On 24th August 2017, Geocaching HQ announced the release of Virtual Rewards, whereby selected geocachers were given the chance to create new virtuals. Virtual caches were ‘grandfathered’ in 2005, meaning no new caches of this type could be created, but those already in existence could continue on. According to the Geocaching Help Center, the option to create new ones was initially removed because, “… they took a lot of time to review and it was difficult to determine guidelines for high-quality virtuals.”
How were the new Virtual Rewards distributed?
The Virtual Rewards were allocated to approximately 4,000 geocachers across 63 countries. Geocaching HQ said that the majority of those chosen were identified using an algorithm, which identified, “top quality cache hiders from countries with at least 100 hiders.” Every active community volunteer (reviewers, translators, etc) was also allocated one.
The exact details of the algorithm were not disclosed but Geocaching HQ did reveal that it was, “based on overall cache quality and cache health.” The top 1% of those identified using the algorithm were awarded a Virtual Reward.
The announcement regarding Virtual Rewards in August 2017 was met with mixed reactions from the geocaching community. The release was hailed as, “a project to reward some of geocaching’s great contributors.” Many felt the wrong people were chosen and many worthy geocachers were left out. Others were simply happy to have more virtual caches on the map.
A quick read of the comments on the announcement newsletter shows the amount of debate the Virtual Rewards stirred up at the time. In fact, the discussion was so heated and so many cachers felt that many who should have received a reward were skipped over, that Geocaching HQ decided to update their initial announcement article, apologising for any offence caused and explaining further how they chose the recipients of the Virtual Reward caches:
Based on feedback we’ve received, we have updated this blog post to remove the emphasis on “top 1% of cache hiders” and replaced it with “the top 1% of the results from our algorithm” as this description more accurately describes the selected group of geocache hiders.
~ Official Geocaching Blog, August 2017
The New Virtuals
Over the past year, I have managed to ‘find’ 8 Virtual Reward caches in 5 countries. They have all highlighted interesting locations: from tourist hot spots like the Seattle Space Needle (GC7B6BG), to lesser known curiosities like the Devil’s Footstep inside Munich Cathedral (GC7B8R0).
I have enjoyed the opportunity to add some more virtual caches to my tally as we only had 15 active virtual caches in Ireland before the Virtual Rewards were released. I’ve only found 73 virtual caches in total, but the Virtual Rewards I have found have never failed to highlight something interesting, while not having unnecessarily complicated logging requirements.
As of today, approximately 2,574 Virtual Reward caches seem to have been placed worldwide (based on using the Map Compare tool in Project-GC. If we take it that 4,000 were awarded, that’s just over 64%. There is no way to know who exactly received the rewards and is not using them (apart from community volunteers). Were they awarded to inactive geocachers who aren’t interested in placing new caches, virtual or not? Or are they active cachers, who have no interest in placing a virtual cache?
Whether Geocaching HQ will run a promotion like this remains to be seen. The good news is we now have 7,097 active (including temporarily disabled) virtual caches worldwide, over 2,500 more than we had before the Virtual Rewards were given out.
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