I asked this question about finding the DFA documentary a couple days ago, and first it just seemed a little controversial; +2/-2, now +3/-3, then it was seized upon as being one of those darned shopping-rec questions and closed. If it's good or bad...I dunno, but I disagree a fair bit that it is a "shopping rec" and should just be closed.

Comments mentioned it being a "classic" recommendation post, to which I replied it doesn't seem to fit into the criteria of the classic "Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping!" post by Jeff a while back. This is primarily because the post is totally devoid of any subjectivity, which is the root cause of why these questions are bad. I might draw some parallels to the great ITG debate, were it wasn't ITG per-se that was anathema to our format, but the myriad pitfalls that 90% of them had in common. From the blog post:

  • What is your budget?
  • Where do you live?
  • What are your preferences?
  • Which alternatives will you consider?
  • When do you want to buy?

The last point, the matter of temporality, I would argue does not fit as I am asking about a specific product (e.g. not "the best GPU", which changes month-to-month). Further, the issue of it being localized in time, brought up later in the blog post, is a bit of a joke compared to many games that we have on the site (Minecraft, Starcraft II, things in open-access beta, etc.). The documentary is far more traditional in that it is what it is and won't change much in format, and while avenues for purchase may come and go, they will in a time-scale equivalent to many of our questions. As far as being about shopping, there are some questions that I find just fine about the act of purchasing a game and some considerations therein.

Also see the chat transcript, there was some debate about this, starting here.

Anyways, are these questions about product availability categorically off-topic? Is there a line somewhere, and where?


3 Answers 3


Frank has asked for a dissenting opinion in chat. So, here is mine.

I don't believe this question should be closed as a shopping rec. I don't believe it to be a fabulous question, either. But, as there is a fine line between closing for a specific reason, and down voting a question on its merits, I chose cast a reopen vote.

My main reason is exactly what Nick T outlined in his question above. It does not meet the criteria set forth in Q&A is hard which is specifically referenced in the flag.

Again, I don't necessarily believe that this question has a place on this site. But, the flag is specifically referenced to the criteria in the blog post. And, those criteria were not met, here.

As such, both reviewing the close vote I said leave it open. And, I cast a re-open vote.


Off Topic

Just making my position clear. Also, I don't care if it fits under the category or not, I'm just going to say why it is a bad question for this site and format that should be closed.

This question, at its core, has 2 issues: spatial locality, and temporal locality (I've read that paragraph, hear me out).


Let's start with spatial locality. This question cannot reasonably be answered for all users. Or, at least, it cannot be expected to, even if it can technically. If you live in the US or UK there may be a way to purchase or view the movie, where as if you live in Australia or Japan, there may not be. Or there may be different ways of purchasing it for each country that can purchase it all over the world, and it is just going to turn into a list of websites that users can purchase it from. And the laws and rules could vary widely per country as well. For example, one country might allow digital resale, so it may be that you can purchase it second hand on a particular site in a particular country, but not in others. There will be no reasonable answer that could solve the issue for all of our users that any one of us can be expected to not only write, but maintain as things change world-wide over time.


If your question is simply a yes/no question, then there is no temporal issue, you are right. You are asking about a particular product, and its availability on the market. However, only yes/no questions don't work well on SE. There is a minimum character limit, and we want an explanation for that yes/no. So, what is the explanation in this case? The only thing it can really be is a link to a website that sells it, or an article that says that it is. The first is the real problem, the second is an issue only in that it doesn't solve the real problem you are having.

A link to a product on a website may go dead, and when it does, it can change the answer to the question. It is not an issue of just keeping the information up to date, the information can actually fundamentally change the answer to be the exact opposite. Now, this does happen with games, DLC, and expansions, but usually when it does, it will only happen once. In this case, however, it may happen over and over again all over the world. The question forever has to be maintained and checked to see if it is the right answer, even years from now. This happens a lot, especially with digital media, where rights will be granted or revoke constantly based on deals made for companies and countries everywhere.

Not About Video Games

As a side note, I also just feel questions about documentaries, even ones on video games, does not make it on topic. If it is about the content or statements made in the documentary, it should be fair game, as that is about gaming directly. However, questions about a documentary are not, themselves, on topic. I liken it to questions about steam; just because it can be related to gaming, doesn't mean it is on topic. For example, If the question is about steam or gaming with steam, it should be on topic. However, a question like "What version of Webkit does the Steam browser use?" may be tangentially related to gaming, but should not be on topic here.

  • 3
    You are way off base with respect to spatial locality. My question could just as well be asked by anyone in the States, and dubbing it "too localized" (just in more words) is something that Joel himself remarked as being oft misapplied. Just as with temporality (which I raise in my post, and which you seemed to gloss over in your reply), games can be highly localized; Steam isn't available in all countries, some games come out in different regions...
    – Nick T
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 21:05
  • The difference is if Steam is not available in those regions, then they won't have those questions. However, this question could just as easily be "Can I buy this in X country?". The question will have answers that are only spatially relevant, but the question can be asked by anyone. Different answers are right or wrong depending on your location in the world. And the difference between the time sensitivity of this question and others is that, combined with the spatial issues, it is not helpful over time because now we must manage that change for every country. Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 21:13
  • RE: Spatial Locality, how is this any different to questions asking for an answer for a specific OS, but still getting answers stating "For anyone who is having this issue on a PC/Mac/Linux, the steps are X,Y,Z"? We can't (and don't have to) possibly cover ALL OSs and all userbases (But what about the guy running it on a Cryogenically cooled overclocked 486!?!?). It's enough to answer the OPs question with the region requested, or even just the common or 'major' regions.
    – Robotnik Mod
    Commented Feb 18, 2014 at 23:44
  • 1
    @Ktash you have to be joking. Nobody is going to append "in the PAL version", "in the NTSC version", "in the Steam version", "in the Origin version" to every question where it might be salient.
    – Nick T
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 0:14

I was the instigator of the close votes. I've read the blog entry about shopping recommendations, and I feel that this question meets the criteria.

Granted, since it's an online item, it has none of the issues of a physical product, such as what's available in the area that you live. What problems it does have, however, is the paragraph right after what was quoted in your question:

Let’s say the question asker provided all that information. Fat chance, I know, but let’s pretend for a moment they did — and we were able to provide the perfect, ideal shopping recommendation to them. Even if that was the case, technology moves so rapidly that the best shopping recommendations will be utterly obsolete within a year!

This by itself isn't a huge problem; we deal with obsolete information on a regular basis with video games. The problem is that answering this question, while useful at this stage, doesn't play to our expertise whatsoever, and answers are just links, which are very susceptible to link rot.

As I said in chat:

And I don't think knowing where to find or buy a video plays to our expertise. Yeah, we'd be able to answer it now, but what happens if the link dies? Answer's useless. We can't really be expected to notice that and keep it up to date, because as gamers, we're playing games, not constantly re-watching the same things over and over.

We can be reasonably expected to notice when things in a game change, since that's what we do here. Things outside of this expertise, while tangentially related to gaming, don't play to our core expertise.

Those are my thoughts on the matter; it's not so much that we can't answer it. We can, probably rather easily, at this point in time. It's looking towards the future that the utility of said question drops to 0% the instant the link no longer works, and we're pretty bad about noticing that sort of thing.

  • I address much of what you say in my third paragraph
    – Nick T
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:10
  • As far as I can tell, all you're addressing is saying that your questions are similar to others on the site, and have not been closed. I'm not seeing anything that addresses my concern at all.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:12
  • 1
    "Further, the issue of it being localized in time, brought up later in the blog post [this is the paragraph you mention], is a bit of a joke compared to many games that we have on the site (Minecraft, Starcraft II, things in open-access beta, etc.). [...] while avenues for purchase may come and go, they will in a time-scale equivalent to many of our questions"
    – Nick T
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:14
  • And in a game, we can be expected to notice those changes. What part of finding a video, providing a link, and noticing when it dies has to do with our expertise?
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:15
  • 2
    You're talking topicality now (not a *-rec question), and it's relation to gaming is fairly clear cut (it's about a game, was packaged with a game, etc.), which is sufficient to make it on-topic for the site, IMHO. Arqade's purview includes things like hardware mods, gaming movies (Indie Game: The Movie), content delivery services (Steam, Origin), gaming history, and other things that are not in and of themselves games. I may know nothing about the PS3's Dashboard or how to mod it, but that doesn't mean I'll discourage those questions.
    – Nick T
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:18
  • That's a topic outside of what I'm discussing here. My view on that is pretty easy to find, though. Your question falls into the shopping recommendation category pretty easily, in my opinion, and I've stated why.
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:22
  • 8
    I mostly agree that the question is off-topic while disagreeing with branding it as a "shopping recommendation". I think that's a key phrase that means a lot of other problematic things, almost none of which apply here. And as fun as it is to argue terminology just for the sake of it, that's not what I'm doing here. I think there's a lot of misunderstanding on the site about what exactly the problems with shopping recommendation questions are, and people just see the word "shopping" and VTC. I'm not saying you did that, but I am saying that it can lead to follow-on close votes for the wrong
    – Sterno
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:28
  • 5
    reason, and additionally when people just see "Oh, that's closed as a shopping recommendation.", they get the wrong idea about WHY the question is a problem.
    – Sterno
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:28
  • 2
    A little chat searching showed me Frank and I had this exact same conversation before, and clearly didn't sway each other, so I'll stop arguing about it here.
    – Sterno
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 21:37
  • In case anyone bothered to read that chat log, I actually found @GraceNote's comments on game-rec/shopping-rec that I'd been thinking of in this answer, about halfway down. Not terribly relevant to this particular question, but I link it for completeness, and because I do think the message is a worthwhile one.
    – Sterno
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 0:43

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