So, for nearly two years now, we've had a fairly straightforward 'rule' for when to use Platform Tags (i.e. ps3, pc etc.):
I think it should only be added when:
- It's a general question about the platform, OR
- 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 ps3, 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 skyrim 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.
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 ps3. 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 mass-effect-3 question was also tagged xbox-360. 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 steam. In fact, steam is, in many ways, a shining example of what a platform tag could, nay, should be. Nearly across the board, questions tagged steam 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, xbox-360 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:
(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 ios. ios is a rebel. ios doesn't need your rules. ios does what it wants. More to the point, ios 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 untagged every 3 months. But the fact that only ios is used this way makes it less useful.