I just got on the wrong side of the reputation stick on the Gaming SE, by asking a question against their specific flavor of FAQ and policies. It got me to thinking, and I wanted to ask whether the system works well as it stands, or if there might be some changes worth the doing. I chose to have the discussion here because I feel much more comfortable on this SE (thanks folks for making me feel at home :D) and because I feel like I am a much more credible expert on RPG topics, so I can discuss the system with the ramifications here.

I'm not sure that downvotes adversely impacting reputation is a good idea, for a few different reasons.

  • Firstly, and on the basest of levels, receiving a penalty stings. The intent of the penalty is to make people stop and consider posting before they do, and that's understandable, but at the same time, honest mistakes happen. I asked a question that, familiar with this SE, I didn't think was ruled-out. Someone posted a comment saying it would likely be deleted, and posted a link to the FAQs. I saw it was listed, deleted the post, but by then, I already had gotten a downvote (I'm pretty sure it was actually the person who left the comment, but no matter). I lost two reputation, and am left with a very sour taste in my mouth. I don't think I deserved to be chastised, but I was. And at this point, I'm honestly not sure I'm going to ever go back to Gaming, because I don't think I agree with their policy. If I had simply received the comment, I'd be much less upset about the whole thing (2 rep is a lot when you're at less than 20). I think the system probably works fine for veterans who should know better, but the system currently seems to punish new members, and possibly cause them to leave the community.
  • Secondly, I'm not sure that degrading my reputation when I downvote is a good thing either. In dealing with my frustration on Gaming, I asked a question on their Meta, and got linked in to the discussion on Game Recommendations, and why they flatly don't allow them. The post I saw with the most rhetoric (here), has a lot of good things to be said about quality, and motivation. Trying to maintain a high-quality repository of information is certainly admirable, and seems a worthy goal of these sites. However, in attempting to maintain quality of the site, I have to choose between degrading my reputation (let alone that of someone else), and just ignoring the question altogether, which I've done until now. Most of the time, I've been selfish, and just not worried about the community as a whole, and maintained my personal number. That's not good for the community.

It is important for you to mean it when you go to downvote a question. However, it also seems counter-intuitive to penalize yourself to make the community better. Would it be possible to refund voters' reputation if a question dips negative? Would that be worth the doing? It allows for active members to work as a community and help police things that may not actually need to stay on the site, from a quality perspective. Flags, to my understanding, have to do with whether a question adheres to the rules of the site, not the value of the question.

Lastly, is there a way to put in a window of "noobie-protection" where downvotes don't decimate their reputation? The community is active enough that within 10 minutes of my first post, I had a comment welcoming me to the site. If my post had been less than acceptable, I'm sure that welcome would have been a suggestion on either how to improve it or to take it down (if it was really unsalvagable). Could we rely on that to help correct new members, as opposed to the Reputation Stick as it stands now?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for 'window of "noobie-protection"' \$\endgroup\$ May 21, 2012 at 18:30

4 Answers 4


Lets be clear here. Here is how the rep system works on non-community wiki posts:

From the FAQ

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The rep system is in place to do the following things:

  • Encourage people to post good content
  • Encourage people to vote their feelings on content, particularly on questions
  • Discourage people from downvoting a lot on answers
  • Help the community grow by introducing a fun gamist atmosphere.

The rep system is inherently a gamism. It's a foreign mechanic instituted into this Q&A site in order to encourage participation. By introducing "achievements" (privileges and badges) more gamist mechanics are introduced.

Games can be both won and lost. And without some sense of conflict most games aren't much fun. Downvoting introduces those elements in a relatively pain free way.

Your post is complaining about (seemingly) a single downvote, that's 2 reputation, even if you have 20 rep that's only 10%, but more importantly that's 1/5 of an answer upvote. Go answer a question, if you get even one upvote you have netted 8 reputation, a 40% increase over your original 20 rep. Finally, deleting the post negates the upvote (only posts older than 60 days with a score >3 keep their reputation after deletion), so why the complaint?

Because of this imbalance (upvotes, even on answers, outweigh downvotes so heavily), even terrible contributors can manage to generate positive reputation scores. If anything the reputation system is to biased towards upvotes. however, this has an important function, we need high reputations users, and a lot of them. Because of the privileges mechanic, as sites grow, high reputation users can begin to preform moderator functions. Without these people providing these functions there would be a greater need for more moderators, or utter chaos.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the post of explicit rules for the rep system. I was unaware that question downvotes were free for the voter. That effectively deals with my second concern. As an addendum, if that is in fact how the reputation system works, could the FAQ be updated to reflect that more explicitly? I thought all downvotes cost rep, not just answer downvotes. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rhylok
    May 8, 2012 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rhylok just replaced my bullets with a screen from the FAQ. Its quite explicit. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    May 8, 2012 at 16:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ ah, you're correct. Apparently I'm bad at noticing the difference between nouns. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rhylok
    May 8, 2012 at 17:01

In short, no.

The reputation system has evolved over at SO to the point that it should work everywhere, and mostly it does.

I had a question at -4 down votes and I argued my case in the comments and on the meta and had it opened, so I'm certain the system works. Now to address your points:

Firstly, and on the basest of levels, receiving a penalty stings.


(2 rep is a lot when you're at less than 20)

It is, and that's the point. The system prematurely assumes that new users won't know the standard procedure, won't have read the rules [faq] and will be causing trouble. Whilst recommendations can sometimes fly here you need to be very very specific and you need to fight your case (at least in my experience). Asking a game recommendation question (here or there) boils down to a Shopping question which need to be carefully policed as they can spiral out of control.

Down voting is the stick that keeps these questions from taking over Stack exchange and there will be some collateral. Yes it stings, but every user was low rep once (except perhaps Jon Skeet), and they just need to be careful with what they ask, take the good rep with the bad and keep on trying. You'll get a down vote here at some point, please don't let that deter you from posting here.


Secondly, I'm not sure that degrading my reputation when I downvote is a good thing either.

Oh yes it is. If you thought that it was too easy to be down voted, don't forget that they got hit themselves. Remove that and people can downvote until a good post they personally disagree with is sunk into the ground with negativity. I, for one, also avoided losing my precious rep when I first got to Sci-Fi.SE, but as time went on and I rediscovered the posts I downvoted I realised that some of them didn't need a downvote, some needed to just be flagged and some should be Voted to Close (a privilege you'll get in time). If it was too easy to downvote, it would be too easy for new members to get it wrong (not saying you will, but it's possible) and leave random downvotes everywhere.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As I said in chat, it's certainly not something "I don't want to hear." The other opinion is valuable too, and constructive. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rhylok
    May 8, 2012 at 8:49

I love stack exchange, but down-voting - as implemented here and just about everywhere else - is problematic in many ways. Here as it discourages new users. I know for a fact we've lost potentially good contributors because of it.

I happen to be an author on the topic, BTW: http://www.amazon.com/Building-Reputation-Systems-Randy-Farmer/dp/059615979X/

Some of the book is excerpted - specifically the danger of negative karma:

http://buildingreputation.com/writings/2010/04/dont_display_negative_karma_re.html http://buildingreputation.com/writings/2009/10/the_dollhouse_mafia_or_why_to.html http://buildingreputation.com/writings/2010/02/on_karma.html

"Hi! SMACK! Welcome to Stack Exchange! SMACK! Your post is off [somehow]! SMACK! [-3 for you!]"

Some of my talks cover this topic downvotes and karma challenges: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CGMQtwIwAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DYn7e0J9m6rE&ei=lX66T-eNMoWSiAKorKjjBg&usg=AFQjCNGLolFuKYbAAkUp10G_1DxGeYOVhw

I'd like to re-iterate that I think SE has an awesome reputation best-of-breed system, but it isn't perfect and has (as all of these systems do) certain pathologies and evolved cultural norms.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally agree with this. I wish there were a less pejorative "vote to close" - close is often more correct than downvote, but "close" is so brutal, final and so easy to interpret as far more of a "go away" than -1 \$\endgroup\$ May 22, 2012 at 2:01

Personally, there are 2 or three SE communities that I will no longer participate in because of the voting and closing standards of those communities.

The sad part is, those communities will never know about it. They won't know why I left, and they won't know if they are chasing people away.

While there might be better ways to handle the voting, I think another option is to send out emails to people who have signed up, asked a question, and then not visited the site again in 30 days. Ask them why they have not come back, and ask them if there were things that would make them come back instead.

Then anonymously, put up the answers to those surveys in some section of the SE meta site. I think that would help everyone even if the current downvoting system stays in place.


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