Why the XP/Leveling System was Adjusted

Previous changes to the XP/Leveling system have often been made without extensive discussion or explanation. But in the interest of the more open, more transparent Everything2 that katherine and now alex have been striving to bring about, this time we decided to produce an extensive explanation of why and how decisions were made. The fullest discussion of these changes is the tfxp discussion thread archived at the Everything2 Discussion Forum under Projects>>Voting/XP/Level Reform. However, a summary of various topics can be found below...

How the XP/Level readjustment came about

Over the past three years or so, in a series of conversations, polls, internal discussions, and discussions on the E2 Forum, it had become increasingly clear that the Honor Roll/Merit system which had been in place since 2002 was seriously flawed and desperately needed to be reformed. While many users were happy or did not mind the Honor Roll system, and it did much to improve the quality of writing on the site, many other users reported finding it confusing, and a significant number of users reported that by 2005 and 2006, it was discouraging them from posting writeups (or in some cases causing them to have perfectly good writeups deleted) for fear that their "merit" score would fall and they would lose ground toward leveling up.

It is part of psychology that human beings like to see numbers go up, and the fact that every time a high-merit user submitted a writeup their merit score (and thus their "level-up factor") would decrease, and would take some days to climb back up even if the writeup was good enough, was having a paralyzing effect on many of E2's best writers, making them disinclined to submit anything other than the longest and most sure-fire writeups.

Once the magnitude of this problem became clear, the Content Editors found the issue to be so serious that in the Fall of 2007, strong consideration was given to simply retiring the Honor Roll outright as a stop-gap measure and returning to the pre-2002 system, even to the point of having a front page announcement ready to go and having a date set to pull the switch. Cooler heads prevailed however, and it was decided that until a comprehensive reform package could be developed and approved, the Honor Roll would have to stay in place.

At this point, kthejoker took the initiative to design and implement his "Writeup Bonus" system, which addressed some of the most glaring problems of the Honor Roll system, but added some level of confusion by laying yet another overlapping layer to the already complex and unwieldy system alongside the Honor Roll. Efforts were also made to encourage people to write more by allowing users to spend XP at the newly introduced E2 Gift Shop.

To resolve this situation, the TFXP usergroup was established.

How the TFXP usergroup arrived at the new plan

In January of 2008, Apatrix and Oolong organized the TFXP ("Task Force XP") usergroup for the purpose of crafting a carefully thought-out, comprehensive plan to reform the XP/leveling system in a way that would address as many issues and problems as possible. The group was a mix of editors and ordinary users, with ordinary users forming the majority, and Apatrix and Oolong actually made an effort to pick users for the group who were unlikely to agree with them or had vocally disagreed with them in the past. Any plan they were to produce had no prior promise of approval from the administration - the plan would have to be good to get approved. It was also decided that the final plan would have to be agreed upon by consensus rather than majority vote - this made agreeing on a final plan much more time consuming and required much more compromise, but the final plan was less likely to be any one user's pet plan and much more likely to be a plan many people would find agreeable. golFUR agreed to help coordinate the discussion towards a conclusion.

The group had a mandate to consider any and all possibilities, no matter how extreme, and indeed ideas seriously discussed included things like eliminating XP and levels entirely, or resetting all users to zero. In the end however, after much debate, it was decided that there was value in attempting to salvage as much of the present system as possible and in not doing things like forcing users to lose all of the XP they had worked so hard for over the years. As discussions went forward, the focus shifted to revising the present system rather than throwing it out entirely and starting completely from scratch.

However, the current system was already going on 7 years old, and E2 had changed quite a lot. So several aspects of the system were readjusted, in mutually related ways, as follows...

Infinite Levels

One of the main goals of revising the system is to encourage people to write more and to restore an environment in which people feel rewarded every time they submit a writeup. One of the major problems with the old system was that level requirements increased roughly exponentially, so after about 10 levels or so, it became almost impossible to level up, because doing so would require hundreds of additional writeups and tens of thousands of additional XP. Compounding the issue was the fact that over the years expectations at E2 have been raised considerably, making it much harder to write 100 new writeups than it used to be.

A simple solution was to have the XP requirement increase by an expanding amount each level until a certain point, and then increase by a fixed amount after that. This makes it easy to add infinite levels, thus ensuring that every user, no matter how new or how old, would have another, difficult but achievable next level to strive for.

Reversing the relative value of XP and Writeups

Another major problem with the old system was the relative value of XP and writeups when it came to leveling up. The XP requirements were too easy (or rather, XP became too easy to get), whereas the writeup requirements were too large. This encouraged noding for numbers, leading to the development of the Honor Roll. With the Honor Roll being retired, it was important to insure that the old noding-for-numbers ways would not return, and a simple way to do this was to reverse the relative value of XP and writeups for leveling up.

Instead of the old situation, in which people had plenty of XP for the next level but were always waiting on the number of writeups, under the new system writeup requirements have been drastically reduced and XP has been made more precious and more tied to writing, so that almost everyone will have plenty of writeups but will be waiting on XP. This will encourage people to focus more on producing quality writeups, but ensure that even adding a low-rep writeup will still advance the cause a bit.

Rewarding High Quality Writeups

While the new adjustments do encourage quality writing by making XP more valuable, users still get the usual 5 XP for submitting a writeup, so it is possible to level up by submitting lots of low-rep writeups. Even though the Honor Roll has been retired, there is still a desire to promote quality writing, so it is important that people who write better writeups advance at a faster rate. To this end, upvotes received will now be worth a guaranteed 1 XP each, as opposed to a 33% chance of an XP (or 1/3 XP on average) under the old system, effectively tripling the leveling-up value of writing a great writeup that gets lots of additional upvotes. In addition, truly great writeups stand out for the number of C!s they receive, and thus the value of these C!s to leveling up has been doubled from 10 XP to 20 XP.

Combating C! Inflation

Another reason to increase the XP value of the C! is to help make C!s more valuable again. In the early days of E2, when people wrote a lot more writeups, getting a C! was much rarer than it is today. It is not exactly desirable to turn back the clock that far and make C!s super rare again, but as the number of writeups per day has reduced and in unrelated developments the C! power has been extended to more users via the gift shop and lowering level requirements, writeups have come to receive C!s much more often than in the past, making C!s less precious, and less distinctive. This concern was only compounded when it was calculated around a year ago that the editorial staff (who had limitless C!s at that time) was awarding nearly 50% of all C!s, and when a few other dedicated C!ers were added in, half of all C!s were being awarded by a tiny fraction of the total C!-possessing userbase.

Thus in addition to increasing the XP value of C!s to give them more cachet, the decision was taken to reduce the number of C!s a user can cast per day to 1 for all users, regardless of level, to reduce the supply of C!s. This is not nearly as drastic a step as it sounds, because at the same time the numbers of users who can C! will also increase significantly thanks to a lower requirement for C! power, and it will still be possible for one user to cast more than one C! in a day in certain situations, such as being given additional C!s by other users via the Gift Shop, or receiving C!s from an administrator. Moreover, statistics have shown that a vast majority of users were not using all of their C!s on most days anyway, and since good nodes are not going away, users can always bookmark those nodes to C! the next day. This is a minor inconvenience to deal with in exchange for dramatically increasing the value and prestige of the C! power.

Rethinking the Downvote

Another issue that came under serious discussion was what to do about downvotes. New users consistently report that one of the most demoralizing things about trying to get started on E2 is the unexplicated downvote, and particularly the nasty "Ack!" message and the attendant loss of precious XP. At the same time however, more established users find the downvote a useful expression of how their writeup is received that complements the upvote in helping them discern how their intended audience is responding to their writing. After extensive discussion on the possibility of eliminating the downvote entirely, it was ultimately decided that this would be going too far and would eliminate part of the usefulness of the feedback system. However, it was finally agreed that the downvote should no longer cause the loss of XP. This would eliminate the nasty "Ack!" message, while still retaining the message of disapproval, which is already a kind of "punishment" for those who feel that the downvote needs to have a punishing aspect. The downvote is thus retained as an integral and useful element of the feedback system and a means for encouraging better writing and conveying site norms, but removes some of the nastiness, which is a good thing for encouraging new users in particular.

Separating Social and Monetary Currencies

Perhaps the most noticeable change under the new system is the introduction of a new currency for buying and selling things on E2 -- the GP. The tfxp group was cautious about introducing a strange new variable to the system, but ultimately decided that it was a highly necessary solution to a sticky problem, namely that over time XP had increasingly shifted from being a purely social currency, used to measure a user's progress and contributions to the site, toward much more of an actual currency, used to purchase goods and services, play various games, and even to gamble with. This heavily diluted the XP as a form of social currency, and drastically reduced its value as a means to base a leveling system upon.

More and more XP had to be given out to mean anything, and in fact the increasingly debased XP was starting to mean almost nothing at all. It was desirable to make XP more valuable and rarer and more meaningful again, and one of the main ways to do this was to stop allowing it to be spent freely and acquired easily. At the same time, however, everyone had gotten used to getting huge hoards of XP in blessings and quests as well as spending huge hoards of XP at the E2 Gift Shop and on the Wheel of Surprise and in other ways, which were fun and useful. Thus it was decided to split the existing XP into two kinds of currency, a social currency which could only be earned by writing and would be used for leveling purposes, and a fun monetary currency which could be used to buy things and as additional rewards for quests and such.

Nevertheless, care was taken to ensure that users who may not want to bother with an extra new type of currency can fully opt out (in User Settings), and can continue to write great writing and help others write great writing, and take part in all the usual parts of the E2 community with no penalty toward how they level up.

A Final Word

We, the members of the tfxp usergroup and the administration, as the crafters and approvers of these adjustments, respectively, fully recognize that no system can please all comers, and that no system is truly perfect. However, we honestly feel that we took as much care as possible at all stages of the process to have an open, honest discussion that took as many possibilities and opinions into account as was practicable. What emerged was inevitably a compromise, from many perspectives, but we truly feel it was the best compromise possible under the circumstances of a site with thousands of diverse users and an amorphous administration of all volunteers. We hope that you will approach this new system with a spirit of optimism and cooperativity. If this new system has flaws, let us fix them, together. As always, we love to hear your constructive comments and feedback.