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Thoughts on Challenge Structure

Discussion in 'Challenges, Quizzes, Competitions & Games' started by FunkyGibbon, 1 Jan 2020.

  1. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

    11 Jan 2015
    Birmingham, UK
    This is primarily in response to the developing discussion in the ZooChat Challenge North America 2020 thread, which I didn't want to contribute to, since (a) I won't be playing, and (b) I think there are wider points to be made. Having played four years of the Global Challenge (and observed other challenges), and having put a certain amount of thought into why I thought some years were more fun or successful than others, here are my two key conclusions:

    (please note that whenever I say 'fun' I mean 'fun for me'

    Long lists are not fun

    For two reasons. But they are both basically the same reason: book keeping is not fun.

    Firstly, it's not fun to have to write and format long lists from individual zoos. Obviously certain zoos will always defy this, but we want to avoid it as much as possible.

    Secondly, it's not fun to have a list so long that you can't keep a general track of it. If I have to note down every single eligible animal at a zoo and then search my own list for it later, that's not fun. I should have a rough sense of what is on there. For practical purposes I think this means having a target winning number of around 100.

    It should be obvious what counts

    I don't want to be stood in front of an exhibit not knowing if that animal qualifies or not. Because if I don't I have to note the species and check later. And again, book keeping isn't fun. So categories should be firstly clearly defined and secondly relatively well known. It's good to encourage people to look for things that might otherwise be overlooked, but not at the cost of 'fun'. That's why we tend to focus on mammals and not fish.


    If I may I'd like to take a look at specific examples and how they passed or failed these criteria:

    Ungulates: For me ungulates ending up being quite frustrating because of following the Groves splits. Especially as an 'Asian' player it was often very hard to know what stuff was to 'sub-specific' level. So it failed the second test. The winning number ending up not being that high so the first test was fine.

    Passerines: Waaaaaaay to many species. I gave up on this one. There were also some times when I didn't know on the spot if something was a passerine or not, but I feel like that's on me. So the second test is fine.

    Carnivores: Passed both tests.
    Amphibians: Passed both tests
    For me both of these challenges were perfect in terms of what I am discussing

    Reptiles (UK Challenge): From the outside this looked absolutely hellish to me. Too many species.

    Primates (Europe): Seemed fine, and ironically I kept track of my list when I was back for the summer that year but it was so surprisingly noncompetitive I didn't post it.

    Island Endemics: This was a clear case of the second rule being violated. For birds and reptiles and fish this would have been so hard for me.

    South America: Too many species, but obviously well defined.


    This post isn't totally aimed at the NA Challenge, and I think it might be useful to get the opinions of other regular 'players' to see what people actually want. I am sure there are people who disagree, but I wonder if I speak for a majority or not.
    Last edited: 1 Jan 2020
  2. CGSwans

    CGSwans Well-Known Member

    12 Feb 2009
    Re: the should be ‘obvious’ point. I agree with the substance of that, but I don’t mind being prompted to learn just a little bit.If I have two or three species to check at the end of the day - as was sometimes the case when I was chasing Passerines - that wasn’t too bad. But if I had needed to write down everything at, say, Walsrode to work out whether it was a countable species I simply wouldn’t have bothered.

    Although I didn’t participate, I thought ‘Island endemics’ actually struck a great balance, and in fact I had considered using it for a ZooChat Cup category. It’s intuitive insofar as I think I’d be able to immediately assign 98% of the species I see in a zoo to either ‘in’ or ‘out’ categories, meaning I wouldn’t need to take significant notes. I don’t mind having to do a little bit of work for that last 2%, but my attention span will drift pretty quickly if it becomes 5%, and at 10% I suspect I’m out entirely.

    What I’m not enthused about with the IUCN Red List as a category is the sheer amount of work potentially involved that *won’t* get counted. I might spend an hour in a reptile house with poor signage, madly scribbling down the names of 75 species only to then look them up one by one and find that only five were eligible. That’s going to get very tedious very fast.
    FunkyGibbon likes this.
  3. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    29 Apr 2009
    Behind You! (to the left)
    These are all good/fair points or, at least, points to consider.

    I agree with CGSwans to the extent that all challenges should, ideally, require a little learning (though not too excessive to alienate people).

    I also also tried to consider the geography of the playing zone involved to minimise, as far as possible, any advantages based on a player's location (which on occasion can wreck the feasibility of setting a challenge). The spread/layout of species across the zone also has to be considered when designing challenges (e.g. there's little point doing a crocodilian challenge in the UK as one visit to Crocodiles Of The World would about end it:D).
    pipaluk and FunkyGibbon like this.
  4. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Moderator Staff Member

    11 Jan 2015
    Birmingham, UK
    @Shorts Yes, national challenges in a small(ish) country can do things continental or global ones can't. Equally those larger areas are less vulnerable to COTW syndrome.

    I'm curious, over the last four years you ran four quite different challenges: taxonomic, 'arbitrary' zoo list, 'arbitrary' animal list and geographic. Do you have a sense of which were most successful? Indeed do you have a metric for measuring success?
  5. Imperator Furiosa

    Imperator Furiosa Well-Known Member

    25 Jul 2018
    I honestly don't mind the IUCN challenge that much, but I think I come from a slightly different perspective. I do a lot of freelance osteological work, and that means regularly sifting through species lists published by CITES or USFWS to see if people are breaking the law by selling or possessing particular species. This is honestly a lot less research than what I'm used to because I don't have to do any cross-referencing with laws or report anyone.

    I actually found the island challenge quite challenging because of how many species existed on islands...and then one tiny area of a continent. Having to look up where a species was from was a pain, especially if the signage wasn't accurate. I hadn't joined when the Ungulate challenge happened although I doubt I would have enjoyed it considering how convoluted the G&G taxonomy is and the fact that a lot of US zoos don't have subspecific or population information available for their animals unless you do a lot of digging.

    I agree that the amphibian challenge struck a very good balance, I felt motivated to continue with it throughout the year and actually felt like I learned something from it.