Return of Challenge Caches
Today we’re happy to announce the end of the moratorium on challenge cache submissions. Effective immediately, new challenge caches may be submitted in accordance with the updated guidelines.
Challenge caches encourage people to set and achieve fun goals. There’s no doubt that they’re a beloved part of the game for many geocachers. However, challenge caches represent a major exception to a basic guideline: For physical caches all logging requirements beyond finding the cache and signing the log are considered additional logging requirements (ALRs) and must be optional. Geocaching HQ has long exempted challenge caches from this guideline because they can bring so many positives to the game.
With that exception comes an expectation that the negatives won’t outweigh the positives. Unfortunately, a number of negative factors led to the moratorium going into effect last year, including:
Subjectivity often results in a difficult review process. Reviewers are volunteers who give their time to support the geocaching community. With most cache submissions, it’s usually pretty clear to reviewers whether a geocache is publishable. But challenge caches are different. Many reviewers cite the sometimes contentious process of reviewing challenge caches as the least fun thing about reviewing. Since each reviewer examines hundreds or thousands of cache submissions each year, we (HQ and the community) owe it to them to make the process as enjoyable as possible!
High percentage of appeals to Geocaching HQ. Cache owners can appeal a reviewer’s decision to HQ if a cache submission is deemed unpublishable. We found that more than 50 percent of appeals related to challenge caches prior to the moratorium. That’s despite the fact that less than one percent of cache submissions were challenge caches. It was another sign that the challenge cache system wasn’t working.
Logging requirements are often misunderstood. Some challenge caches are very simple for cachers to understand. However, more and more we found people were submitting challenges with very long lists of logging requirements. In some cases, a single challenge cache listing totaled multiple pages when printed. Appeals for such caches often resulted in the kind of back and forth that can make the process very difficult.
These were among some of the known drawbacks to challenge caches. A big goal of the moratorium was to gain an even deeper understanding about what the community and volunteer reviewers liked and didn’t like about challenges. We also wanted to hear your suggestions for how to improve challenge caches. Hundreds of geocachers took part in our User Insights Forum. Nearly 20,000 of you also completed our survey on challenge caches. With all of that data in hand, we set about building a framework that we hope will allow challenges to continue and thrive.
Challenge checkers. Perhaps the biggest change is that all future challenge caches must include a web-based challenge checker. We began looking at this idea after it was suggested by many community members during the User Insights Forum. We then found that a high percentage of survey respondents favored the idea. Checkers will make it much easier for caches to know whether they qualify for a challenge.
Since Project-GC is already very experienced in hosting challenge checkers, it made perfect sense to work with them to officially integrate checkers into new challenge caches. Read more about challenge checkers in our Help Center. (We want to thank Magnus and his colleagues at Project-GC for their partnership in this process!)
Guideline changes. We’ve updated both the format and some content in the Challenge Cache Guidelines. Here are some of the more important updates:
CO is required to have qualified for the challenge. This change was heavily supported in the community survey. In the past, some COs submitted crazy challenges for which even they could not hope to qualify.
Time-limited challenges are not permitted. For example, “Find 500 caches in a month” or “Find 10 different icons in a day.” The aim here is at least two-fold. First, these challenges encouraged people to hurry to find caches in a short time period. That’s something a majority of survey respondents said they didn’t like about challenge caches. And it’s not something we wish to encourage. Second, we’ve seen a lot of people creating Events and/or CITOs only to add an icon to the area for “Busy Day” challenges. That’s not at all the spirit for which those activities are intended.
Streak challenges limited to 365 days. Ask an experienced cacher, “What did you like most about your caching streak?” and the common answer is, “The day it ended!” Finding caches every day for a long period often makes caching feel like a chore. But we didn’t want to restrict them completely, so we’re setting a maximum streak length for challenges.
No challenges based on Waymarking, Benchmarking or Trackable logs, or specifying Lab Cache finds. The community survey results showed low approval ratings for challenges involving these things. While many geocachers do enjoy Waymarking and Benchmarking, these activities aren’t geocaching. Challenges involving trackables can lead to mass logging and other behaviors that aren’t ideal for TBs.
We are not permitting Lab Cache challenges because Lab Caches are temporary, are generally only available to those who attend Mega- or Giga-Events, are not associated with Found It logs, and are not completely integrated into Geocaching.com stats. However, since they are included in user profile stats for Total Finds, Longest Streak, and Finds for Each Day of the Year grid, we are making an exception to permit Lab Caches to be used as qualifiers for challenges related only to those metrics.
Challenges cannot be based on these listing elements: cache titles, cache owner names, GC Codes, or listing text. This would include such challenges as “Find a cache for every letter of the alphabet” or “Find caches with the Periodic Table symbol in the GC code.” They generally reward database management, rather than geocaching achievement. More importantly, they often lead people to place caches whose titles start with a certain letter or contain a specific word, only to help people qualify for challenges.
What’s Not Changing (for now)
The idea of a challenge cache icon or attribute earned significant support from the community. We agree there are a lot of good reasons to implement one. However, we want to confirm that the new framework will reduce the problems which led to the moratorium. It wouldn’t make sense to engineer a new icon or attribute only to lose it if challenge caches don’t work out. We’re going to give it a year or so, and then re-evaluate the situation. If we find that things are going well, then we will strongly consider adding a new icon or attribute for challenge caches.
We love how challenge caches encourage people to set fun goals and expand their caching horizons. There’s no question we want these caches to thrive for years to come. We have high hopes that this new framework for challenge caches will reduce some of the pre-moratorium difficulties for reviewers and the community.
But challenge cache owners are integral to the success of this framework. It’s important that they work within these guidelines in order to reduce the burden that reviewers felt prior to the moratorium. If after a period of evaluation we find that a lot of the pre-moratorium issues are still causing problems, then we’ll know that this new framework isn’t the answer. We don’t have a backup plan. The only remaining option would be to not permit challenge caches as they currently exist.
But we’re hopeful the community won’t let it come to that. Through your participation in our User Insights Forum and survey, geocachers and community volunteer reviewers have eagerly participated in a comprehensive process that has resulted in what we believe is solid framework. We’re happy to know that challenge caches will continue to inspire people around the world to achieve exciting geocaching goals!