So, for nearly two years now, we've had a fairly straightforward 'rule' for when to use Platform Tags (i.e. , etc.):

I think it should only be added when:

  1. It's a general question about the platform, OR
  2. The game in question has multiple versions, AND the question is specific to one of them (e.g. why can't I find gold nuggets in game X on the PS3, my friend is finding them in his PC version!)

Unfortunately, after two years of this, I can only come to the conclusion that it just doesn't work.

Consider a few facts:

Platform Tags are Widely Misused

Within the first 150 questions I reviewed tagged , I found 45 that were improperly tagged (i.e., the game in question was exclusive to the PS3, or the question had nothing to do with the PS3 version of the title in question.) An additional 25 questions were (mostly questions) tagged PS3 primarily because the asker mentioned it in the body and didn't want solutions involving the developer console or mods. These 'I'm not playing on the other platform damn it!' uses of the tag are, in my opinion, especially unwarranted, because, while PC-specific solutions are not useful to players running a PS3, to be sure, the reverse is not true, and any solution relevant to a PS3 player should be of use to a PC player as well. Limitations that exclude solutions should be noted in the body of the question, not through the use of tags.

In other words, out of 150 questions which I reviewed, more than half (after subtracting some closures), were mistagged.

The results don't look much better when looking at or , and I can't even imagine how many questions that should have platform tags are missing them for good measure.

Yes, I know I could fix a number of these issues myself right now, but 1) I have no desire to spam up the front page at the moment, and 2) I'm trying to make a point goddamnit.

Answerers Frequently Ignore Tags Anyway

We run into this on a number of fronts. The Minicraft Problem is another symptom of the same issue. That is to say, if we're counting on people to read the tags and not addressing the distinction in the body of the question, answerers will ignore the tag and provide a useless answer. This is particularly common, for the questions I described above as 'I'm not playing on the PC, don't give me a PC specific solution'. While well intentioned, these uses of platform tags are often disregarded by answerers anyway. The result is generally an asker leaving angry comments about how the solutions provided are useless to them.

The Current System is Hostile to New Users

Encouraging people to note restrictions that will need to be placed on an answer isn't a panacea. We'll always have people rushing to answer while exercising poor reading comprehension, but by burying this important information, or counting on new users to understand our somewhat arcane tagging practices, we are encouraging this behavior.

Lets be honest, a new user is not going to understand why that Skyrim question about a broken quest was tagged . We simply should not expect a new user to read the FAQ, and the tag wiki's, and the relevant meta discussions on this topic to understand why that question was also tagged . The current state of affairs is just going to result in that new user answering the question based on their own experience, which may be on a different platform, and then getting downvoted. The current system encourages new users to learn by failing on their first attempt to contribute. This is Mean Spirited and Dumb.

Platform Tags in Their Current State are Not Useful as Filters

So first of all, I want to point out that this argument does not apply to . In fact, is, in many ways, a shining example of what a platform tag could, nay, should be. Nearly across the board, questions tagged are about the Steam software, Steam Store, or troubleshooting difficulties specific to the Steam version of a game. In other words, all of the questions under the tag are going to be interesting to someone who considers themselves an Expert about Steam, or uniformly uninteresting to somebody who is convinced that Valve is in league with the devil and has no knowledge nor interest in Steam or the interaction of any game title with the platform.

By contrast, is not useful as a filter, because the vast majority of the questions under the tag are gameplay questions about specific games that I may or may not have any knowledge of. As an expert about the Xbox 360, I am unlikely to be any more able to answer these questions than any other user, because the expertise required to answer these questions has nothing to do with the Xbox 360. The tags utility as a filter is harmed by the enormous amount of junk floating around under the tag.

Platform Tags Break our SEO

We're at the point where we have multiple dirty hacks and system modifications designed to cope with our dysfunctional tagging while improving the visibility of our questions to search engines. For those that need to be brought up to speed, the short version is that the two most popular tags attached to a question are displayed in the HTML title element in order to increase SEO visibility and solve the 'problem' of things like game names not always showing up in the title of the question. Unfortunately, Platform Tags as currently used are extremely popular. Disproportionately so in fact. As a result, we end up with situations like this:

'Beta' medal - Can the game be completed to 100% without it?

(Again, I know the problem with this specific example is the Achievements tag, which may well be slated for burnination, but it was an example I was able to find quickly.)

Essentially, because we artificially inflate the popularity of platform tags, they are disproportionately likely to show up in the title attribute of a question, instead of the title of the game. This is Bad. While there will always be edge cases, the fact is that in this case, we are making a minor problem into a major problem by severely inflating the number of questions tagged with a platform unnecessarily.

Platform Tags are Meta Tags

The current use case of Platform Tags is basically the very definition of bad meta tagging. They are questions that describe the question - or, more specifically, constraints to be placed upon the answers - rather than tags which describe the question itself. This is not intuitive, not consistent, and bad.

For more on the subject of why Meta Tags are awful and are tantamount to the eating of babies, see: Have we not been clear enough that meta-tags are a Bad Thing™? and On the coming murder of "dependent" and "meta" tagging

The Curious Case of iOS

And then we have . is a rebel. doesn't need your rules. does what it wants. More to the point, is the tag of last resort for a whole ton of questions that are the only questions that have or will ever be asked about a variety of niche titles with minimal depth or small player bases, or what have you.

This is actually a use case for platform tags that I'm okay with - if we only have one question ever about a game, it's better to tag it for the platform it's played on than to have it reverting to every 3 months. But the fact that only is used this way makes it less useful.

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To respond to the specific argument that all we need is to be more vigilant about editing questions to conform to the existing standard: Please continue to read past the 5th paragraph. It is the least of the problems, though admittedly, the widespread misuse does amplify the other issues in several cases. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 2:44
    
Regarding the ios tag - other platform takes behaves similarly when older or just rarer games are involved. I've seen a lot of questions about an older game which were initially only tagged with the platform tag. –  Oak May 11 '12 at 7:31
    
@Oak Yeah, I've seen the same, but it's clearest and most widespread in the case of iOS, for obvious reasons. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 11:52
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Platform tags also create a weird situation where you're specifically narrowing the scope of acceptable answers to a question. For example, "How do I do X in Skyrim on the PS3?" purposefully excludes console answers. Yet if a PC user asks the same question, what do you do with it? Close as a dupe? Widen the original question to include both platforms? Edit the PC-specific to allow for console-only answers? Just because the asker is only curious about a particular platform doesn't mean that answers about other platforms don't have value, IMO! –  Sterno May 11 '12 at 13:23
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@Sterno I agree with this 100%, and was thinking the same thing. Asking a new question for the PC just because the OP wanted a PS3 only answer to a problem applicable to all platforms is just stupid. Q/A are meant to be for everyone with that problem, not just the OP. –  Wipqozn May 11 '12 at 14:30
    
It sounds to me like what everyone really wants is a piece of platform metadata that's separate from the topic tags. That way a questioner can specify their platform (which is sometimes relevant even if they don't realize it) without putting it in a position where it can be mistaken for the overall topic of the question. Future searchers could use or ignore the platform field depending on their question. –  octern May 11 '12 at 18:20
    
@octern changes to the Stack Exchange engine or availiable metadata are out of the question. We have to work with what we have. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 18:40
    
@LessPop_MoreFizz You're right... I actually meant to say that at the end of my original comment but for some reason I left it out. It still seemed like a worthwhile thing to mention. –  octern May 11 '12 at 21:01
    
Makes sense. Platform tags only were really around for platform-specific problems with the game. But your right that these are unidirectional answers and that Minicraft really showed us how bad users are at really reading tags. –  Resorath May 12 '12 at 0:38
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3 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

So, what do I propose?

Platform Tags should henceforth only be used for questions specifically about a given platform or console, or a game's interaction with that platform or console

For example, questions about troubleshooting bugs or crashes specific to a given platform, about installation or save game management, or the use of platform specific accessories. Questions about a specific version or port of that game should not be tagged based on the platform, but should instead make a note of the version in question in the body of the question when relevant.

Additionally, platform tags may be used as a 'tag of last resort' for games which have only one question asked about them on the entire site.

Thoughts?

Addressing a concern raised in chat

@LessPopMoreFizz not a big fan of it due to games like where there is a big difference between pc/mac and console version

If the two variants are that different, they should have separate applicable tags, such as I'm not saying we don't need to distinguish between such things, I'm saying that using the ambiguous and cross-game platform tag to do so just hasn't worked.

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The "question" is excellent and clear (kudos), but this confuses me. How is this different from the current policy? Questions about specific game versions are currently not supposed to be tagged with the platform unless the platform is relevant -- such as bugs or crashes, installing and saves, etc. Can you clarify when exactly the platform should be mentioned but not tagged? Without that specifically laid out, this proposal seems more confusing and not less. –  Matthew Read May 11 '12 at 3:21
    
Mentioned but not tagged would be cases of things like content exclusive to a particular platform, questions about things like mods or console commands, etc. Basically, if it isn't specifically about the interaction of the game with the hardware in question, it shouldn't get a platform tag. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 3:24
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@MatthewRead He means, don't add Xbox-360 to a skyrim-on-xbox-360 question. Do add the xbox-360 tag on a question about troubleshooting the Red Ring of Death. –  Raven Dreamer May 11 '12 at 3:27
    
@RavenDreamer Mostly. I'd also be fine with adding Xbox-360 to a skyrim-on-xbox-360 question about, for example, save management that is specific to the way the xbox-360 handles saved game files, for example. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 3:30
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@MatthewRead As a simple 'lemon test' of sorts: When adding a platform tag to a question, consider: Is someone who is an expert in how this platform works, regardless of the specific game in question the target audience for this question? steam is a really good example of what I think a Platform Tags question library should look like for the most part. –  LessPop_MoreFizz May 11 '12 at 3:32
    
@LessPop_MoreFizz the ideal test imho; too bad it fails for many of our "popular" tags (achievements, mods, multiplayer, quests, controls, character-build, save-games) –  Nick T May 11 '12 at 15:07
    
I see, that platform-expertise test sounds good. Thanks for clarifying. –  Matthew Read May 11 '12 at 16:15
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I disagree on all fronts.

  1. I disagree that people don't read tags. Tags and title is actually all most people do read, and often times the opened or closed fate of a question relies more on these factors than it does on the question body itself.
  2. After all, tags and question titles are exactly what we suppose people will be googling for! So having the platform tag only hurts SEO only if it pushes the game name off the question title. As you said the cases where these happens are really minor and I believe that if we need a second tag at all to go with game tags, that crown should go to the platform tags. That's just how the web works - look at metacritic for example.
  3. Just because something is misused it doesn't mean we should ban it entirely. It means we need to stop misusing tags. Nevermind tags were never meant or designed to be something 100 percent accurate: it's a fuzzy system that we can only control so much. I believe the goods of having platform tags outweigh the bads.
  4. A lot of our site is hostile to new users, tagging is probably the least part of it. You mention skyrim and I agree that the situation is backwards - we should've been using where debugging command answers are okay and instead used to mean the opposite. You then extrapolate the situation to extend it to the whole system and I call bs on that for lack of proof.

The real problem of the policy is that the tag is used by askers who do not know or care whether or not their answer will work on other platforms as well and thus have no incentive or means to tag correctly. So I can see the merit of your proposal. I disagree however that doing so will actually be effective going both forwards or backwards. Your proposal is just as artificial as the current or any other system and all of them need community overseeing to work; as the site grows this will become increasingly harder.

I think the curent system is what makes the most sense given the site as it is today. Perhaps the situation would make more sense if we could introduce more logic on how tags can(not) be used (if troubleshooting then require windows/mac/linux/xbox*/ps? ban pc) but we currently have no such thing.

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Tags indicate the problem space. When I'm using a PS Move feature in a cross platform game, the platform is part of the problem space. I don't see what's so hostile to new users about that... –  Prinny Brocka May 31 '12 at 14:12
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I agree with most everything @LessPop_MoreFizz has proposed, but since we are talking platform tag policy I thought I'd throw out an additional proposal. In addition to the tag of last resort policy, could we simply tag all iOS games with , and for that matter all Android games with ?

I ask for the exception only for mobile platforms, and if I had to be specific iOS and Android. I assert that the casual/mobile gamers are a different breed, and could benefit a lot by having this tag to search by. When we attract casual gamers to the site with questions or answers to a new game, we could more easily retain them if they can find more questions that are relevant to them.

Instead, if is just as @LessPop_MoreFizz suggests a tag for the only questions that have or will ever be asked about a variety of niche titles with minimal depth or small player bases. As an iOS gamer I can see many first time users coming to the site, clicking the iOS tag, not seeing any games they recognize, and leaving thinking we just don't have questions about them when we certainly do. This was a problem for me personally when I first joined the site, until I got the hang of the existing tag policy (and it still bothers me).

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The problem of bad searching applies to all platforms, not just iOS and Android. –  kotekzot May 12 '12 at 21:41
    
Certainly. The fact that the search engine for the site stinks is a little outside the scope of the discussion. What is unique to mobile platforms, in my opinion, is that their users are more likely to want to browse by platform. Also, many of the questions they see will be tagged using the "tag of last resort" policy. The site itself suggests : "Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged ios" at the bottom of such questions. Where they are, as I mentioned, not likely to find any games they know. –  EBongo May 13 '12 at 19:42
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