest market for the app so far is Brazil.”
Wrapping up our chat with Rick Harrison, we took the opportunity to tour the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. It’s a mix of flea market and circus, with guests virtually swooning at the sight of their “Pawn Stars” favorites, like the unassuming Chumlee.
It’s a blast seeing merchandise on display that was purchased by the shop in past episodes of the show. (Those items are clearly marked, and presumably are more valuable because of their TV notoriety.)
One of the most expensive items currently in the shop is a Patriots Super Bowl ring, priced at $100,000.
The more you know about “Pawn Stars,” the more you’ll get out of a visit to the shop, and the more you’ll enjoy the “Rick Harrison’s Trivia Challenge” app.
There’s nothing quite like getting a chiding from the Old Man when you fail a level. Or, in our case, fail a level 12 times (yes, it was sports).
To learn more about the addictive “Rick Harrison’s Trivia Challenge” app, visit the official Web site.
Thanks to Rick Harrison for letting us peek into his brain, and to the crew at Gold & Silver Pawn shop for indulging in our dopey questions. Enjoy more photos from the app and the world’s most famous pawn shop.
Rick Harrison's Trivia Challenge