link to podcast episode
0:00:12.9 Speaker 1: Hello everybody, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast from Geocaching HQ in Seattle. I am Chris Ronan, username, Rock Chalk, one of the lackeys here at HQ, and we thank you for listening to our podcast. On this episode, two guests. We will hear from Bryan Roth, HQ’s President and co-founder, about a number of things, including year of the hide, and the geocaching 20th anniversary celebration. But first, Cindy Potter HQ’s, Director of Community. As you may know, virtual rewards 3.0 launched recently. If you are eligible for one of these new virtual rewards, you have until February 26th to apply. So, here is Cindy and me talking virtual rewards and other fun stuff.
0:01:13.1 Chris: For anybody that has been under a rock for the last few weeks, a new round of virtual rewards was announced by HQ, and Cindy, you have been somebody who has been kind of spearheading this project, and not just this one, but we’ve done a couple… This is the third… This is 3.0, the third round of virtual rewards. So, for people that haven’t heard about it, what is the brief run down of what virtual rewards 3.0 is all about?
0:01:41.1 Cindy: It’s an opportunity if people would like to own a virtual cash and they didn’t have an opportunity before, they can apply for one. And our estimate is about 50,000 geocachers qualify according to the criteria that we came up with. So, as a lot of people know, virtuals a long time ago were allowed up until 2006, and then we didn’t allow virtuals at all for 12 years, and there were problems with too many of them and not good enough quality, and there were countless problems actually, but then in 2017, we did our first launch of virtual rewards. We did another one in 2019, and then this one is the third one, and that’s why it’s 3.0. You can think of it like a limited release of virtuals. So we will be releasing 4000 virtuals, which is the same that we released each of those launches.
0:02:41.3 Chris: For somebody that thinks, that sounds really cool, I’d like to be involved with this. As you mentioned, there is various criteria, we don’t necessarily have to go through all of it, but what are the aims of this criteria, what does HQ going forward to… And having certain criteria for people to meet in order to apply for one of these…
0:03:01.0 Cindy: Right, great question. Well, our sense is that we still like the idea of having them be special and to have people put effort into them, and so our intention is to allow a new set of people to earn me, so you wouldn’t have somebody from one of the previous launches get one awarded to them at this time, so that’s one of the criterias that you did not previously receive a virtual reward, and then we are basically looking at activity levels, so we want people that are remained quite active in game and have hidden has at least one cash in the last four years now, that cash could be an event, cash, so you’ve posted and greeted people, and then you need at least 20 favorite points on your hides combined, that’s one of the questions that is coming up and perhaps is confusing, but the 20 favorite points is it can include your archive caches, it’s all of your hides at any point in your ownership, so we’re just basically trying to make sure we’re getting people that are active with the game, and by opting in, it has given us an opportunity to find folks that already have an idea of what might be a good virtual for their area.
0:04:27.2 Cindy: So rather than us choosing you, you actively are choosing, “Yes, I want to be part of this.” And interestingly, in our 2019 launch, so that was virtual rewards 2.0, we had 91% of the cash owners actually publish those caches, which is a fairly high percentage, and partly because of covid, it got extended two and a half years, so they had lots of time to publish, so that’s part of it. But the other part is, I believe that because they opted in, they really had an idea and we’re already excited about doing that.
0:05:07.6 Chris: This is the third launch, what kind of things have been learned, would you say, from the first couple? Because there had been a few changes that have been made since 1.0. And one thing, for instance, that was mentioned in the blog post was that there was a lot more geographic distribution of virtuals over the past couple of years, and it just seems like there have been a couple of adjustments that HQ has made in the criteria and how they’re rewarded and I’m…
0:05:38.2 Cindy: Yeah. From 2.0 to 3.0, we did not change significantly. We made the criteria a little bit easier because we are really trying to reach to countries that are still growing with the game, and we didn’t want it to be too restrictive. So in a country like Germany, you could say, well, 20 favorite points. I could get that by the weekend.
0:06:01.7 Cindy: And we realize that so a lot of people in Germany, a lot of geocachers in Germany qualified, which is great. Now, it means you’re likelihood to get a virtual goes way down in those countries but in other countries, your likelihood would be quite high and there might not be as many premium members, so that’s why not very many favorite points are being awarded, so we try to expand that and we… Yeah, we have an algorithm that we use to try to help us to spread geographically as much as possible, trying to think of what other… They’re very minor changes in the guidelines, we also added an additional line and the tips that something along the lines of, please try to keep it your experience to one day or less. Which seems like it’s a no-brainer, right? But sometimes people create virtual that are just involve a lot of driving and can be quite frustrating for the community, and so that isn’t a hard, fast rule, it’s a tip that we believe that’s what’s wanted from the community, so hopefully that helps to answer your question a little bit.
0:07:15.0 Chris: Yeah, one of my favorite points of the blog post was there were a number of statistics in there and a couple of graphs, and talking about how the geographical distribution of virtuals has changed as the result of virtual rewards. So before, when you just look at the old virtual, the ones that were published back in the day… I don’t have that number right in front of me. You might remember it, but I think it was something like 80-something percent of them were in the United States.
0:07:42.8 Cindy: 81% right.
0:07:44.5 Chris: And now it has changed pretty remarkably over the last… Over these first two rounds of virtuals.
0:07:50.2 Cindy: Right, yeah, so there was 81% of the virtual. So to be truthful, that pie graph is sort of the original virtual that are still active today. So those were the numbers I was looking at, and 81% of them are still in the US. And that’s because the game was very, very active prior to 2006 in the United States, and not as active yet in some of the European countries that are so active today, but with these distributions, all three of the virtuals, we were very careful to distribute heavily outside of the US, so that we could try to bring that to a better balance, and it’s more exciting when you travel, you wanna be able to find virtuals sometimes. I know in myself, if I’ve got my kids into… And they might say, No geocaching. So I wouldn’t know if I had kind of sneaky taking a picture in front of a statue and got a smile for a virtual, so I think they serve a great purpose of… Another tip though, I do wanna pass along as I do encourage people in this round to be thinking of their virtual in a more adventure some way, meaning…
0:09:03.7 Cindy: Think about some of your favorite hikes or places that people can’t just drive up to, and I know it’s hard because we only get one, but I am personally committed that if I get a virtual and I didn’t in either of the other two rounds, but I can qualify, if I get one, I am going to have mine be somewhere where you have to hike a distance, and it’s not a place you can just drive up to, so an advantage for me, I think, will be that I won’t have as many logs to have to police, and that I know that it will bring enjoyment to people that enjoy the outdoors and like to have that accomplishment that you get by… Knowing there’s gonna be a smile at the end.
0:09:50.1 Chris: When you were talking about for yourself, just going out geo… With your kids and virtuals and all that stuff, it did make me think… For myself, I went on a trip this past weekend and it used to be that if I went traveling some place, virtuals were almost a must just ’cause there were so few of them out there. And the problem with that way of thinking is that I would end up doing a lot of virtual that honestly… Some of those original ones, some of them were good but honestly, some of them weren’t all that great, but they were rare and so I felt like I had… I couldn’t miss them. And now, because there are a few more out there with these two rounds that we’ve done so far, and now the third round about to happen, I’m not… On this trip that I took, there were some that I… A couple of those older ones that I didn’t feel that it was as necessary for me to have to go after those because they’re not feeling as rare, I guess, to me, which I see as a good thing.
0:10:49.0 Chris: I know some people will see that as, “Oh no, they should still be rare and… ” But I personally think it’s really positive that because there have been a couple of limited releases that there have been some really high quality ones go out there, and I think you’ve looked at the statistics and can verify that from the first two rounds or virtual rewards, a lot of favorite points, you look at log bank, you look at various ways to try to quantify what the quality is on these things, and it seems like it’s been really positive, and I just know, I’m just… That’s an anecdotal story for me to say that I think that’s one of the positive things for me is that I’m a little more selective about which virtual as I go after, and it tends to be based more on trying to see how quality they are.
0:11:36.4 Cindy: Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. We did look at the stats fairly recently, just of the virtual reward launches, and they have an average of 25% favorite points, and if you look at favorite points total, it’s about 50… More than 50, 56, I think, favorite points, but the percentage is of course, more helpful and 25% favorite point is pretty good for an average.
0:12:03.0 Chris: Right.
0:12:04.2 Cindy: So I agree, it’s nice, I think, when you don’t have to feel that you have to clean all the virtual out, that you can be more selective. We also have today more virtual reward virtuals that are active than original.
0:12:17.9 Chris: Oh wow.
0:12:18.5 Cindy: So there’s only 4000-some original virtuals, 4300, something like that and there are 10,600 virtuals total that are active right now. So you do the math in your head and you don’t have to have very high math to know that it’s gonna be more new virtuals than old virtuals. But the funny thing is that 2017 was five years ago so to anybody joining the game today, those does seem kind of old too, and it won’t be too long until they are filling somebody’s Jasmin grid.
0:12:55.9 Chris: [chuckle] Right, right. Well, and I mentioned the rarity of them too, and as you were talking about numbers, it just made me think for people that might be saying, “Oh, they should stay rare,” it still is only… I think we said 03% of caches in the world are virtual caches so in the grand scheme of things, they’re still very rare and very special.
0:13:17.8 Cindy: Right, if all the new virtuals that we’re launching on March 1st, so we will… Based on everybody that applies, we’ll choose 4000 people and give them virtual rewards. Even if all of them published these 4000 virtuals, we would still have 0.4% of all geo-caches or virtual caches. So yes, I know there’s an argument and that people feel very strongly in our Geocaching community and we love their passion and their opinions, but we really like making sure we have some new content out there.
0:13:57.2 Chris: We mentioned in the blog post that this is part of the Year of the hide as HQ announced earlier this year, and we haven’t talked on the podcast yet about year of the hide. What does Year of the hide mean to you? Why do you feel that this is an important initiative? There’s gonna be a lot more coming out of that over the next several months, a lot of projects and what have you… I’m not gonna spoil any of that, but just in general… Yeah, what is your take on the whole initiative?
0:14:29.0 Cindy: Of course, this game is all about hidden geo-caches so Year of the hide is a kind of a no-brainer but we’re focusing on it more this year, and I think it comes back to refreshing the game board, so not having refreshed be a bad word that we can’t use but thinking that we wanna make sure the game always remains vibrant, and for people that are super engaged and have found all the caches in their area, I often hear them say like, “I have to travel 50 miles until I can find a new virtual or a new,” whatever it is, “Or a new thing of a DT combination.”
0:15:07.0 Cindy: And so it just seems like it’s worth all of us looking at our cache hides and thinking about, “Is that something that’s kinda lived out its purpose? Have most people found it? Is it time to consider either that I archive mine and place something new and make sure it has a different theme, a different container, a different location but still highlighting something?” Maybe the history that was on that cash page is outdated. I see it all the time where you read on a cache page and it’s like, “Gosh, that seems to have been written before the internet started or something” because of mentioning things that are outdated, and so I think some of us we get excited about new stuff but we don’t look back at our old stuff and make sure it’s still relevant. There’s something that I thought of recently that is maybe a little more controversial but I’d like to throw it out there is how people think about more than just Micros, HQ doesn’t take a stand necessarily on anti-Micro, but I do hear people in the community griping about it, and sometimes we get pretty long emails with people saying, “What is happening that everything being hidden is a micro?”
0:16:26.4 Cindy: So if you put yourself in the shoes of a new family that’s trying geocaching or even just a single person trying geocaching, isn’t it more exciting to find a box that actually has something more significant than a piece of paper that’s about a quarter inch wide, even if it has the log book and room for a trackable or a little painted rock or something, it’s so much more fun. And so if we’re thinking about like, “Okay, I’m willing to hide some new stuff this year,” maybe challenge yourself to think about increasing your container size and putting something more like a regular out there so that it will be a really good experience for others, and not just a tricky something for your friends but to think more broadly about what’s best for the game.
0:17:24.1 Chris: That was Cindy Potter, HQ’s Director of Community. Next up, Bryan Roth, HQ’s President and co-founder. I caught up with him about how things are going at HQ and the geocaching 20th anniversary celebration and more. Here we go.
0:17:43.9 Chris: Alright, well, Bryan, let’s start with how things are at Geocaching HQ right now. We are just almost two years into the pandemic and we’ve checked in a couple of times here on our podcast about how HQ is handling everything, and that’s a question that I hear often when I’m out in the community, so what would you say to people about how life is with HQ these days?
0:18:09.9 Bryan: Well, as always, it’s been interesting. I would say we are about three weeks shy of two years of working remotely or at least since the… March 5th, 2020 was the first day that everybody stayed home, and quite honestly, as you know, things have never really gone back to normal. At this point, I would say late last year, prior to Omicron, it felt like things were really moving in the right direction and we started to see a few more HQ lackeys returning to HQ, voluntarily, of course; we’re not forcing anybody to come back to work while there’s still a global pandemic, that doesn’t seem fair. And honestly, we’re not gonna be forcing anybody to come back to work again in the same way that was expected prior to COVID. Things have changed, expectations have changed, we’ve learned what we’re capable of doing remotely, and figured that we can still be effective and serve the community in the way that we want. And so we’ve also grown to understand just how much employees, including myself, value the flexibility of being able to work remotely from time to time. So at this point, things are improving.
0:19:30.7 Bryan: Omicron sort of set us back a little bit and I think things got a little bit quieter in the office. We have 91 full-time employees as of today and I would say the most that I’ve seen in the office over the last two years has been maybe 30, and that’s… I don’t know, one or two days have been really those big days. Other than that, on a day like this… I haven’t fully walked around because we had a board meeting so I got to talk to Jeremy and Elias today. Today I think there’s probably less than 10 lackeys at HQ. I could tell you, for me, I choose to come here every day. I really enjoy the walk from home, it’s good exercise, and I find that it’s just… It’s always been a great environment to work and I just love being here. And so Mondays are a little quieter. Mondays and Fridays are kind of the quieter days where, I think, people choose to work home. Tuesdays and Wednesdays can get a little bit… I can’t even say crowded because there is no such thing as a crowded HQ at the moment. It’s much more… We’ll get 15 people, 20 people and it’s really nice after being here a year ago when there were days I was the only person in the office, and it was kind of lonely and quiet and…
0:20:48.8 Bryan: For those people who have visited HQ, you know there’s a special energy here and to not have that for such a long time was hard. The people haven’t gone anywhere but they haven’t been here and so as we get some of those days where more and more people are returning, it’s exciting, you can feel it kind of in the air. And I was just talking to Jennifer Arterburn, our COO the other day because we looked out and two employees, two lackeys, had bumped into each other in the hallway and they were hugging each other. And I was like, “How cool is it? We work in a place that people miss each other. They really care and they’re hugging each other.” And I feel the same way about everybody but it’s just nice to be back.
0:21:40.1 Bryan: What else? Visitor Center is still closed, we’re not allowed to have guests in the office, we’re still wearing masks, there’s still a vaccination requirement. We’re trying to keep the HQ employees safe. We are trying to keep the broader community safe. As of right now, we are allowing domestic travel. International travel is still off the table; we’re hoping that that changes. And I know that there should be some adjustments at least in Washington state in terms of the outdoor mask mandate and maybe an expected announcement about the indoor mask mandate. And I think I speak for everybody when I say we would love for all of this to be done and get back to some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible but I can’t tell you when that is because I really don’t know.
0:22:31.1 Bryan: One other thing that I would say is that we miss everybody. When I talk to all the lackeys, everybody is so excited to get back out and travel and go to Megas and go to Gigas, and… I know we had a bunch of lackeys go to the Yuma Mega two weeks ago, and they came back with some great stories and just so much excitement about getting to be back with the community. I haven’t done much travel at all. I know most of the company hasn’t done much travel. And so we’re looking forward to things opening up again so that we can get back out and see our friends all over the world and get to reconnect with people that now we haven’t seen in a long time. So I think that there’s still some caution here, but there’s a lot of hope and a lot of anticipation for getting back to geocaching in the way that we knew it in the past, and hopefully we’re not too far from that.
0:23:28.9 Chris: We are speaking on the day when we announced that merchandise pre-sales are available for the 20th anniversary celebration that is scheduled for August 20th at the Seattle Center. We hope, we’re crossing our fingers and all of that stuff, we’re still looking at the calendar, what? Six months away almost, six months and four days. So it feels like a lifetime away, and yet I guess we’re all hopeful, right, and we’ll continue to monitor the guidance from health authorities and all that stuff and see where things go.
0:24:04.3 Bryan: Absolutely. And nobody’s got the crystal ball that’s gonna tell us what six months and four days is gonna look like and so we wanna be optimistic. And you and I have talked about this in the past, it’s like, we really wanna have this celebration event but we only wanna have the celebration event if people can attend. And that’s not just people from the United States, as much as we want them to attend; if our international geocachers can’t attend the event, then it’s really not… It’s not the event that we were looking to put on. And I know we have not yet made a decision, we are looking at the factors and I think we wanna give as much notice to the community as possible. So I would say likely within the next few weeks we’re gonna have to make a call, go, no go, and make an announcement. And I certainly, like you, we hope that we can make it happen, and we hope that everybody can come and we can have one big summer celebration of geocaching in Seattle, celebrate the 22nd year. It’s funny, we have a… One of the decorations for the 2020 event was a big inflatable two zero. And we said, “Oh no. What are we going to do? It’s not the 20th year again.”
0:25:23.8 Bryan: And we said, Well, we’ve gotta buy an inflatable 22 anyway, and so now we have 2022 so we’re spelling it out with four digits instead of two digits. So a little pragmatic adjustment but hopefully we get to do that because if we have to cancel it this year, it’s very unlikely that we would do it next year. We would probably just push it off until 2025 and make it 25th anniversary celebration. At this point in time, I really don’t know. I wish I had more information, I wish it was clear what was going to happen with COVID, but like it’s been for the last two years, it just has not been clear, and it’s not a problem that just Groundspeak and Geocaching HQ has to figure out, this is society at large on a global scale, and so here we’re thinking about what do we do for a party, and that’s a pretty small problem to have compared to some of the challenges that are experienced by other players and communities around the world. So we don’t take it for granted and we’re gonna do our best, as always.
0:26:31.1 Chris: One thing I wanted to touch base with you about was this being the Year of the Hide as HQ has announced. Earlier in the year and throughout this year, we’ll have various projects and fun surprises for the community related to Year of the Hide. One of the topics of Year of the Hide that we’ll be touching on during the course of the next several months is the idea of refreshing the game board. And it’s something that we talked about in the blog post when we announced Year of the Hide, and something that I know you’ve spoken about publicly, and so I just wanted to get your thoughts on this. Well, the notion of Year of the Hide, first of all, why is that important do you think to HQ, this… It seems hides are integral to geocaching but something that we haven’t really called out in this way, and so it seems exciting to be able to put this level of attention on cache hiders and what they bring to the game, and again, what an important part of the game hides are.
0:27:36.4 Bryan: Absolutely. Geocaching is effectively a global game of hide and seek, and as we know, if there’s not a lot of hiding taking place, there’s not a lot of seeking taking place. So they’re kind of codependent. And then I think, it’s been 22 years of this game and there are, I think there’s 3.3 million active caches world-wide right now and that’s a lot. And there are really active players who have cleared out the game board in their neighborhood or in their city or in their town. And if there isn’t an ongoing refresher of the game board or refreshment of the game board, well then you run out of interesting things to do or you have to work harder to go do them. And it doesn’t have to be that way because while there are some absolutely exceptional caches out there that will create experiences for geocachers for years to come, those should remain, but there’s also some mediocre caches, some marginal caches that are out there that, hey, they were placed, it was cool, everybody in town already found it. And so the question is, should it just stay there in hopes that somebody’s gonna find it every six months or every three months or maybe archive the cache if it’s not one of those truly special caches.
0:29:01.3 Bryan: If everybody’s found it already or if most people have found it, if you archive that cache and that cache gets replaced with something new, maybe something more creative or even at the same level of creativity, all of a sudden, everybody in town’s got something new to find. It not only… Refreshing the game board essentially refreshes the game for the players, because now there are new experiences that are available. And as old geocachers know, the nature of this game is about people who have hidden these boxes out there, hidden these geocachers, to create an experience for other people to enjoy. And once those experiences have been enjoyed, you really have to look at, “Well, what is the value of this now?” Certainly this represents the potential for the next geocacher to come along, but at some point a certain area only gets so much traffic, or again, everybody in the area has already been there, and then it’s sort of diminishing returns. The value of that cache to the community isn’t as significant as it was on day one. A brand new cache, you’ve got the first to find, you’ve got the second to find, you’ve got, “Oh well, I haven’t found that one yet. Tell me about it. Let’s go out together.”
0:30:17.0 Bryan: There’s all these potential experiences that can be had. Well, once those experiences have been had, particularly by a lot of people, well then we should be looking at opportunities for how do we create new experiences, how do we create more fun, and so that… Refreshing the game board represents a step in that direction. It’s basically not just teaching people how to create great experiences and how to create great caches and inspiring them and incentivizing them to do that, but the other half is the benefit that comes to all the players if people are truly engaged in great cache placements and great cache hides, because that benefits everybody. The cache creators get the knowledge and reward of having given something else to the community, and all the players get to enjoy a brand new experience that wasn’t there before.
0:31:11.3 Chris: And this is a thought process that is being suggested, it’s not HQ saying, “If your cache has been out for X number of years and it doesn’t have X number of favorite points, you need to get rid of it.” This is HQ through the Year of the Hide suggesting… That’s the keyword, I think, to think about it like you were saying, to just think through, “Hey, how often does my cache get visited? And how much do people seem to enjoy it?” And if they love it and if it’s still a cool cache, great, keep it there if you’d like to.
0:31:44.1 Bryan: Exactly, if your cache is… You’re absolutely right. We’re not telling anybody, “Hey, you go archive your cache, it’s an old cache.” Or, “It’s been found a lot of times.” At the end of the day, the decision remains with the cache owner if they wanna refresh their own local game board or something like that. But what what we are asking is, as a cache owner, or even as somebody who hasn’t placed a cache before, think about what you wanna give to the community. Your cache has been out there for eight years, for 10 years, for 12 years, and, hey, it’s been found two times a year. And if it’s urban and it’s been found two times a year, that’s one thing; if it’s a three-day hike to go find the cache and it’s been found two days a year, that’s a totally different consideration. So we’re really asking geocachers to look at their caches and say, “Hey, can I make this better? Has this cache seen its day? Is there a reason to really keep it? Is it getting consistent favorite points? People are loving it, and we’re getting great logs all the time,” by all means don’t change a thing. But if it’s like, “Hey, it’s sort of languishing… ”
0:32:56.2 Bryan: I’ll tell you, I had a cache that I placed over at Marymoor Park, which was where I met Heidi and Dylan 20 years ago and give or take at this point. And the cache was there for a few years, and I had gone a couple of times and done maintenance. And then at one point I said, “Do you know something? It’s an average cache. It was there, I placed it, it’s been out… ” I think it was out for six or eight years. And I said, “You know something? This is a nice spot; if I get rid of this cache, somebody else is gonna place a cache here And then other people, the people who have already found my cache, are gonna get to go find this new cache, including me.”
0:33:32.8 Bryan: And so I pulled the cache and archived it and I wasn’t sad about it. I felt like, “Okay, this cache had its day. It was time and now I should go place a new cache somewhere else or think about it in the next kind of experience that I wanna give.” And I think if the Year of the Hide helps people reflect on something like that the best thing that can come out of it is people say, “I’m gonna refresh my area. I’m gonna… You’re gonna refresh your area.” And if everybody is thinking about this, all of a sudden we have an influx of new caches, maybe get rid of some of the old ones that aren’t so relevant anymore, and that’s good for the game. That’s good for the hiders, that’s good for the finders, and it’s good for the overall game. And that’s something that… That’s something that we would love to see.
0:34:22.9 Chris: That was Bryan Roth, HQ’s President and co-founder. We also heard from Cindy Potter, HQ’s Director of Community. A lot of interesting things happening as 2022 roles along. If there is something you would like us to cover on the podcast, send an email to email@example.com. That is firstname.lastname@example.org. We really do appreciate your feedback. Until next time, from me and Bryan and Cindy and all of the lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.