Recently, a question has been asked about the differences between Minecraft and FortressCraft. To save you the trouble of having to click on the link, I'll copy the entire question here:

What is the difference between FortressCraft and Minecraft?

That's it. No context, no problem to be solved. Just enumerate the differences between Minecraft and FortressCraft. Pretty straightforward "not constructive" closure. In fact, there's an entire blog post about it, "Gorilla vs. Shark" (substitute "Google+" and "Facebook" for "FortressCraft" and "Minecraft"):

Google+ versus Facebook?

This is marginally more credible, akin to asking Gorilla vs. Human. Including two natural competitors means the question no longer smacks of the daydream absurdity of Gorilla vs. Shark. But it still utterly fails to set any scope or terms, and is thus virtually impossible to reasonably answer. Not Constructive.

Yet it's still open, with the reasons being:

I disagree - there are real, demonstrable answers to this question.

and

I agree—there's no reason the differences between a game and its clone (or a not-a-clone-but-come-on-really-be-serious-now) can't be objectively enumerated. If people behave badly in the answers and comments, that's what moderation is for. I don't believe that any "opinion, debate, arguments" in this case will be to the exclusion of good answers.

Whether or not a question can get answers is not the point, and we've lost our way if "it can have an answer" is the only criteria to remain open. That way lies madness it opens the door for equally absurd questions like:

  • What's the difference between Super Mario Land and Sonic the Hedgehog?
  • What's the difference between Half-Life and Quake?
  • What's the difference between Dragon Age and Final Fantasy?

These aren't real problems: they're Mad Libs exercises: pick any two similar games, create a dichotomy and ask what's different about them. We could fill the site up in a day with inane questions like these, especially since there is no throttle—in the form of providing context—to asking them.

As "Gorilla vs. Shark" concludes:

The asker must contribute a bit more work beyond the title, too. We expect questions to do some basic research before even asking. Did you spend time with both features on both sites? Did you compare and contrast them yourself? What are others saying? Share your research! And most critically, give us context. Explain why you’re looking at this, and what you mean by “better” — clicks to share, discoverability, design, and so forth. Put yourself in the shoes of the people you hope will answer. Have you given them enough guidance and specifics so they know how to reasonably answer your question in, say, 15 minutes?

Please put this question out of its misery. This is not the type of question we on Gaming.SE should be lowering ourselves to.

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per gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/57739/… maybe these questions can be answered, if you have a few hours to write up a response. I think the onus is on the asker to scope it down and explain what they want in some detail, but there's still the "amazing answer turns lead question into gold" possibility, as you see above. shrug –  Jeff Atwood Mar 24 '12 at 21:46
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7 Answers 7

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I disagree with banning these wholesale. I don't disagree that we can close some of these as "Not A Real Question", citing Raven's answer.

Consider a very close kin to these kinds of questions - version differences. Which has its own tag, even. But both of them operate on the same intent - they're a comparison of attributes in order to determine which should be purchased. And they're pretty easy to comprehend and understand - there's only so much you have to work with when it's just the same game with some platform-specific differences, after all. It's a very clean question that's easy to work with and also helpful to our readers.

Sometimes games are comparable on grounds that they're based on the same phenomena. But it's not easy to know what are what, and that onus doesn't have to be on us. It can be on the asker. They are suspect to ease and lack of context, which has been cited, but that's why we have the "Not A Real Question" reason - we can't be expected to answer just a blind and plain "What's the difference between Maid Samba and Radiant Silvergun?". Rather than have us need to know which games are similar enough to which other games to warrant a comparison being meaningful, the asker should tell us why these games are similar enough that the comparison is helpful to the internet.

That's why I feel that we can handle these as long as we're smart about it. We don't want blind popularity contest things that Gorilla vs. Shark is meant to address, but not all of these have to be that way. To quote from your quote:

But it still utterly fails to set any scope or terms, and is thus virtually impossible to reasonably answer. Not Constructive.

So we demand people to set scope and terms where it no longer becomes impossible to reasonably answer. Version differences is easy because it's all based on the same game. Rehashes, expansions, and redesigned re-releases are all a step above that, but they still operate on the same base game. And past that, we reach games which are separate, but operate on the same core as a whole to a degree where they are comparable.

Triggerheart Exelica isn't a good comparison to, say, R-Type Final, since they only share being shmups. But consider, say, Gradius III vs. Jikkyō Oshaberi Parodius (or perhaps throw in Otomedius, even). They operate on the same base mechanic and even share the powerup schema (Parodius is a parody of Gradius, after all). But they have differences beyond just the aesthetic and tone - they are separate games. This is the same metric by which users might compare a game that is based on another game deliberately, for example. Or two games which are derived from the same mechanics and flow taken in separate directions. But these similarities that warrant the comparison, and what meaning is to be taken from the comparison, that should be the responsibility of the asker to provide us so that we have a real question to work off of.


I want to take an aside to address a particular argument that I've been seeing, and that's "These are just game-rec in disguise, KILL THEM". This is a hurtful argument to see, as the only comparison to game-rec is in motive, and we did not remove game-rec from our scope because of motive. It paints us as jerks because the barring reason is isolated as "We don't want to help people", rather than all the actual issues with game-rec.

We blocked game-rec because they have numerous mechanical issues with functioning within our Q&A system while working alongside natural Q&A. They solicited itemized lists of answers of which none would provide conclusion, they skewed voting patterns and did not adhere to the same logic as the rest of the site, they were never maintained for quality, and they didn't reflect our authority as knowing games. There was also the part where we could never come up with a good metric for allowing them that didn't collapse into itself as a conflict between spirit and letter of law.

These major flaws are not even present in these questions we're looking at. They don't get itemized lists because answering just one difference is stupid. We can always work against side-bias in voting, something badp points out in his answer, as side-bias weakens answers in these kinds of questions. There isn't a need to maintain these, and the quality is thus dependent on getting a good answer. And a great answer will reflect a strong understanding in the games, and show off our authority on the matter.

I'll take this one as a strong example - it started off as nothing but a shopping recommendation. But even though we know the motive is shopping, we worked to fix it up to something that is usable. And got a thorough answer for it. We have the ability to frame things so that the motivation isn't important. Because it's not our purpose to judge on motive. That's not why we blocked shopping advice. We blocked shopping advice to stop just telling people what to buy. Giving people information to make an educated decision, that's what we're capable of doing, and how we can approach these.

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It's probably unwise to look up Parodius at work, and definitely unwise to look up Otomedius at work, by the way. –  Grace Note Mar 26 '12 at 14:45
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This is a hurtful argument to see, as the only comparison to game-rec is in motive, and we did not remove game-rec from our scope because of motive. +1 million –  Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 14:50
    
+1 this is great. Going back to the roots of the problem is perfect. –  Resorath Mar 26 '12 at 15:31
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I agree that banning a question merely because it asks to compare two games is problematic: my issue is with the type of question I outlined: no context, just two similar games, compare and contrast. If someone had asked, "I'm familiar with Minecraft's crafting system, where the most used tools have durability to prevent resource inflation: how does FortressCraft incorporate scarcity when it comes to resource allocation?" I'd be all for that. But not "I've played LoL. What should I know about DotA 2?" That's way too broad, and breeds low quality copy-cat questions. –  user3389 Mar 26 '12 at 15:53
    
@Mark I'll clarify my opening to be more agreeing with you - my main point is that this has suddenly resurfaced as a means to support the argument for banning these wholesale, so I wanted to step in a voice to help focus more on just getting rid of the junk ones - which is what your intent had been in asking. –  Grace Note Mar 26 '12 at 16:12
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The only problems with these questions are:

Although these questions can be used as a basis for people to form an opinion on whether to play one game or another, the answers they elicit or receive don't actually suggest people which one game to get — unless one game is objectively worse than the other, at least in the answerer's mind.

The suggestion wrt shopping recommendation is to ask how to fish instead, but how can you do that without actually playing both games in the first place? Clearly the solution does not apply to these questions because they are not shopping recommendation questions in the first place.

As Drake mentioned, they can solve the practical problem of transitioning from one game to the other with the right mindset. Approaching a game, especially a DOTA-alike game, with the right mindset can make or break it. I see tremendous value in such questions.

The third point is really my only worry. I do not want to encourage more "X vs Y" questions than the community can adequately provide answers to. In a way, they would be perhaps more appropriate as blog posts: you should only bring the question to the table if you actually have enough of an answer for it. At least show you've tasted one of the games you're asking about — or both, if they're free!

I think that's a reasonable burden on the asker (given the ask once, read many principle), but I'm not so sure about how practical it is to close a question while allowing another that's essentially the same, only better worded.

Surprise, surprise, I don't think we should ban these questions wholesale.

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"What is the difference between Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2?"

I assume that would be more credible, since it is not comparing competing franchises, but the question has the same value and relevance as any of the ones listed here.

Judging the intent of people who are asking questions is impossible, and I can think of many reasons why these comparison questions have value other than asking for a recommendation. Not to mention the fact that what these are actually asking for is information about both, presumably, so they can make an informed decision on their own. That seems to be in the spirit of SE.

Here are some reasons:

  • Helping new players become more easily acclimated.
  • Academic interest in the genre in general.
  • Experts may have insights into which differences are important that you would not acquire from casual play.
  • To allow people that play only one or neither to understand discussions about both.
  • General curiosity.
  • To aid in understanding about the evolution of a particular game type or genre.

Looking at the League of Legends tag, for instance, I found the following questions that share the same issues, but are not closed, I guess because the people voting to close find them interesting, or asked the questions:
First thing to learn when beginning League of Legends
Tips for warding in League of Legends?
What are the pros and cons of flat vs. scaling runes?
What makes a champion squishy?
Doubts about 'Jungling' in League of Legends
The Support's Duel: Sona vs. Alistar

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If you can think of reasons, you should list them. –  user9983 Mar 24 '12 at 3:04
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Personally, I don't think any of those are good reasons to ask a question here. They are all interesting, but not really about problems gamers face. –  user9983 Mar 24 '12 at 3:24
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Then the criteria for "good reasons" are essentially subjective and arbitrary. –  Ren the Unclean Mar 24 '12 at 4:12
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I only argued against closing because, at the time, the only close vote was "this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments".

Sure, those are issues questions must deal with, but I maintain that there are non-opinion answers to the question.

A question should not be closed because "people might post poor answers".

However

The question has other problems. I agree that the question needs work before (if!) it is to be reopened.

Ultimately, I think it should have been closed as "Not a Real Question".

To wit (and emphasis mine):

"It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form.

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I would have flagged it for closure if it had been open when I saw it. Aside from it actually needing to read "What are the differences between FortressCraft and Minecraft?", the problem I have with it is that I don't see it as anything other than a disguised game-rec ... "What are the differences between X and Y so that I can decide which one I want to play?"

What I would want to see from it is what your excerpts suggest: some effort to set up a meaningful question, and a problem to be resolved that is not "Tell me why I should play one instead of the other."

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Since this question has gotten new life in trying to come up with a general policy about comparison questions, I wanted to clarify I'm not suggesting that every single question that hopes to compare two games is bad. If the question about FortressCraft and Minecraft was something like:

I'm familiar with Minecraft's crafting system, where the most used tools have durability to prevent resource inflation: how does FortressCraft incorporate scarcity when it comes to resource allocation?

That'd be fine: it asks something specific and reasonably scoped about two games, solves a specific problem, and can be definitively answered. What makes a comparison question not constructive is when it's asking for a broad comparison between two games without any context:

  • What are all the differences between X and Y?
  • Why do people play X over Y?
  • If I play X, what am I going to hate about Y?

While one can argue that they may be shopping recommendations or game recommendations, I think that characterization can be avoided: they're too broad, and they invite low quality tack-on answers and copy-cat questions. While Jeff makes a good point that they can sometimes lead to stellar answers, I think that's mostly accidental, and most don't.

So I think to ask a comparison question, the onus is on the asker to do research beforehand:

  • What do you know about the two games you're trying to compare?
  • What is confusing about switching between the two games?
  • Why are you trying to compare the two games?

Basic background and contextual information like that can make a broad, non-constructive comparison question into one that can elucidate the subtle differences between similar games and demonstrate real expertise.

But if a question fails to provide that, it's a Gorilla vs. Shark problem and should be closed unless there's something incredibly noteworthy about the answers.

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We have several identical questions on this site, which I shall post below. Either they should be closed (which I think they should be), or Difference between Minecraft and FortressCraft? should be re-opened and undeleted.

As far as I'm concerned they should be closed, since the only value these questions have is to help a user decide between which two games to buy, which is a game recommendation, something which is not allowed on the site.


Relevant questions:

What are the differences between Defense of the Ancients (DotA) and League of Legends (LoL)?

What are the Key Gameplay Differences between Valve's DOTA 2 and League of Legends?

Differences between SimCity 4 and CitiesXL

Differences between PvP in WoW and Lotro

What are the differences between Defense of the Ancients (DotA) and Heroes of Newerth (HoN)?

What are the biggest gameplay differences between Lips and Singstar?

What are the similarities and differences between Sim City 3000 and CityVille?

Rift vs World of Warcraft

Starcraft II vs Warcraft III engine

Difficulty and features of Guitar Hero versus Rock Band for the PS3

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I'm pretty sure all my arguments against this are here –  Resorath Mar 24 '12 at 0:51
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I also disagree that these are some how game recommendations. –  Resorath Mar 24 '12 at 0:53
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What value do questions have outside of helping a user decided which game to buy? –  Wipqozn Mar 24 '12 at 0:54
    
and I finally disagree that mass policy change should be done so quickly, lest we create another close/open war. –  Resorath Mar 24 '12 at 0:55
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@Resorath The guidelines were posted on the blog months ago (August 2011). This question was a reminder of those guidelines from September 2011, and Wipqozn's answer is to highlight there are still open questions that should be dealt with. If cleaning up something decided 7 months ago is too fast, all hope is truly lost. –  user3389 Mar 24 '12 at 1:48
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I did a couple of these questions, but was not intended as game recommendations for me. If I ask the differences between LoL and Dota it is because I know well one of them and I would like to start playing also the other game. Due to the fact that these games are really complex and highly competitive a mini guide that explain the main differences could be really useful. Moreover I asked for fact and as you can see nobody flamed or answer with subjective opinions. –  Drake Mar 24 '12 at 12:27
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I've updated my question to fall outside of these bounds. I noticed Drake did too, and I updated "Rift vs WoW" as well. The rest I couldn't think of a way to salvage. –  Resorath Mar 25 '12 at 20:36
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