The categories game refers to the switching or misplacement of deviations into less competitive or algorithm preferred submission categories in order to gain a ranking advantage in dA's popularity algorithm, generally as a means of appearing more frequently on front page and subsequently gaining greater exposure.
The categories game arises from the inherent category biases under dA's "fair exposure" policy. The goal of the policy is to "maximize the display of the most popular deviations in a variety of topics
with Fair Exposure, the community is exposed to a varied cross-section of deviantART. " What this boils down to is that certain categories have inherent ranking advantages and others inherent ranking disadvantages on front page. For more information on dA's fair exposure policy and how it leads to the categories game, consult my last journal on "How to win at deviantART: Exposed: [link]
As you may have guessed, some deviants have decoded this underlying ranking categories bias and turn it into a means of using the system to achieve greater exposure (a game if you will). Whether exploiting this loophole in the system to your advantage is right or wrong is not for me to say or judge but for you to think about. But what I offer you instead are simply my results (while statistically insignificant, are nonetheless based on statistics) from analyzing this underlying ranking bias in the Photography section so that you may, if you wish, use this information to your advantage. If we're all informed then we're all on even playing grounds then that's what's fair...right?
These are the categories you can submit to in order to gain a ranking advantage under dA's fair exposure policy based on the statistics collected from gaming. Interestingly, the effects of switching between categories (the jumps in ranking) take place in as little as 5 minutes though sometimes can take as long as half an hour.
The results (for Photography section only):
Non-competitve and algorithm preferred categories (categories that seem to be given a preference or bias in the algorithm; simply switching to these categories will often cause a substantial jump in ranking)
2. Horror & Macabre
3. Abstract & Surreal
Non-competitve and algorithm neutral categories (categories where it's easier to get ranked 1st in the category simply due to the lack of other deviations competing for the same spot thereby making it easier to appear on front page)
1. Urban & Rural
3. Still Life
Highly competitive but algorithm preferred categories (being even 5th in these categories will often result in a higher ranking than being 1st in categories such as Macro despite otherwise similar statistics)
1. People & Portraits
2. Animal, Plants & Nature
Common strategies I've seen from others:
1. Miscategorizing temporarily into Resources (also highly noncompetitive and algorithm preferred) to gain a ranking edge and then switching out a few hours or days later
2. Miscategorizing temporarily into Artisan Crafts (also highly noncompetitive and algorithm preferred)
3. Miscategorizing temporarily into Customization
Particularly for the photography category:
1. Submitting absolutely everything into Miscellaneous, Digital Darkroom, or Conceptual (the primary strategy for discrete gaming)
2. Using less competitive categories as "stepping stones" to reaching section front pages but then switching to a more correct category once reaching the general front page to avoid drawing negative attention
The good news:
(Most) people won't fav crap. Particularly in less competitive categories, sub-quality snapshots with only a few favs may manage to make it onto front page. During its time on front page, lots of people may view the deviation, but very few (<1%) will actually fav the deviation. This low conversion rate of viewers to fav-ers suggests that although being on front page means reaching a larger audience, if your work isn't "good", then people will realize that and just move along. So at the end of the day, working hard and improving your art is still the most important contributing factor towards gaining exposure and popularity.
The better news:
You don't have to game to take advantage of the system. Just try out a different genre! Do Horror photography. Do Architectural photography. Then submit to that category. Legit! Try something new.
The bad news:
Transparency in gaming is more of a detriment than benefit. A few deviants along with myself have been playing the categories game very transparently, primarily as a means of raising awareness but also of course while collecting statistics. I have also noticed others playing extremely blatantly though never admitting to such gaming. The unfortunate trend seems to be that people are hesitant to accuse others of "wrongdoing" (ie. gaming), but some are more than willing to judge others for the "wrongdoings" they've admitted to committing. So there is really little positive reinforcement for transparency or trying to get people informed. On the contrary, the most positive reinforcement comes from keeping others in the dark. But most just don't care. And perhaps that's the worst news
Good news? Bad news? You decide:
Gaming works. Consider the analysis below.
A tale of two photos:
Both of flower macros. Both of comparably high quality. One submitted into Macro. The other switched around all categories to gain a ranking advantage.
Roughly 1 hour into the game, our macro photo is at 37 favorites and 101 views for a conversion rate of 0.37, ranking 1st in Macro 8 Hours but only 60th in Photography 8 Hours. Our switch-y photo is currently 1st in Miscellaneous 8 Hours and is slightly behind at 28 favorites and 81 views for a comparable conversion rate of 0.35, yet ranking 30th in Photography 8 Hours.
Our switch-y photo switched to Abstract&Surreal, suddenly jumping from 60th to 25th in Photography 8 Hours. It is then switched again to Architecture, suddenly jumping from 25th to 6th in Photography 8 Hours where it stayed for the rest of its "24 hour potential front page life span" while our macro photo simply stays in the same category.
18 hours later, our switch-y photo is 1st on the general 24 hour front page with 1,230 favs and 5,511 views for a conversion rate of 0.22. Our macro photo is 70th on the general 24 hour front page with 163 favs and 731 views for a conversion rate of also 0.22.
163 favs and 731 views is still a lot to be appreciative for. But at the same time, based on the trajectories of both deviations, I'm of the opinion that if our macro photo had been the one to get switched around, it too would've been able to achieve >1000 favs and >5000 views. But it was simply never given that opportunity.
So should you play the categories game? At this point, I really don't know anymore.
On the one hand, there does seem to be something rather devious with gaming a system to your advantage and subsequently presumably to the detriment of others. But on the other hand, when we've put so much time, effort, thought and passion into our artworks, it's disheartening when they are seemingly denied of an opportunity for greater exposure, not because people don't like our artworks, but because we failed to submit them into a more advantageous category. At the same time, there's no denying that people are playing. So if everybody's doing it, why can't we?
So until the system, until dA, changes to prevent this categories game, you can debate and decide for yourself: Will you play the categories game?
***Perhaps as with economics and politics, the system is geared so that the rich get richer by exploiting these loopholes while the rest are left in the dark. But if more people know, then more people can lobby and demand for change. However, sadly, in all these settings, most people just don't seem to care. People don't care to notice. Less care to get informed. So if people don't care, then why should dA?
And so the psychopaths continue to exploit the loopholes of the system as well as the apathy of the masses.