I've had my eye on this question for a while: How long is Mass Effect 3 on normal difficulty?

I didn't think it was a very good question, but I answered it and pointed to HowLongToBeat.com and tried to explain in my answer specifically why a site like this is needed to provide a good answer to the question. I was hoping it would avoid a bunch of one-off answers saying "Here's how long it took me."

Well, as you can see, my approach failed. Even after getting the site that points to the average marked as accepted, we still receive "It took me X hours" answers. At best they serve as our own form of average-gathering, as someone could read all the answers and determine their own average from them. Which seems like a pretty poor way to use our Q&A format.

Then I noticed we've got the tag . I browsed through a bunch of these and most of them have the same problem... either they point at the same website I did, which actually collects averages and is suited to providing a good answer, or they have some "Well, here's now long it took me" answers which are of dubious quality at best. If I'm asking this question, how can I as the asker possibly decide which of these types of answers is the "true" completion time? Bob said it took 15 hours, but Tim said it took 20. There's no way for me to accept one over the other. An answer that discusses averages is the only one that can even approach being useful and correct.

At that point, though, all of these types of questions boil down to a single answer, "Go check HowLongToBeat.com".

Is there anything we can do to help out with the generally low-quality of these questions and answers?

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3 Answers 3

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I don't think creating a monolithic "How do I figure out how long it'll take me to complete a game?" is the way to go. Stack Exchange works when the asker is specific so they can get a targeted answer: overly broad questions do nothing other than punt the problem down the road so we don't have to appear rude when we unceremoniously close an ostensibly popular yet nevertheless bad type of question.

That is, either we like the questions people are asking and we let them stay, or we don't and we unceremoniously close them: I don't think we do the internet a solid by asking questions nobody's asking just so we can dupe all the questions people are asking to it.

But as I've said on the last few "We need a policy for X question" questions here, we don't need to have a concrete policy for every possible type of question on the site. Completion time questions don't threaten to overwhelm the site like game recommendation and game identifications did, and can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

We have hundreds of people who can close and thousands of people who van vote to make a determination on whether any specific question is good or not: if a specific game completion time question sucks, vote to close it and/or mention it in chat and see what others think.

If it's the case that every single game completion time question gets closed and they gradually become a game-recommendation/identify-this-game level problem, then we should see about banning them outright. But I think unless it becomes that big of a problem, we should just default to being inclusive rather than exclusive for types of questions that we don't have a policy for (yet), and closing specific questions that are bad.

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I don't think it's usually the question that's the problem. It's the answers. And in the case of these questions, the best answer almost always boils down to "Go look at HowLongToBeat.com". What value do we provide the site by copy and pasting that over and over again into each individual question? –  Sterno Apr 17 '12 at 18:12
    
@Sterno If every completion time question can only be answered by a link to howlongtobeat.com, then we should be duping them to "Is there a website that has estimated time duration for games?", not creating a broader question. But while many of the completion time answers mention howtolongbeat.com, there are many that are based on actual answerer experience with some being thoughtful and comprehensive. I don't think pushing people to provide those answers on another site is in our best interests. –  user3389 Apr 17 '12 at 18:28
    
That's a fair point. Though with regards to duping as the "Is there a website" question, the reason I decided against it is that because while that's often the best answer, it's not the only possible answer. Though perhaps editing that question rather than creating a new one would have been the smart move. It was Oak's suggested above that it be phrased a little more generically, so as to include things such as reviews, publisher quotes, etc. But back to your point, I agree, it does lose out on the rare good answer. –  Sterno Apr 17 '12 at 18:38
    
I'm marking your answer as accepted, because it seems to be what is going to happen on the main site, meta votes to the contrary. –  Sterno Apr 17 '12 at 19:37
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I think it would be nice to have one semi-generic question for "How can I find out how long it will take me to beat a game?"

This one is pretty close, though not exactly perfect: How can I tell how long (more or less) it will take me to complete a game?

Close (but don't delete) all questions about specific games as a dupe of that.

There may still be cases that fall outside that umbrella, but I think it would clean up the majority of questions like this.

Update: Based on this discussion, it seems that there is enough consensus for me to at least try implementing this solution. I have now created just such a question. It hasn't been terribly popular thus far. If anyone thinks of a way to improve that question, by all means, please go edit it. It's also in need of a good answer.

Update #2: And it has now been VTC'd as NARQ, meaning that this solution is unlikely to actually be implemented.

Update #3: And now it's open again! Which means... I don't know what. I definitely don't feel like moving forward and closing other questions as dupes of this new one has been mandated by the community, though.

Update #4: The question I created has now been merged with the prior one that existed. I still don't know where this leaves us, though.

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I think this is a good idea. This solves the (real) problem by directing the users to an authoritative (more-or-less) resource, and it's far nicer for new users than just outright plain closure. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 17:53
    
Certainly if that question stays open, I would support closing the individual questions as dupes of it, so +1. I'm not sure I like that question though. –  Matthew Read Mar 21 '12 at 18:38
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@MatthewRead Yeah, I don't want to hang my hat on that one particular question I quoted, as it kind of sounds like a website-rec. We could easily create a new one that fits better. But it was close enough to show what I meant. –  Sterno Mar 21 '12 at 18:45
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@Sterno perhaps it's a good idea to open a question in the form of "how can I tell how long it (more or less) will take me to complete a game?" and then give some authoritative answer which mentions looking at reviews, publisher's statements and howlongtobeat.com. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 18:58
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My only problem with this solution is that is its inconsistency with past policies. game-rec and ITG could have had umbrella questions directing the asker to the proper place, but that's not what we did. Completion times are not authoritative. They are "expected" results and estimations at best. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 19:02
    
@OrigamiRobot you have a point about inconsistency, making me rethink this. It can also (theoretically) litter our site with lots of these closed questions. I just think being nice to new users can go a long way, and since the end result is almost identical - the question is closed - maybe it's something we should try. In practice, these sorts of questions seem far less common than game-rec and ITG questions to begin with. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 19:06
    
@Oak - I definitely agree with being nice to new users. It sucks to have your first question closed, but this is the type of topic to talk about in chat. The answer could wildly vary and doesn't really solve a real problem. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 19:10
    
@OrigamiRobot oh we both agree these questions are problematic and should be closed... and regarding what kind of closure, I'm not so sure anymore. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 19:31
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@Oak - I think having a catch all question to quell future problem questions is very bad practice. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 19:43
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We discussed this some in chat, and I made the following counter point to umbrella q/a about off-topic subjects: it's really hard to say "this question type is not allowed, except for these really highly upvoted ones that we keep around because they solve more people's problems than yours" –  agent86 Mar 21 '12 at 20:00
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I want to be clear that I am not proposing this sort of umbrella if the topic is deemed off-subject. It's only if it's deemed on-subject, since all these questions really pretty much boil down to the same answer anyway. Closures would be as dupes, not as off-topic. –  Sterno Mar 21 '12 at 20:15
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We can always edit the linked post to make it more clearly NOT a website rec. If you have potentially good content you're supposed to improve the content, not delete it and hope someone else makes something better. –  Ben Brocka Mar 21 '12 at 20:22
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@Sterno, but if there's just the one "canonical" Q/A, and any specific questions asked (whether they're under that Q/A or not) are closed, that's essentially the situation game-rec is in right now - and it's there because it's off topic. I don't think it makes sense to say "this subject is on topic, but we've said all we're going to say about it, so your question is closed." Either it's on topic (and we answer ALL THE THINGS) or it's off topic (and we CLOSE ALL THE THINGS). Let's not create a third category of "kinda, sorta, on topic in certain situations..." –  agent86 Mar 21 '12 at 21:02
    
@agent86 Closing and linking the dupe still counts as ANSWERING ALL THE THINGS, in my opinion. This is not the same as game-rec. These questions about how long a game is are not off topic (yet, anyway). They are all distinctly answerable, and pointing to the averages is actually a pretty decent answer. The problem arises in that they all have the same answer while simultaneously attracting bad answers. –  Sterno Mar 21 '12 at 21:30
    
@Sterno - What if the reference is more accurate for some games and less accurate for others? –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 21:39
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I think these questions should be off-topic. There is a ton of variation in completion time and answers are not authoritative. They are not actual problems gamers face.

To quote @agent86:

imho, "how long will it take me to beat X" is either too localized (assuming we could get inside your head and determine just how long it will take) or not constructive (requesting everyone post their personal experiences and debate just how fast it's possible to do)

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They're just not questions with a single correct answer. There are multiple permutations for even getting through the original Super Mario Bros. Games have only become more complex. The questions are asked with the intent of an average playtime - a single answer will never answer this without pointing to another site. Statistically speaking, one person can not give a true average. I'm sure the person asking the question does not want to check back every day-week-month to compile an average from the multiple answers. –  tiddy Mar 21 '12 at 17:26
    
@tiddy there are multiple permutations. But completion time is still a known concept in gaming which is often mentioned. A lot of game reviews and game companies will give a ballpark figure of how long these things take. So I don't think we should declare them off-topic. I do accept there's a problem here, but I think Sterno's answer addresses it very nicely. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 17:50
    
@Oak - Either way we are still closing new completion-time questions. I just don't think closing them as dupes is the right move. We don't have an umbrella question for game-rec to direct users to reddit. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 18:16
    
Actually, we have two such questions: gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/11164/… and gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/15424/… - but it's true we don't close game-recs as duplicates of it. –  Oak Mar 21 '12 at 19:00
    
Burn baby burn. –  Tharius Mar 21 '12 at 19:05
    
@OrigamiRobot I keep flip-flopping back and forth on this. You've got my +1, but I'm not sure if banning them is a war worth fighting so soon after the ITGs. –  Sterno Mar 21 '12 at 19:13
    
@Sterno - ITG's recent demise should not affect your decisions on improving site quality. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 19:21
    
@OrigamiRobot Agreed, sort of. What I mean is that I'd rather see my solution implemented than see nothing done if your solution fails to gain necessary traction. I don't want the only choices to be "ban them or leave them alone". And as I said, you've got my +1. That said, I haven't see anyone say "Leave them alone" yet so my fear is probably unfounded. –  Sterno Mar 21 '12 at 19:33
    
@Sterno - I think having a catch all question to quell future problem questions is very bad practice. –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 19:42
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These are actual problems gamers face; lots of people aren't interested in games that are too long or want to know approximately how much longer doing the sidequests take. Some people don't want to drop money for a game that's too short. Just because it's not an in-game objective doesn't mean it's not a problem gamers face. –  Ben Brocka Mar 21 '12 at 20:20
    
@BenBrocka - So are you saying it helps determine whether or not a person will want to play/buy this game? Like a recommendation? –  user9983 Mar 21 '12 at 20:28
    
@OrigamiRobot I would distinguish between potential uses of the information and the actual form of the question. The answers to almost any question could affect how the questioner feels about the game. E.g., "You can't do X in ME3? FU BioWare I'm done!" (lol). That wouldn't make a question like "Can you do X in ME3?" bad if it fits the FAQ in other respects. –  Matthew Read Mar 22 '12 at 18:13
    
@MatthewRead - Some people already think "Can I do X in GameY?" questions are bad. –  user9983 Mar 22 '12 at 18:23
    
@OrigamiRobot The specific example is not important :P –  Matthew Read Mar 22 '12 at 18:39
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