It's going downhill

If you make any claim you have to back it up by cold hard facts. There might be something like a perceived truth which you can find widely across one nation supporters however that rarely coincides with reality. Let's just stick to the cold hard facts. The claim is the following:

"Geocaching has reached its peak and is declining."

First of all we have to establish a measurement which acts as our key performance indicator (KPI). In order to do so, we have to have a look at the typical or key activity of this hobby: A cache gets found by a player. Yes technically people don't find caches as well however nobody logs DNFs which means we can disregard this. Anyway this results in three things we can measure:
  • Caches
  • Finds
  • Players
Since we want to analyse a trend we obviously have to look at the numbers developing over time and check if there is actually a trend.


Every week somebody ventures out and places a new cache in a more or less suitable location. Since the number of new caches is significantly higher than caches which get removed, the overall number of caches is increasing. This means even if the number of new caches is decreasing, it would look like there are way more caches you can find month after month.

The number of new caches is indeed decreasing but at a very low rate. In Australia the number for new caches year to date (YTD) compared to 2015 is 0% as in no change. The picture in other countries is inconsistent (e.g. CZ: +12%, US: -1%, DE: -7%) and on a global scale the number of new caches has a slight downwards trend:  -3%. As already mentioned the total number of caches is still going up by thousands per year in Australia which means for most of us it looks like a fight against the cache-tide since there are already way more caches than we can ever find.

Cache saturation - caches per area - is constantly increasing and will level out or already levelled out in dense regions. Basically the KPI "new caches per year" is telling us that the playing field of the game is maturing but not if the game is growing or declining.


This is pretty simple and straightforward: How many caches get found per year. For Australia (+8%), Germany (+3%) and the US (+1%) the finds YTD are all slightly up. With the increasing density it is not surprising that more caches get found because you have to travel less between caches. More Players could find more caches on average, more Players could find the same amount of caches on average or less players find way more caches on average. Without looking at number of players, we won't be able to tell the difference. 

If you measure geocaching by the KPI "Number of caches found" the statement that the game is declining is not true. Globally cache finds increased by six percent.


Now we're getting to the most interesting part: The number of players or active geocachers. With this KPI you can put the numbers "Caches" and "Finds" into perspective. Most other games and hobbies measure growth or decline in members playing the game therefore I chose this KPI "Active Players" to substantiate the above statement. E.g. the Victorian Climbing Club has a positive development of the membership base because there are more members than last year. However if you don't renew your membership, you drop off the list and won't be a member next year. This is pretty easy to measure.

Geocaching is a bit different and more like Hotel California: Your membership with Groundspeak never ceases. Since Groundspeak is a business, unsurprisingly they aren't very keen to give you the insight of their customer base which means we have to grab some information from various sources and put that data together to get the picture. 

If you haven't read my blog post about the stickiness of the game, now would be a good time to do so. The conclusion of the post is that Geocaching is as sticky as polytetrafluoroethylene and only a low percentage of new players stick to the game. This is important to understand the following data. 

First let's have a look at overall membership development. There are the old numbers from Geocaching Australia but not much more. Globally the picture must be similar to the Australian graph below since there are two known numbers: 5 million members in 2010 and 15 million members in 2016.

Overall this is a fairly healthy growing curve. Obviously membership numbers went up in 2008 with the release of the iOS app and have increased a fair amount.


Now we have to put this a bit more into perspective. The number of active players is the number of all players who ever signed up (see above) minus the number of players who left the game. These non-active members are a bit harder to track but it's not impossible. On a side-note the Germans have the beautiful word Karteileiche for non-active members which literally translates to registry-corpse.

Project GC is our little helper here: For 2015 the number of  active players YTD are all down. Active player means someone who found at least one cache. Yes - that's a very low bar and still we are looking at negative numbers. Btw. if you draw the line of very active players at 100 finds in 2015 they make up 2763 or 4.7% of active players in Australia. Anyway on to the decline of active players:
  • Australia: minus 1%
  • Germany: minus 10%
  • USA: minus 3% 
  • World: minus 3%
For the big geocaching countries this has been an ongoing trend for years and we will have to see if Australia will follow this trend after it has been steady in the past. But let's go back to a global scale. Obviously the new members don't offset the people leaving the game. How many active players are in the game and how many "registry-corpses" are there?  I'm glad you're asking:
The YTD number is down from 1.69 million in 2015 to 1.64 million active players today. In total 1.92 players found at least one cache last year and if the trend continues there will be 1.86 million active players on the record by the end of the year. That's about 10% of the registered members, the remaining 90% are registry-corpses.

The 10% of active players also contain the very active players. I just assume that the above Australian number of roughly 5% is also valid on a global scale and then we have just 93000 very active players  or less than 1% of all members.

Supporting Data

Sometimes google can be really handy. This data is taken from google trends and represents search interest relative to the highest point on the chart. Beside geocaching being a highly seasonal game it is apparent that there's a slight downwards trend as well. 


On a global level the statement "Geocaching has reached its peak and is declining." is correct since less players sign up and keep playing than players leaving the game. The trend is slightly negative with minus three percent although it is yet to be seen in Australia.

I crawled through a fair amount of websites and also stumbled over various theories why geocaching is developing like it is. Although that would be really interesting, I'll leave that for the follow up post and start packing my pack for tomorrow's hike. 

Hopefully you found that interesting - please comment here or on facebook.

Cheers :)



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