I'm tired of seeing terrible Minecraft crash log questions. I'm tired of closing them. I'm tired of posting comments asking for a shred of useful material. Tired of seeing the same errors repeatedly.

But nevermind being tired, there's coffee for that!

What's really damning, in my eyes, is that we're terrible at answering these questions, as a community. The Q&A format doesn't really suit them: we close them and then either

  1. go back and forth in the comments, trying to troubleshoot the problem until the problem is solved, and then someone an answer just to maintain the Q&A form, or
  2. we ignore the terrible question.

Number 1 indicates that, maybe, these are actually off topic. (Number 2 is just growing apathy.) We're quality for lots of things, but this doesn't appear to be one of them. Generally, if a question requires lots of back-and-forth to diagnose the problem, it's a forum question, not a Stack question.

Worse, is that growing apathy. Our mandate is to curate good questions that make experts want to be here to write good answers. Entertaining questions that are evidently increasing the apathy of Minecraft experts, might undermining that mandate. It's certainly making me tired, speaking as one of the two users with the tag gold badge.

This has been discussed before, but if anything the problem is subjectively worse now rather than better. There are only really two kinds of Minecraft questions that come in these days: terrible crash questions and command block questions. That's not really a pretty picture.

Should Minecraft crash questions be thrown out with the trash: yes or no?

And if "no"... we need a plan, stat, to make them less rubbish, or we really should be saying "yes."

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    Do you feel like we're closing enough of these questions as duplicates? ...or are there truly so many novel and exciting ways to crash Minecraft? – badp Apr 6 '15 at 1:02
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    @badp No, lots seem to be getting quickly closed as "unclear" without effort to track down duplicates. But especially when Forge is involved, there are rarely duplicates, just badly-asked questions. It's like a whole village of help vampires. – SevenSidedDie Apr 6 '15 at 1:04
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    Minecraft is the only game we seem to support all versions and all frameworks and all mods and all combinations thereof and if things are getting unwieldy it would be wiser to cut on some of these dimensions rather than just say "it's everything or nothing and everything isn't working out." – badp Apr 6 '15 at 1:09
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    Question: even if we determined that all these Minecraft crash log questions are off-topic, does anything effectively change? We will still get them, just as we keep getting ITG questions that failed to read the tooltip for the game identification. The only difference I can foresee will be the the process for closing may be a bit more streamlined, and fewer questions that sit in limbo waiting for someone to sift through the log(s) to find the bits that solve their special snowflake's problem. – Trent Hawkins Apr 6 '15 at 2:31
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    @TrentHawkins It's not just that the closing process would become more streamlined. The decision process would too: "off topic, don't care." Compared to now, where it's reading through the crash log, determining if it's complete, checking for duplicates on the critical error, checking to see if the crash cause is obvious if they just Read the Fine Crash Log, identifying any missing information, checking to see if it's been reported on the official bugtracker/mod thread, closing as "unclear" (or not, if it's clear but "Huh, I Don't Know"), and leaving a comment. – SevenSidedDie Apr 6 '15 at 4:03
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    I would certainly like something to be done about these questions. I've more or less stopped reading MC questions these days, as I don't want to spend my time trawling through people's crash reports, especially when they haven't provided any other useful info, and I know nothing about command blocks. It's all become noise - with the crash questions dealt with more quickly I might be able to pick up a signal again. It's a tricky case of something needs to be done....but what? – shanodin Apr 6 '15 at 6:23
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    @SevenSidedDie Honestly, at this point, I don't play Minecraft, but I can recognize most of their errors, and their type of crash logs. And my bar for closing these questions is much lower than other questions. We get inundated with them, and most of them just aren't even worth trying. Just another 1-rep user who vomits a crash log into the question window, and hits post. – Frank Apr 6 '15 at 13:39
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    @Virusboy Sorry, who? What? Mods don't usually deal with this stuff, and closing unclear questions is not the same as making those question off-topic. I don't really understand what you're trying to say. And what do feature requests have to do with this? This isn't a site software issue at all. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 0:28
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    One thing that I'd like to see addressed that I haven't: Do we need to declare this category of questions off topic in order to close and reject more of them? Would it be worth being more aggressive with closing questions with little more than a log as unclear? I know that, as a moderator, my eyes tend to glaze over at these questions, and I figure that our minecraft regulars can handle them, so I don't touch them without a flag. If the community made it clear to me that they wanted any bare or nearly-bare crash reports closed as unclear ASAP, I'd start mod-closing them on sight. – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 7 '15 at 15:19
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    In other words: Is the problem here that we don't have the tools to moderate these bad questions, or is the problem simply that we haven't been putting in enough effort to aggressively use the ones we have to moderate these bad questions? Is there real and significant value in setting the line anywhere other than A Crash Dump Isn't a Question, it is, therefore, prima facie Unclear What You Are Asking when you post one alongside text that basically amounts to "HALP HALP HALP"? – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 7 '15 at 15:22
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    @LessPop Sometimes a bare crash dump and the title is enough to diagnose the problem. Those are the minority, but not so small that I'd call them the exception. That's part of why the decision-process for these questions is so involved: it requires reading the dump carefully before deciding whether to comment, VTC, or start researching the answer (assuming desire to answer). Kind of like with ITG: sometimes the info given is enough, but the problem (as I see it!) is that we do very poorly at these. That's compounded by the volume, but it's not volume that is really the problem. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 15:34
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    @LessPop Actually, the problem is almost always clear: their game is crashing. What ends up happening is that it's impossible to figure out why without going through an investigation, remotely, by quizzing the asker about details they rightly couldn't know would be relevant. So the problem is clear, but the solution is not, because it's an interactive diagnosis problem, not a Q&A problem. My realisation motivating this meta is that SE is an inappropriate tool for interactive diagnosis. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 15:43
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    I've been giving it some thought, and I, as both an experienced Arqade user (and I think I'm right in saying most of my questions are good quality), and someone who has had to unpick her own Minecraft modding incompatibilities; I wouldn't know how to write a good MC crash question. There are so many variables, especially if we start including mods, so much info to provide (and so much that I wouldn't necessarily know where to find). I think that speaks volumes about these questions as a whole. – shanodin Apr 8 '15 at 11:57
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    @Studoku - I feel like this question should cover our immediate problem - Minecraft crashes only. If further discussion about the future of tech support questions across the whole site needs to happen, it should happen after we've had a chance to weigh the pros and cons of any action we take here. The thing is, other than Minecraft, other tech support questions are fairly minimal. Plus, they usually can be useful to others, because the crashes are more general in nature, unlike mod crashes. – Robotnik Apr 10 '15 at 4:49
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    Since this question has been viewed more times than last years community election result, I think we can safely assume that the majority of regular users on the site (or those who care) have seen it. – TZHX Apr 17 '15 at 21:18

10 Answers 10

tl;dr: Yes, lets end the pain and suffering.

I propose we should allow only Vanilla Minecraft & Minecraft Pocket/Console edition crashes & issues.

I feel that any attempt to segregate mods based on popularity etc, like allowing Forge & Tekkit but banning Pixelmon for example will just make it too confusing as to where we should draw the line.


There are a lot of problems with Crash or 'Minecraft Tech Support' questions (hereafter 'MTS') that I can see:

Firstly, let's start on Arqade & Stack's side, with the Questions, Answers & users:

  1. Users don't come back. A problem with most questions for sure, but this problem is compounded in MTS questions due to the fact that we can never be sure if the solutions we find work for them.
    If users ask other types of questions, like how to earn an achievement, find some collectable, beat some boss, the answer can be verified by third parties (us), and voted on accordingly.

  2. Users post incomplete info. We recognised this as a problem, and have been taking steps to mitigate this with FAQs here and closing there. It's almost working, kinda. We're now getting more questions that list most of the main points needed for debugging, but that brings me to my next point:

  3. The questions aren't reusable. A lot of the time, MTS questions are due to a specific configuration problem on the User's PC. Some errant combination of mods, Java and Minecraft/Forge version, and even hardware issues coalesce into a steaming heap that needs to be sifted through. By Us.
    Even if we solve someone's problem, someone else will be here next week with the exact same error but a different cause. Do we close as dupe? Do we add an answer to the first question? Do we leave both open? There's no set method in these situations.

Not to mention that mods and Minecraft in general are:

  1. Horribly Written. Minecraft, by "design", has evolved over time. This means the foundation it was built on was shaky in the beginning, and has required constant maintenance from the get go.
    Combine this with the lack of proper 'plug and play' vanilla support for mods, and the programming skill of the average modder (of any game, not just Minecrafters), and the mods they write fall over at the first sign of trouble.

  2. Horribly Documented. It's no secret that one of the biggest issues in the programming world is the lack of proper documentation that describes How Stuff WorksTM and what to do in case of emergency.
    The average modder isn't paid to make mods - we're lucky to even get a description of what the mod does to the game, let alone what to do when things go wrong or what could cause issues. Speaking of causing issues:

  3. Mods are constantly in conflict with Vanilla, and each other. Minecraft mods override base functionality. Other mods might also override that same base functionality. This potentially makes them incompatible, or cause crashes when vanilla Minecraft expects a particular value but gets another.
    This is a problem whether or not modders list their incompatibilities with other mods - because if two things exist then someone, somewhere, someday will find an excuse to try and put them together. And it's up to us to know about every mods incompatibilities (or know how/where to find a list of them, if it exists).

and finally, what about Us, the experts?

  1. We're gamers first. I think the main problem is that fundamentally we play games as our primary expertise, and support them through some secondary knowledge we've picked up over time. It isn't really supposed to be our expertise to figure out why your combination of 200+ mods and various versions of Java, Minecraft and Forge don't work.
    Sure, it's something we may have come across in our own modding experience, but these solutions are few and far between (see #2 and #3 again).

Personally I've been trying to make the effort of editing the exception/crash reason into the title for easy searching later, especially as a lot of these questions use some form of "minecraft crassh pls halp" as a title, and a lot of the time the error is some form of missing dependency.

I've also tried curating the list of vanilla crashes on the question badp linked above, and try to close as dupe when I see the same problems being posted, but this doesn't happen often.


Addressing concerns raised by LessPop_MoreFizz:

  • Do we need to declare this category of questions off topic in order to close and reject more of them?

I believe so. Because the underlying problem does not lie in the close reason of 'Unclear'. Getting the user to clarify the problem is only solving point 2 (and at a stretch, point 1) of the problems I've listed above.

  • Would it be worth being more aggressive with closing questions with little more than a log as unclear?

We're already very aggressive on this part. It's not uncommon to visit a MTS question and already see a couple of close votes on it, well written or not. It's gotten to the point that users are barely even reading the contents of the question, they see a crash dump and VTC.

  • Is the problem here that we don't have the tools to moderate these bad questions, or is the problem simply that we haven't been putting in enough effort to aggressively use the ones we have to moderate these bad questions?

I definitely feel we have the tools to moderate the questions, and the users to 'use' them, as it were. I don't however, feel that we're well equipped to help diagnose the issues.

Short of setting up a dedicated test environment with the user's mod installed, having the user available for further questions or to test things on their end, potentially even setting up some sort of remote-viewing tool to help them along, will we ever effectively be in a place to effectively support these MTS questions.

  • Is there real and significant value in setting the line anywhere other than A Crash Dump Isn't a Question, it is, therefore, prima facie Unclear What You Are Asking when you post one alongside text that basically amounts to "HALP HALP HALP"?

These sort of questions may bother us, but compared to Stack Overflow, we've barely scratched the surface. SO has to deal with these questions all the time, to the point that they have blogs and dedicated close reasons for them:

Questions seeking debugging help ("why isn't this code working?") must include the desired behavior, a specific problem or error and the shortest code necessary to reproduce it in the question itself. Questions without a clear problem statement are not useful to other readers. See: How to create a Minimal, Complete, and Verifiable example.

And that is on a site where programmers help other programmers. There's an implied level of limited knowledge & diagnostic awareness, which our users aren't expected to have. Again, we're gamers first.

Do I believe we need a dedicated close reason? Yes. I don't think asking the User to "clarify what [they're] asking" by way of closing as Unclear is working, for us or for them. For the majority of these questions we cannot (for the various reasons stated above), get enough information out of the users that would allow us to diagnose effectively.


In conclusion, I feel that mine and others efforts to curtail the problem and 'clean up' the Minecraft support issues is ultimately a losing battle, and one that, as Seven mentions in the question, is contributing towards the apathy of our users.

I propose we should allow only Vanilla Minecraft & Minecraft Pocket/Console edition crashes & issues.

I feel that any attempt to segregate mods based on popularity etc, like allowing Forge & Tekkit but banning Pixelmon for example will just make it too confusing as to where we should draw the line.

Supplemental:

I feel that if we were to attempt anything to salvage the situation first, we should try the 'Canonical Q&A' approach given by Frank.

If we choose this approach, I feel it could be accomplished by:

  • Coming up with, and voting on, the initial questions to be created. This could be done on meta (in it's own question)
  • Creating the chosen questions
  • Offering bounties on the questions (Unfortunately placing some of the onus on our higher-rep users)
  • Potentially converting the questions/answers to community wiki after some time.

NB: On a personal level I just want to add this isn't something I'm taking lightly. I've been generally supportive of MTS questions in the past, trying to edit them into shape, trying to get more info out of the OP etc, but again, I feel it's a losing battle.

  • I posted a pair of comments on the root question; I'd appreciate it if this answer addressed those concerns. – LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 7 '15 at 15:24
  • @LessPop_MoreFizz - Edited. I hope they address your concerns :) – Robotnik Apr 8 '15 at 9:31
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    I disagree with allowing vanilla crash questions. We see just as many horrible vanilla questions as modded questions, and while the scope makes them significantly easier to solve (sometimes), they still suffer from the same problems I brought up in my answer. I've seen enough different crash logs to say that a canonical question for each is impractical (especially to dupe to), and that the only reasonable answer to a unified canonical question is to contact Mojang support. – MBraedley Apr 8 '15 at 10:34
  • @MBraedley - We already have a canonical question for the majority of Vanilla Minecraft Crash Issues, complete with errors, reasons for those errors, & solutions - It's one of the main reasons I believe we can handle Vanilla ones. The other, as you've mentioned - is scope. When we only have to worry about Minecraft and no mods, testing & researching becomes easier. The questions and answers are also useful for more than one person, which is what we strive for here. – Robotnik Apr 8 '15 at 14:41
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    @Robotnik The problem I have with the linked question is that I find it entirely unreasonable to dupe every crash question to it, because that's not really what it's asking. Additionally, Mojang already provides better resources than we could ever hope to in the answers to that question. Quite frankly, the only answer to that question should be a link to the official Minecraft support page. I don't like that, I think it's half-assed, but I also think it's the right thing to do. – MBraedley Apr 8 '15 at 14:52
  • @MBraedley - If our current answer is out of date, then the source you mention should be used to update it, and a link back to said Mojang's support page(s) added. That's the difference between a good answer and a great one, and the entire point of the Community Wiki - if you notice it needs updating or improvement, you edit it. – Robotnik Apr 8 '15 at 14:57
  • @Robotnik I'm not sure you understand the scale of the problem. The current answer only covers a small fraction of what the support site covers. It really is impractical to keep a complete and updated answer, and may actually run up against limits in Stack Exchange. – MBraedley Apr 8 '15 at 15:14
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    @MBraedley - Noone expects the entire support site to be replicated here, that wasn't the point I was trying to make. We should be selecting the parts most relevant to keep our answers up to date, and providing a link back to the support site for further info. Just as we don't copy the entire contents of the wiki either, just a sentence or two in order to emphasise a point, and link to the article proper. Do you get what I mean? – Robotnik Apr 8 '15 at 15:38
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    I'd just like to add that if we apply a vanilla only rule for minecraft crash questions, we should really apply it to all games. Distinguishing between games in this regard is just like the approach of distinguishing between mods that Robotnik rejected in his answer. – lorentzfactor Apr 10 '15 at 4:15
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    @lorentzfactor Although that might appeal in a "rules should be rules" sense, it violates the No Elephants Allowed Sign rule-making principle: rules exist because they solve a real problem. Applying rules to non-problems because it's "fair" can cause more problems than they solve, such as unnecessary extra work applying or defending the rule. "Minecraft crash questions caused us problems, so I'm sorry but your simple question about Half-Life 3 crashing is off topic" is a hard stance to defend. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:18
  • @SevenSidedDie But it is easily conceivable that this scenario could occur in another game in the future. It's not like saying there are no elephants allowed, but like saying no dogs allowed rather than no poodles allowed after an incident with a poodle. Though there has only been problems with poodles, it is very likely that other dogs will cause similar problems. – lorentzfactor Apr 10 '15 at 17:23
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    @lorentzfactor The analogy doesn't actually work, because we have all kinds of animals ("crash questions) in here already, but it's only dogs ("Minecraft crashes") that are causing problems. Making a "no dogs allowed" sign is justified, but making a "no animals allowed" sign is not. If we had lots of dogs in here, but only poodles caused problems, then we would be justified in making a "no poodles allowed" sign and allowing other dogs. We don't have to guess about the other kinds of things, and can ban precisely now, instead of trying to predict future problems. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:25
  • @SevenSidedDie What you're suggesting is to add a new "no [insert name of animal here]" sign every time a new animal enters the building. What I'm suggesting is to have a sign that simply says "no animals allowed". Certainly, no animal besides dogs may enter the building, but it can't hurt to not allow any other animals to enter the building as well. – lorentzfactor Apr 10 '15 at 17:34
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    @lorentzfactor We already have most of the animals in here already, is what I'm saying. We won't, or will very rarely, need to add a new sign. That's the problem I have with your reasoning: it doesn't make sense, when we have so much data lying around about all these animals that don't cause problems. I can hurt, in that we don't want to ban anything we don't need to, as a general principle. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:36
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    @lorentzfactor It would be decided just like this is being decided. We don't need objective measures when the point is to figure out whether the community wants to do something. If there's no clear consensus, nothing changes, and that's how it should be. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:43

Yes, let's make them off topic and be done with it already.

Expertise
One problem I see in keeping them on-topic is that we basically require the people answering be Java programmers. Not only that, but they also need to be able to debug a stack trace for obfuscated code without actually being able to see that code (usually). Not only is that not in our core expertise (even if a number of Minecraft players here are programmers), but it's also an exercise in futility. We can't ask the user to "Show me the code" like we'd be able to on SO, so the exact reason for a crash can be hard to determine. This doesn't apply to every question -- some are quite obvious -- but it does apply to enough of them that it isn't worth our time sifting through every crash log to see if the solution is obvious. Also, I want to make something abundantly clear: our primary expertise is in playing games, not in supporting them. While having some expertise in supporting games is beneficial to us, most Minecraft crashes question are in an entirely different league.

Reproducibility
I have been very fortunate in that Minecraft has only crashed on me in rare occasions. I'm talking actual crashes, as in the game quits and I'm presented with a crash log. There have been other times where the game ground to a halt but didn't actually crash, but these have always been because of something I've done that was rather stupid and involved redstone. While I can reproduce the latter circumstances quite readily, the former have always been impossible for me to reproduce. If I can't reproduce my own crashes, which almost never happen to begin with, how am I expected to reproduce Joe Random User's crash when all I have is a crash log (that has a next to useless stack trace) and some vague steps on how Mr. User got the game to crash. What's worse is sometimes the list of steps is only one step long: start the game. Even if the problem is easily reproduced by the user, if I can't reproduce the problem, I can't help them. And if I can't reproduce the problem, it's a safe assumption that a lot of other people can't reproduce the problem, and so they won't be able to help the user.

Quality
It's pretty much agreed by all that the quality of these questions is extremely low on average, and that our attempt to enforce a set of guidelines to improve the quality of questions didn't work. See also Call for concepts: Determining new "Identify This Game" criteria

Call tech support instead
Finally, we must realize that we are not providing a valuable service to the internet at large, and that people would be better served by going someplace else, namely Mojang support and mod developers. These are the people who actually have to tools needed to help the user. I realize that Stack Exchange was set up to prevent this exact type of thing, but we can't help these users. As such, I view this no differently than the cases where a user needs, for example, complicated account support. Again, the only people that can handle that type of support are those that have the required tools, and we aren't them.

We suck at answering these questions, and while that in and of itself isn't a good reason to make these questions off-topic, the reasons why we suck are.

Trying to play devil's advocate here:

There is value in keeping these questions. Not a whole lot, granted, but some. We can have expertise in this area; it will require a very good understanding of Minecraft and programming. Niche expertise is something Arqade absolutely excels at. A community with the implicit knowledge required to be able to solve these problems would be fulfilling our mandate to make the Internet a better place. A site of our size is going to get these questions, regardless of whether we accept them or not.

That said, it's extremely rare for askers to provide all the information needed to actually solve their problems. We tried, we linked askers to a page with the information we needed to actually help them. Results were...bad. A rather generous estimate would put the number of askers who responded at around 10%. Even that has fallen by the wayside at this point. Trying to get askers to read, and provide, enough information in order for us to help them is a losing battle. It's just not going to happen.

We also quite often get questions about users creating their own modpacks, and running into issues they're not equipped to deal with. Those we already point at GameDev and run like hell.

So here's what I would propose:

  1. We throw out specific mod support completely. Doesn't happen here, at all.
  2. We create canonical Minecraft crash questions, general enough to be applicable regardless of the mods in use, such as, "How do I know if I have or will have mod conflicts?", "Where can I find my crash log?", "One of my mods doesn't work, why not?", or, my personal favorite, "MY 357 MODS DON'T WORK HALP PLZ!", in which we give high quality, detailed answers, fitting the general scenario itself, which can be applicable regardless of which mods are or aren't in play.
  3. For specific mod support, I don't think an answer of, "Contact the mod creator and get them to help you" is at all out of place, either. They wrote it; for specific help, they can fix it. We take specific mods out of the equation entirely, and just give solutions that will work across the board.

We then ruthlessly moderate and dupe (and delete, for 10K+ members) to these questions. No special flowers, no exceptions, no nothing. We tried being helpful and pointing them at required information for us to help them. It didn't work. If all we get is a crash dump, and we don't have a dupe, doesn't matter. Close it. We're doing that already, anyways. If we start noticing an issue of some sort cropping up frequently, we create another canonical, and dupe all the previous and future questions to it.

This way, we keep that which is most important to us, questions that withstand the test of time, and help more than just the person asking. We also mitigate the effect of getting so many one-off crash dumps, and agonizing over what to do with them. We either dupe, or just straight up close. If we can't dupe, we create (or edit the existing question) the canonical, and burn all comers.

We're about high-quality content and helping more than the asker. This would play to our strengths, and our mandate. The biggest issue, though, is that it will create a larger moderation overhead in the short term, not to mention the effort required to create the canonicals in the first place. But I feel that if we want to keep these questions, this is the only feasible way of doing so.

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    Personally, I think these should just be burned on sight and forgotten about. But I feel that we need a good argument in support of them, so that we can make a clear decision on how to move forward. – Frank Apr 7 '15 at 2:58
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    I like the idea of having a canonical question to point them to instead of just telling the askers to go away. – Brian Apr 7 '15 at 18:47
  • I like your suggestions so +1 for playing devil's advocate so well, but I hate Minecraft crash dumps, so -2. – TZHX Apr 8 '15 at 13:02
  • @TZHX I think we all hate them. Honestly, I will be incredibly overjoyed if we outlaw them entirely. Less grief for everybody. I just feel we have to at least try to see the good in keeping them. – Frank Apr 8 '15 at 13:26

Tech Support should be completely off-topic

Tech support as a topic, in general, has exactly the same problems that Minecraft tech support questions have. To be clear, by "tech support" I mean questions of the form "My game/console/router/whatever isn't working, please help me fix it." Everything in the question applies to them; it's just more pronounced because Minecraft has an astonishing ability to generate unsearchable errors and for some reason attracts a lot of players that are bad at asking questions.

User Experience

If we ban just a subset of Minecraft tech support questions, it will make it more difficult to determine what questions someone can ask. We generally want to make it as simple as possible for people to determine what questions they can and can't ask, so that we can avoid dealing with off-topic questions, and they can avoid having their questions closed.

When people ask these questions, we will have to tell them

Minecraft questions are on topic, and technical support questions are on topic, but this particular kind of Minecraft tech support question is off topic.

That seems like a terrible user experience.

I think a better option would be to just ban tech support questions wholesale. They've been a pain for a long time and they're only tangential to our actual area of expertise.

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    You will never hear an argument from me when it comes to banning tech support wholesale. 100% support, all the way. – Frank Apr 9 '15 at 22:27
  • "They've been a pain for a long time and they're only tangential to our actual area of expertise." This is really the most important issue in any SE topicality debate. I suspect this stance will be unpopular, but it's got solid sense going for it. – SevenSidedDie Apr 9 '15 at 23:22
  • For once I agree with @Frank. We're pretty terrible at tech support. About the only time we're any good at it is when it's an incredibly common issue that a google search already turns the answer up to anyway. We're not making the internet any better with these. – Sterno Apr 10 '15 at 1:58
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    We do have some good tech support, especially around issues not relate to crashes. An example off the top of my head are Qs like "how do I change the resolution?" for an old game that uses a tiny square of the screen—that, when answered well, can help a lot of people because it's a widespread need. So, we should perhaps distinguish the kind of tech support that is a problem, rather than a blanket ban covering good types as well as bad. Crashes only, perhaps? – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 5:51
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    I guess I think of "My game isn't working; help" as tech support, but I would consider "how do I change the resolution?" to be more like providing auxiliary information for game play. The difference is that on one side, we're helping them play the game, and on the other, we're trying to fix the fact that they can't play the game. – murgatroid99 Apr 10 '15 at 5:55
  • +1, with the same caveat @SevenSidedDie mentioned- we need to be clear on what counts as unsuitable tech support. – Studoku Apr 10 '15 at 14:20
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    @murgatroid99 With games that are updated less frequently than Minecraft, there are still lots of questions about "I can't play" that are reasonably common and not moving targets, such that it's a known issue with known fixes. Compare the mess that is (even vanilla) Minecraft crashes with this question about a broken Oblivion launch menu. The ongoing evolution of Minecraft makes its issues ongoing, while a game that hasn't been patched for 8 years is stable. – SevenSidedDie Apr 10 '15 at 17:12
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    @SevenSidedDie I can see where he's coming from. We're good at locating resources to common issues, and supplying the answers. Actually diagnosing an issue curently in play, that doesn't have something from the developer or a fix elsewhere online, is something we don't really handle well. We actually kinda suck at it; Minecraft just brings it to the fore due to the massive variety of errors they have. – Frank Apr 10 '15 at 23:53
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    @Frank Yes, it being a problem with needing novel diagnosis is something I would agree to. Stable games tend to correspond to technical issues being as well known as in-game play issues, but yeah, it's an accidental correspondence. I think we can rely on that correspondence being almost always the case, though, right? – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '15 at 0:09
  • @SevenSidedDie I would agree to stable games having common issues, yes, but I seem to be missing the main thrust of your argument. Care to elucidate? – Frank Apr 11 '15 at 0:19
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    @Frank Oh, just that we have a lot of tech support questions that don't evince any problems, and I suspect it's related to how little the game changes. Knowledge can accumulate in the community about all kinds of things, including tech support, and we handle them fine. Minecraft tech support sucks, I think, because its problems develop faster than the necessary knowledge accumulates among casual tech-support people (i.e., our scope: people just trying to play games). This answer says all tech support is a problem, but I don't see that as being true, for these reasons. – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '15 at 0:36
  • @SevenSidedDie That's a good point. I wonder, though, how timely the answers are to those questions. I would suspect that novel issues, even if they become common later, would be issues that we don't handle well at the time of asking. We're good at locating resources to help, but actual troubleshooting seems to be a weak point of our. Would you agree? – Frank Apr 11 '15 at 1:51
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    @Frank Yes, we're bad at troubleshooting. (Or more to the point, SE's structure makes everyone bad at it here.) Without doing a survey of questions I can't be sure, but my sense is that the slower-changing games have fewer showstoppers that show up here as early-life questions, and when they do show up here early in their life, they probably sit unanswered for a while before being answered (which is OK at SE). Being few, they don't really cause problems. But, I'm not paying attention to crash stuff in many other games, so I may be wrong that there isn't a problem elsewhere than Minecraft. – SevenSidedDie Apr 11 '15 at 3:09

We must look bigger picture. No I'm not suggesting we ban all technical issues, or even all modded technical issues. But we must look at these sorts of questions and decide what the problem actually is. Because right now, it seems like our problem is there's a lot of them and we can't deal with it. And there has to be something more than that.

We absolutely can not just make a special case for one game. I legitimately fear for the health of the site if we decide that banning particular sorts of questions about certain games is a thing we are comfortable doing.

So what is the real problem here (that can be controlled, anyway). The common denominators seem to be crash reports and unclear error codes (NullPointerException, for example. That could mean a lot of things). There, problem identified. I think we could very reasonably make questions of that sort off topic. And that may apply only to Minecraft questions. I don't care. But we should not particularly ban questions from a single game.

This is a tricky subject. Minecraft has sort of forced us to change our perspective on a lot of things. And while I've often held that technical issues questions get shot down without anyone bothering to at least attempt to figure it out... Where we are at now is not a good place.

I've thought about this over the past couple of days. I really have. I cannot, in good faith, justify keeping modded crashes of any sort for any game (obviously Minecraft is the most common). There are a few reasons for this, but first, let's get one thing out of the way...

Vanilla crashes

Let's get this out of the way: I can justify Vanilla crash reports, though it might be helpful to point users to Mojang support as well. The problem scope is much, much narrower here, and we already have a canonical question that covers a lot of these cases. (org.lwjgl.LWJGLException: Pixel format not accelerated has been reported 1755066 times in Minecraft 1.8.3).

Modded Crashes

Now that that's clear, let's look into the world of Minecraft modding.

Minecraft has a lot of mods. There are over 2000 mods hosted by Curse alone. This includes different versions of the same mod made for different versions of Minecraft, so the actual number of distinct mods is probably around half of that, but even still, there are a lot.

Modded crashes are vastly more common than vanilla. This isn't the problem, though. The problem isn't even that mod conflicts are extremely common. These days, with Minecraft Forge working how it does, mod conflicts are actually pretty rare (though OptiFine is one notable exception that most modmakers do not support, but I digress). The problem is that the crashes have such variety that the questions become, themselves, too localized.

Not even localized to system details or Java version (that is rarely the case these days), but localized to one's particular world and mod setup. Anybody can put together a mod pack these days, and, as such, everyone's mod setup is slightly different, which makes troubleshooting tricky.

To recap, I can justify allowing Vanilla crashes. I cannot justify allowing modded crashes. It is a gaming topic, to be sure, however, modded environments are so unique, which makes their crashes extremely localized.

No, these are blatantly on-topic. I know people tend to be frustrated with them and the problems associated with them, but they are not off-topic. They fit right into our wheelhouse.

Examination of Why

Why don't people like them? Well, various reasons, but the primary gripes I've noted are the complete lack in quality questions, a large quantity, and a high rate of user abandonment of said questions.

Before we get to that, let's talk about your first point there: "They are a bad fit for the Q&A format." Why are they a bad fit? They aren't subjective. There is a verifiable answer. It's a issue other users might hit. It's about a problem with a game. It checks most every box for what types of questions we allow. But we have to ask for clarification?? We have to do that with a lot of questions. Think about a question for a game "I'm stuck in X, where do I go next?". Comments are there to clarify the question and ask things like "Well have you already done Y?" That doesn't make the questions a bad fit, just not specific enough to be able to solve.

And we already have a close reason for that. If it is so vague that we can't answer it, then we can, and do, close it as unclear. We already do that. Being an unclear question does not make them off-topic. It makes it unclear.

Given the rate that we close these as unclear, do we really think these new users are being discouraged by other users' questions being closed? Do you think this will stop, or even slow, the flow of new users who abandon the question? Personally, I don't. I think making these off topic doesn't even the solve the problem you want it to solve.

Onto The Who

You mentioned being one of the top users in the tag. Which is great! But you also mentioned that there weren't very many and it was getting tiring. Boo :(

Now let's shift the question. If we had an army of gamers, or even a single person, who loved minecraft and knew enough about mods to be able to break these questions down and answer more of them, at a higher rate, would they suddenly be on-topic? Is on-topic really the problem?

Root Problem

Personally, I see the root problem as two issues. At least, these are the two I seemed to extract from your post.

  1. These are attracting a lot of low quality questions from users who are likely to abandon their question, especially if it is closed
  2. There is not enough people answering these questions, or with enough knowledge on the subject to follow up with specific detailed clarifying questions, to handle the immense amount of these we are getting

Fix it Felix

These are tough problems, but we have to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water here.

More Tools

Personally, I feel for the first one, the best thing we can do is address the problem before it starts. It's great we have a question about how to write a good Minecraft crash question, but clearly that hasn't help as much as we'd like. It may be time to request bigger guns. We are a community, but we work on a system, and I think we should look for help in that direction.

We should think about how we can use our existing tool set to improve the user experience when asking these questions. I know someone suggested it (though I'm not sure if it was implemented), but possibly if the title contains Crash and is either tagged with or includes it the title, links to that how to ask question, that would be great. But there may be other methods for us to use. Maybe adding a link to the unclear close reason. Or something else.

But let's face it, even if we did that, there's probably not going to be enough of an improvement. So let's talk to SE about the problem. Firstly, because I'm sure we're not the only site that has this problem (SO has got to be the king of these). But also, because they will have more power to create something to help users.

Maybe it's a minecraft crash question page where it is basically a tutorial through what we need to solve the problem? Maybe it's hinting or UI that guides the user? Maybe it's Clippy? Who knows. But the point is, we aren't alone here. This sort of thing is why the SE system was created. To solve this exact problem. Clearly, the system seems to be falling short in this case, so let's see if we can't get help in better addressing it. Whether it be tools for us or tools for new users.

More Users

Users are a tricky catch-22. We need questions for experts to answer to have them want to hang around. But we need experts to attract new users. Clearly, in this case, we're not struggling with the latter, but the former is falling down a bit. So what can we do?

I don't have some mystical answer for this. How can we attract more answers to these types of questions? Have a bounty giveaway? Post it on the right forums? Try and reach out to mod developers? I don't know. But we should probably find a way to encourage answers to these, instead of close-delete-ignore every one we ever get. Whether those of us who don't know how to answer learn, or we attract new users who can, we clearly need more people.

Sometimes A Close Is A Close

No matter how good we do at the above, sometimes users aren't going to come back. Or even if they do, they will be unhelpful. Sometimes a close is a close for good. A permanent thing that isn't going to change. We can't help every user, especially if they don't seem to want to help us in doing so.

If it doesn't get fixed, then there is nothing we can do. If it is still unclear, and the user is not helping, there is nothing we can do. Leave it closed, delete it if it becomes an issue or needs it, and move on to the next question. Not every question is going to, or needs to, survive closure.

If you made it this far, congratulations. Here's a picture of a cat. Now talk amongst yourselves about good ways to actually address the real problem.

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    Regarding your suggestions for improving the situation, suggestions for adding explanatory/help text are almost universally opposed on Meta.SE. These users, especially, have clearly demonstrated that they are unwilling to put in even a modicum of effort to make their questions comprehensible and useful. If we put another wall of text between them and dumping an error log onto the site, they will just not read it, or in the best case scenario, get fed up and never return. – murgatroid99 Apr 7 '15 at 5:05
  • i think the link to the Meta Question thing you mention is in fact my answer here and i do not belive it has been implented as i can to to make a new question and add a minecraft tag and not get the same thing as i get if i did the same thing on Anime and Manga with the identification-request tag despite having more rep there (though it could be a Beta thing). – Memor-X Apr 7 '15 at 5:44
  • (Cont.) ofcause with that suggestion of mine the idea is to use this meta as the one stop location, my Meta Answer on posting Bug/Crash features on this page too along with Unionhawk's Meta answer on crash dumps – Memor-X Apr 7 '15 at 5:44
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    I think you misunderstand the issue of on/off topic is the OP. I'm not suggestion that they're already off topic—they are currently clearly on topic and I agree with your assessment there. This is asking whether we should make them off topic because they don't work, as we did with Identify This Game questions. Does that clear up what I'm proposing we consider? – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 7:55
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    As for how to attract users who want to answer, that's a solved problem—it's what SE is designed to do, top to bottom, as detailed in the link in the OP. The short version: turf all bad questions, so experts like what's left. So, when I say these Qs don't fit our model, it's because they are sand that obscure or even discourage the pearls (a ref to that link; it's necessary reading on this question). – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 7:59
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    As for my other reason for saying they don't fit: SE exists to do well what forums do poorly. We should not try to do poorly what forums do well. These questions require lots of back-and-forth, not for clarification, but because they are inherently problem-solving processes. We can't sit at their computer, so we tech support via comments until the problem is solved (which is different from clear but unsolved). That's using comments as a forum—a red flag that something has gone horribly wrong with our SE format. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 8:04
  • @SevenSidedDie I didn't misunderstand the issue. What I mean by they are blatantly on-topic is that they are the topic. We are about solving gaming problems, and this is a gaming problem, and would fit, to the T, what we normally cover. We're can't make something off-topic because we don't want to put the time in. We already have a close reason for the question which we are closing. Saying they are "off-topic" does literally nothing but change the close reason, and close other, possibly answerable and valid, questions. – Ktash Apr 7 '15 at 8:23
  • @SevenSidedDie As for the why they don't fit, that's exactly what half the problems in the SE system do. Pick any random question on SO and I'd say you have about a 25% chance of hitting just that. Probably 90% on SU. We diagnose problems, and use clarification from the user through comments, because we are experts at and uniquely capable of doing so. Entire SE sites are built around this premise of solving these sorts of problems. – Ktash Apr 7 '15 at 8:25
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    1) We are not SO, and that comparison is a non-starter. 2) "We can't make something off-topic because we don't want to put the time in." Yes we can; see Identify This Game, a blatantly on-topic question type, that does not work here. I'm not saying "waah, these are hard and take too long", I'm saying we suck at them because they need help our Q&A format doesn't work for (just like ITG). Those are the core points, which this answer doesn't manage to speak to; if you could address them, we might have a constructive conversation beginning. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 14:57
  • 1) No, we are not but we use the same system. And clearly they are a very successful SE site. So how in the world is making the comparison of how they use the capabilities of the system versus how we could use them a non-starter? They have demonstrated workability of the problem. 2) That's not why ITG is off topic. ITG is off topic because it doesn't fit the system. We have no way of verifying if their memory is correct. No one can recreate their memory or verify any answer other than the user asking the question, and we have to hope the facts are right. These are verifiable and reproducible – Ktash Apr 7 '15 at 18:43
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    @Ktash ITG is off topic because we tried to make them work and couldn't, because their answers aren't meaningful to vote on and require back-and-forth to produce and verify. That's the same problem with Minecraft crash questions: we have tried to make them work, and are not managing it. Their answers aren't meaningful to vote on because nobody but the asker can verify their correctness, nullifying the point of the SE system. – SevenSidedDie Apr 9 '15 at 0:06
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    I'm honestly surprised the link to a picture of cat is actually a picture of a cat. – Frank Apr 10 '15 at 23:51

Why not retag them?

Creating a tag called Minecraft_tech_support is less destructive and gives users power to not see the tags. They will also be easier to manage, and we could combine this with another strategy such as @Robotnik's and problem solved! Since these questions seem to be downvoted, they won't be as visible to people wanting a good question to answer.

  • "Bring on the hate." Remember that in Meta a downvote isn't a sign of disapproval, but rather of disagreement. – DJ Pirtu Aug 10 '15 at 10:18
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    All we're doing with this is shovelling the crap into a place nobody looks. If we're not going to help, let's at least be straightforward with it and just tell them to look elsewhere. – Frank Aug 11 '15 at 2:11

I have noticed more than enough of the higher end of rep users just tossing close votes on most of the actually valid ones that are reproducible. That being said we have come to a point of decision.
Either we allow Minecraft Vanilla, therefore breaking all ties and placing any and all modded client into the OT bin, or simply move on and stop flagging the valid ones that matter.

If we do come to a final decision on allowing modded client questions, we need to work on what is acceptable.

  1. These are modded clients, not everyone uses these package files, those that do have a very high understanding of what they do who get them to work. I know I have posted several with no issue, with a recent zealot closure. This isnt rocket science, you dont know the question move on.
  2. Most of these crashes require some one to crawl the log, but most are easier to find. That being said if you people arn't going to do anything but waste a posters time by auto closing it simply because it deals with a modded Minecraft client/server, get over it. Again if we arn't going to take the time to support a very large user based software that by ToS allows mods, then we need to remove support for it period.

That being said, most of these problem come down to weather or not people are willing to do less, or simply not care about product simply because it take more effort to help someone out(which from my understanding is a core element for all SE sites).

In the end, we need to support this, because this is a very active thing for minecraft and there are people who can help and have in the past and are still willing to.

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    My experience is that a significant number of the questions on modded Minecraft crashes don't in fact show a very high understanding of what they're doing, frequently failing to even read the crash logs they're posting. Making them OT here also would not prevent people who want to help from helping—just prevent them from helping here. There are lots of forums dedicated to crash help. We actually get a tiny percentage of the worldwide modding community's crash questions, so I doubt it would even be noticed. – SevenSidedDie Apr 7 '15 at 1:30
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    Rather than attributing your question's closure (and subsequent deletion by yourself) to zealotry, why don't you actually try to provide some more information? This seems to be more a fit of pique along the lines of, "My question was closed and that's wrong!" than an actual argument. – Frank Apr 7 '15 at 2:08
  • Because its part of my answer. – Virusboy Apr 7 '15 at 2:09
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    Okay. Rather than addressing the prevalent issues, you're attacking the users trying to maintain quality. As arguments go, that's a pretty weak one, and reduces any strength it had by making it personal. – Frank Apr 7 '15 at 2:11
  • I think this is the first actual example of low-rep elitism I've seen here. Was expecting to encounter it a lot earlier. – Studoku Apr 7 '15 at 10:07
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    Out of curiosity, was the fastcraft mod part of your issue? – TZHX Apr 8 '15 at 12:58
  • Yes. It corrupted the map and in the end we had to disable it forever – Virusboy Apr 8 '15 at 12:58
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    So, you got the answer you wanted or a point in the right direction (as much as reasonably could be done) -- but like the typical help vampire of minecraft questions didn't interact with your question what-so-ever after posting it. That is the problem that frustrates regular community users, and the one we are trying to avoid. – TZHX Apr 8 '15 at 13:27

Minecraft as a whole should be considered off-topic because

Minecraft as a whole should be its own SE site

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Arqade as a community is ill equipped to deal with not just the crash problems, but most everything else that comes to Minecraft, including, but not limited to:
Multiplayer, construction, redstone logic, command blocks, skinning, modding, server modding, server maintenance, various console versions, various mobile versions etc.

This, I think, is a wide enought topic to warrant its own site. There is a lot to cover and to cover it all, there would have to be a lot of experts. Especially given, that only limited number of true experts are active at a site at a time.

We do have Minecraft experts within our community, but I doubt that they are significant enough proportion to cover the question to all these different areas, before they get drowned under all the other questions.

However...

This does not provide immediate solution to the problem discussed here

Creating a new site takes time

Before a new SE site reaches even Beta, the earlies point the site could even theoretically be used to 'solve' our problem, it would first have to go through the early steps of Area 51, defining the site and then gathering sufficient number of committed members to open the site for beta.

The site may not even make it

Arqade's Minecraft community on its own would not be enough to support a new site. It would need to attract new experts from all over the existing Minecraft communities. However, the problem is in the name. These communities are pre-existing and the possible experts there are not that likely to be willing to migrate to another site, even part time.

The site can not be just a dumping ground for our problems

For the new site to be viable, it will need to attract a host of questions interesting enough for the experts to stick around. Crash reports are not this. The site needs to attract questions from all of the above topics and from the experts themselves.

I... honestly don't have a conclusion to write to this post. It's admittedly a downer of an answer, given the host of possible problems listed above. It is, however, something I've been wanting to bring forth as an idea for a long time.

  • All those "interesting" minecraft questions could come here, and have the same support. There doesn't need to be another site, and as you say this provides no solution to the problem we currently face. Minecraft has very large communities outside of SE, and they can (and will) stay there -- trying to cover everything on a new site won't work for the same reasons it doesn't work here -- because people who care about making mods don't want to wade through 1000 crash reports for the interesting (to them) questions. – TZHX Apr 8 '15 at 15:04
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    This is something that will require a lot of discussion, not just with us from Arqade, but with Stack Exchange in general. You also have to understand that not everyone will be in agreement with this idea (myself included), as it will draw a substantial amount of traffic away from our site. Currently, Minecraft Site Proposals are getting shot down as dupes of us. – Robotnik Apr 8 '15 at 15:05
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    Other than the tech support questions, I think we actually handle most Minecraft questions rather well. – Frank Apr 8 '15 at 15:54
  • On the question of quality, non-tech support questions, are we really the place for all of them? I don't have any realy examples, but I could imagine some server management and near-programming questions to be something that may be beyond us. We may have a handful of users capable of answering them, but are they enough? Or are the questions better suited for StackOverflow or SuperUser? If so, are these questions benefitial to split between all three (or more) communities? Again, I have more questions than answers. Robotnik may be right. This may be a topic well beyond this meta question. – DJ Pirtu Apr 8 '15 at 16:04
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    If you have a quality question about mod making, then it is probably a quality question about Java. – TZHX Apr 8 '15 at 17:12
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    This gets suggested very frequently on Area51 and closed frequently as a duplicate of Arqade. Regarding your doubt as to the proportion of Minecraft experts here: there are only 2 gold tag badges awarded in the history of this site and they are both for Minecraft. Also, there are over 3700 Minecraft questions on Arqade, which is nearly 1600 questions more than the #2 game, Skyrim. For reference, only 4 games have 1600 questions in total. – John the Green Apr 11 '15 at 22:19
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    "Minecraft as a whole should be considered off-topic..." Full stop. +1. I stopped reading questions here at Mineqade a long time ago... – Mazura Jan 4 '16 at 18:25

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