Gurushots Survival Guide (Part II)

This is part II of the Gurushots series. In the first part, I covered all the basics but sprinkled in some tips & tricks as well. If you don’t know what Gurushots is and how it works, then I would recommend spending a bit of time reading the first part or dive into the game, and then come back here before you spend too much time and money on it.

In this article I cover the following topics:

  • Spending money on Gurushots
  • Spending time on Gurushots
  • Spending emotions on Gurushots — winning and losing

After playing the game for a while, you will find that there are a number of traps you can step in, some are unique to Gurushots, some are the traps common to a lot of social media websites.

Let’s dive into it.

Global Photo Club

Gurushot is a commercial enterprise

Gurushot is a privately held company, backed by venture capital money. That means they are supposed to make money to survive. Keep that in mind with everything they do. This is not meant in a purely negative way, as to make money they have to do things right and keep pleasing people in a way that they are willing to part with their hard-earned dollars (or Euros or whatever currency they are accepting). But you need to be aware of that, because it is your money they are after, and you want some value back.

Let us have a look at where in the game you can spend real money. To re-iterate from the first part of the article series, it is perfectly possible to not spend any real money on the game at all, have fun and advance on the ladder. It will just take a lot longer than if you are willing to pay for in-game perks.

You can spend money on

  • Bundles (or single items as well) of ‘keys’, ‘swaps’, and ‘fills’: one ‘Swap’ sets you back USD 0.99, 5 ‘Fills’ USD 1.99 (that’s USD 0.40 per fill), and one ‘Key’ USD 2.99. You can clearly see what is the most valuable thing here, keep that in mind.
  • Exhibitions: Exhibitions entry fees seem to be currently USD 7.99, e.g. this one here is only slightly more expensive than buying the ‘Bonus Bundle’ you get with paying the fee. But check the details, some exhibition challenges do not provide ‘Bonus Bundles’, then the full fee goes into the participation of the exhibition without getting any other value.

So to make people pay, Gurushot needs to do a number of things to increase the need or want to pay for their services.

One way is to keep the player as much engaged as possible, and that is the main goal for basically all social media websites. If the players are engaged and playing the challenges, then the need for keys, swaps, and fills is an automated by-product. So let’s have a look at what Gurushot does to keep you on the website, and keep entering images into challenges, trying to win and climb to Guru status.

What does Gurushots to keep you on the platform and engaged?

There are a lot of things designed to keep you in the system:


Voting is the most time-consuming activity on the platform unless you spend money to buy ‘fills’ to avoid that. Have you ever tracked how much time you spend on voting for other people's images in a challenge? If we quickly recall from the first part of the series, you need between 40 to 100 votes for an image to get the exposure bonus meter to full. Then, depending on the type of challenge, the exposure bonus meter begins to decline until it is down to 0 (low). I think it is fair to say that you probably do voting sessions at least twice per challenge for short ones, maybe three times for longer challenges, once at the beginning when you enter images, then one in the middle, and one at the end to fill up before the challenge ends. I don’t say that is the optimal strategy, it is just to get a baseline for calculations.

If we assume you don’t vote for every image you see, then you would have these numbers as an example for a regular 4 image challenge lasting some days:

3 voting sessions, 100 images voted for each, every second image seen voted for = 600 images seen for the one challenge. Ok, how long do you look at an image before you vote for it? 2 Seconds? 3? 10?

600*2=1200 seconds = 20 Minutes

600*3=1800 seconds = 30 Minutes

600*10=6000 seconds = 100 Minutes

So to maintain a regular 4 image challenge you have to spend 20 minutes, I think that is on the conservative side, you probably spend more time. Then most people do not only have one or two open challenges but maybe five. Or 10. Or 20. Just because you have to participate in order to get free keys (remember, every 7th challenge you get a free key), or fills, or swaps.

Make your own calculations, measure a couple of voting sessions (how long does it take you, but don’t cheat, just time a normal session). You might be surprised how much time it takes to keep up with the voting.

That’s where the fills come in. People don’t want to spend hours in front of the screen voting for images. They use fills. If you don’t have a fill, then you might buy some. That’s part of the model for Gurushots to make money, keep you on the platform, keep you voting, and suggest you use a fill. 

Trying to win is expensive

Then you want to win. Use a key to unlock a boost. Boom, the votes skyrocket. Dang, not enough for the win, but maybe next time. You have lined up the next 5 challenges. Ah, and swapping is also needed to win, so buy some bundles of swaps. All the Gurus swap all the time, right, you need that to win. Well, actually, you do. From my experience, images that were entered early are not doing as great as images entered only a couple of minutes before the challenge ends. So you probably have to use at least one swap to swap one image at the end of the challenge (or enter late and use a key to unlock, but a key is more expensive), to squeeze the last bit of votes out of the players, to finally get the win you need for the Guru title. Or you are going for the Top Guru Pick Title, then you don’t need the swap. Then you need more luck.


‘Events’ have been invented to make you participate in as many challenges as possible at the same time, to win the event. The winning condition here is for maximum points or maximum level advancements, but it doesn’t matter, it is always to let you enter as many challenges as possible. To keep you on the platform and buy perks to maintain the lot. Why would you do that? There are only a small fraction of people winning the challenges, and often the same persons (Gurus), so most people do not win anything at all. The top lot wins an achievement and a bundle, but what did you ‘pay’ (how many keys, swaps, and fills) to get near the top spot?

Play because you have fun, not to get famous or rich. Because you won’t.


The ‘Teams’ feature is relatively new. I am now in a team, and I have to say, it’s great fun. But it also increases the pressure to perform well in the challenges, for the team. And how do you do that? Use another swap to get the missing 10 votes for the team win? Or unlock the boost, because then you get another 200 points for the team win? Well, if you are playing in a casual team, this might not be an issue at all, as you lose or win, and no one is angry at you if you didn’t use a key to unlock a boost. But I can imagine that really competitive teams are trying hard, and that is expensive, and the pressure is on.


The challenges are what Gurushot is built around. But not all challenges are the same, and looking at the differences reveals how they are trying to keep you even more engaged.

  • Normal 4-image challenges: these challenges keep you mostly engaged by the changing topics. But they are also running a lot longer (a couple of days) than the 1- or 2-image challenges, creating a need to maintain them by voting (keeping the exposure bonus meter up) and also checking if a boost becomes available (you don’t want to miss a *free* boost, do you? Remember, a key cost you USD 2.99 if you need to buy one). You need to be a bit more experienced in the game to recognize that you don’t have to keep the exposure bonus meter up all the time and that using the boost early in the game might not be the best strategy to win the top spot in the public vote category.
  • 2-image challenges: These challenges have currently a ‘bug’ with is very convenient for GS to not fix: they do not unlock the boost feature for free as they are running not long enough. So you have to pay a key to unlock the boost to have a chance of winning the popular vote. If you want to play efficiently, I would use these 2-image challenges to just participate, don’t pay for the boost, and not care about the outcome too much, they would then still count towards the number of challenges you need to participate to get a free fill, swap, or key.
  • 1 image challenge: There is nothing to mention here in terms of Gurushot trying to hold you on the platform, except for the very short-term 1-image challenges covered in a section further down.
  • Special challenges like ‘picture of the week’ or ‘image of the day’ or ‘picture of the month’. These challenges restrict the entries to images that have been uploaded in a specific time frame before you enter them into the challenge. By doing that, they ̶f̶o̶r̶c̶e̶ encourage you to upload new images regularly. You can also choose to not participate in these challenges if you don’t have any new images. I think these challenges are a good thing from a game perspective as it keeps the pool of images fresh, but they are also an instrument in the arsenal of tools to keep you engaged.
  • Similar to the previous, there are special challenges like ‘5-hour-speed-challenge’. They pop up randomly, and if you don’t want to miss them, you need to log in every couple of hours… every day… every week. Or you don’t, and you just miss them. No big deal. I participate in them if I happen to be online in the game at that time, but I am not trying to not miss them. Your choice.
  • Special exhibition challenges. Well, these challenges serve a lot of purposes, for the player as well as for Gurushots.
    The exhibitions cost money for the host, so they need to recoup that by charging the player a fee if they want to participate. There is a tricky bit involved in these exhibition challenge fees, and that is that you didn’t get any value out of your fee if you failed to reach the threshold (usually ‘All Star’ status or Guru Picks, and in the top 1000 images). That has now changed as you seem to now often get a ‘free’ bonus bundle with your fee (keys, swaps, fills) — together with your potential access to the exhibition. As there is a requirement to get to ‘All Star’ status in that challenge, people might use additional boosts or swaps to achieve that, which obviously creates demand for these perks. So exhibition challenges can be costly, and only you can judge if participating in that is beneficial for you or not.
    I did a couple of these in the past, it just felt good to have your image displayed in various locations around the world (“My images have been exhibited in Mailand, Berlin, Madrid, London, and New York!”), but in reality, there is probably not much coming out of it other than an ego-boost. Maybe for the winner or top 40 printed images, that might be different as they get actual exposure to real people. But being 1 of 1000 images playing in an infinite loop on a screen at the exhibition is not much exposure, I guess.
    Most exhibition challenges run for weeks, so I wouldn’t bother to keep the exposure bonus meter up. Enter late in the game, pay the price (2 * key to unlock late entry and boost), and vote for only one session at the very end. With good images, you should still be able to get into ‘All Star’ level without paying attention to the challenge for weeks. They want you to get to ‘All Star’ level for the exhibition challenges as that unlocks the potential to be exhibited (which unlocks your wallet to pay the fee).

Activity section

The activity section has the usual social media site mechanisms to get you more engaged. You see what people you are following are uploading, you see things the program thinks are interesting to you, to entice you to click on it (‘Winning Photos’, ‘You may enjoy following’). Nothing unusual or unexpected here. 


There are heaps of different kinds of notifications in the game, you get constantly bombarded with pop-ups (especially on the mobile phone app), suggestions, badges on the Bell icon, and more. Let’s have a look at them.

  • The ‘Bell’:

This is the usual kind of social media notification icon that tells you about something new. If you click on it, you get a screen with two tabs, one for ‘Activity’, and one for ‘Votes’ (for the web browser version that is). ‘Activity’ notifies you about game events (e.g. a challenge ended, someone liked your image, you advanced a level in a challenge, you earned a free swap|key|fill, or successful swaps, and more). The ‘Activity’ section can also contain messages which encourage you to take action, e.g. 

That is an obvious attempt to get you to spend your swaps or fills to increase your chances to get a Guru Pick. I haven’t figured out if this information is really valuable, maybe I should keep track of that, but maybe it is just another way to get you to use up your fills and swaps.
The ‘Votes’ notifications are kind of interesting for your strategy planning, as you can determine a metric from them. You get to know who voted for your images, and more importantly, how many people voted for your images in a specific time span. If you keep a record of that, you can find out how ‘powerful’ the people were. An example: if you read ‘person abc and 34 other people voted for your image xyz’, which had 226 votes in that challenge at that time, then you can deduct from that the average voting power of the people in that time frame. In this case: 226/26=6.65. It gives you hidden feedback about what times might be good or bad to pull the trigger on your ‘fill’, because you want the ‘powerful’ people (Masters (8 voting power) and Gurus (9 voting power)) to be present and vote for you. Unfortunately, I now discovered that the numbers I get do not add up. I just tested it with a high-vote challenge (97.3 million votes) at the end, and got values over 10! So something is wrong here. I need to test that a bit more. 

  • Swap suggestions

These suggestions are really annoying and not helpful at best. They suggest that an image in a multi-image challenge is not performing well, and you should replace it with the suggested image. Which in almost all cases is not fitting the challenge, and almost guaranteed will not perform better than the one it replaces. The best action you can do is click on the little cross in the top right corner and get rid of it. Or ignore them. These messages are the most annoying attempts to get you to use up not only one of your ‘swaps’, but two, because you find out later that the replaced image is performing even worse and you have to swap it again. But look at the bright side, it gives you an indication that you might have an image in the challenge that performs significantly worse than the others. You might want to replace that at the end of the challenge, just not with the suggested image, but with a more carefully selected one.

  • Other notifications: There are a number of other notifications to make you do things, e.g. to apply for an exhibition (if you reached ‘All Star’ level and haven’t applied already), or to join a team, or to buy a discount bundle, or to tell you that your free boost window expired (that one is especially mean). And I am sure they invent more notifications over time for some other functions they want people to use. 

With all these notifications, you are encouraged to do something on the platform and stay on it, and (best case for GS), pay for something. Be mindful of all of these things, and pick what you like and have fun with. There is nothing wrong with participating in exhibitions and pay for them as long as you are aware of the money and time it all consumes, and you are ok with the price you pay.

So in summary, Gurushot does a lot to keep you engaged on the platform while hoping that you spend money on the way.

One quick note: Real-world money in Gurushots goes only one way: it goes into the pockets of Gurushots, never the other way round. You can’t win price money (real money you can spend). Winning in Gurushot means: win immaterial things like the exposure of your images to other people, win digital achievements and game status levels, and in-game perks to using inside the game for other game functions. But you will not receive a bank cheque or a transfer of money into your bank account. Easy as that.

Spending time on Gurushots

We covered the monetary aspect of playing on Gurushots, but there is also the time aspect. We already covered a bit of that further up where I made some calculations about how much time you could be spending on voting alone. Voting is surely the most expensive (time-wise) activity, but other things cost time as well. Looking through the ‘Activity’ section, reviewing your notifications, scrolling through other players profiles, chatting in the team's chat, checking the game status of challenges (is the exposure bonus meter up? What challenge is close to due time? Which challenges have been added? Which are upcoming? Which one has a free boost to take care of?). 

If you are a competitive player, it gets a whole lot more involved as you try to find out a working strategy. You keep records/statistics, try things in various combinations, participate in as many challenges as you can to test your strategies. That cost a LOT OF TIME. I for myself have to admit that I spend way too much time on Gurushots, time I should be spending on other things (like sleep?). Gurushots has the potential to steal away more time than you think you are spending on it.

If you think about it and you feel you spend too much time on it, then you certainly are. Take a break and reflect on why you are playing Gurushots. Play it intentionally, because you have fun doing it, and you are responsible with paying money on it. Think about it. If you can’t stop, get help.

Spending Emotions on Gurushots

This is quite a subjective thing, as you can imagine. Be prepared to get into an emotional roller-coaster if you are good enough with your images to play for the top title of challenges. If you are inexperienced, you bring your image to the top spot early in a challenge, just to see it fall down the ladder at the very last minutes or seconds. Then you think “That’s not fair, I was first just a minute ago and now I am beyond the top 100, there is something evil going on. I quit!”. Once you get back to your feet, you realize that people know things you don’t know. They know more about game strategies and how to win with images that are not even that good. That is the most frustrating part for good photographers, they constantly get beaten by people who know more about the game mechanics but are not as good in photography as you might be. So, remind yourself before quitting, it is a game, not a photo competition. If you want to get your photographic image quality assessed, go to a photo club and enter it into photo competitions and get relevant suggestions back from judges. Gurushots is a game where you have to have at least decent images to win, but you don’t have to be the best photographer, you need to have a good working strategy (and maybe spend some money) to go for the top public votes. If you have amazing images then I would suggest you try to win the Top Guru Pick, as some Gurus actually are really good photographers and do care about the image they pick as the best one. Look for these challenges and Gurus.

Then there is another annoying part in Gurushots, that’s cheating. Some things in the game lend themselves to misuse. Two examples: Gurus might be able to leave a team, conduct a challenge as the host, pick an ex-teammate for the Guru Top Pick and award Guru picks for other ex-teammates, and then afterward join the team again. Or it is also possible to coordinate reportings of competitor images so they are removed from the competition, as it is a highly automated process with no way to defend yourself if your perfectly fine image gets removed because of ill reporting.

Then people put in two identical images (one in color, one in B&W), and later remove (or not, if it works well) the one which does not do well. But they are intentionally violating the game rules. Then there are ways to automatically vote without you sitting in front of the machine by letting computer programs vote for you. And I‘m sure there are other ways to get an unfair advantage. Well, I guess that is part of any game, there are always people who try to cheat their way to the top, and the honest players are getting angry. Gurushots has to do a better job at closing the loopholes and preventing misuse of features, and actually do something about legitimate reports and not ignore them. They have some responsibility here as well.

If we are looking at the emotional side, there is not only frustration and anger but also joy and happiness in the game. Try to focus on that. I enjoy being in a nice supportive team (go, ‘Team Kiwi’, go!). I enjoy it when a Guru picks one of my images as a ‘Guru Pick’. I am happy for a teammate to get to Guru status (Scott, you deserved it!). I enjoy expanding my photographic capabilities by trying to create new images for challenges that are outside of my normal comfort range. I enjoy looking at the really good images some of the players are able to create (so voting sessions can be quite fun), and I enjoy a bit of friendly competition with other teams, even if there is nothing to win other than digital points. And I would enjoy getting the Guru Top Pick to finally get to Guru status. But that is still in the ‘frustrating’ basket. For now.

Global Photo Club

I hope you got something out of that, and enjoy playing Gurushots.

The last part III will be available soon, I’ll capture some game strategies and tell you how I use Gurushots beyond time-wasting. See you then!

1 thought on “Gurushots Survival Guide (Part II)”

  1. Good read and there a part three? Did you get your Guru? I am a Master just competing against, I used to be happy to get 700 votes, now 1200 is my goal...that kind of thing. It makes me think a lot about how to organize and catalogue my photos in a non-technologically tangled way to find what I need quickly, that kind of thing...but have to say, if I lived somewhere without wicked winters...nuh uh...I would not spend the time. I am happy to be a "very good" photographer...and now they have 10 levels of gurus??? Pu-leeze. No end to the greed, or efforts to keep you in the game.


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