GameDev.StackExchange: don’t use it for game-dev info

I’ve given that site two serious attempts – I had nothing to gain from it, I was just trying to share best practice and info from within the commercial side of the industry. I wanted it to work. StackOverflow (which it’s cloned from) has been a huge success, and the nearest equivalent for games industry – the GameDev.net forums – is very weak by comparison; lots of people doing their best, but often dominated by those who have time, rather than those who know what they’re talking about. And very few professional members.

Attempt 2 has crashed and burned. And there I’d walk away silently. But … while I was there, I noticed how much misinformation flows around that site, and I can’t keep quiet about that. It’s doubly depressing that it trades off the reputation of StackOverflow – a site that works many times better, and has a many times higher signal:noise ratio.

Here’s a favour to anyone tempted by that site: don’t. If you need answers to the questions you might ask there, there are much better places to get them (if this is tl;dr – just scroll to the bottom).

What’s so bad?

Bad enough that:

  1. many (more than half of the 50+ I read in the last week) of the answers are significantly or fully wrong, but casually upvoted or selected as correct (seems too few people on the site for the voting to “fix” this problem naturally)
  2. most of the community has no idea what they’re talking about (Vague questions, vaguer answers, and STUPID SHIT like “I was talking with one of my professor and we couldn’t figure out why all game engines (that I know of) convert to triangles.”. Really? You’re that dumb / lazy? Incidentally: “professor” of what? If it’s a course involving programming, that professor is a fraud. Personally, I think it’s a homework question. Should have been shutdown immediately.)
  3. many questions (around 20% of those I’ve read) would be solved trivially by typing them directly into google and clicking the first link

Worse that:

  1. without lots of reputation-whoring, you are “not allowed” to comment on a wrong answer (NB: I get the impression that the rep-limit for this is much higher than on SO; certainly, it’s unrealistically high). Your only option is to write a separate “answer” that explains why the first is wrong. This is sadly common on the site. Readers have to read EVERY answer (including the ones at bottom of screen) just to find the corrections to the “top-most” answers
  2. without even MORE reputation-whoring, you are “not allowed to answer more than 1 question every 3 minutes”. You’re a professional game developer, right? You’ve been doing this stuff for years? You see a couple of related questions you can answer quickly (stackexchange explicitly GIVES YOU the list of “related questions” and invites you to answer them) … well, so far as this site is concerned: “Oh no you don’t!”

Ask any game designer: the rep-limits on that side are somewhat FUBAR. They positively encourage people to reduce the quality of information / organization. Any sane designer would have *at the very least*, said:

“If this site is new, and small, with a small community, you need to set all limits low to start with – there’s just not a large enough pool of campable spawns / experience points (*ahem* reputation sources) to support those limits from day one”

Anyway. I tried it. It was disappointing. Unlike StackOverflow, it isn’t (currently) working well – many in the community are full of their own ignorance and don’t want to read anything that’s based on knowledge or experience – they want only things that support their private theorising. Actually trying this stuff in practice? “Whoa! That sounds like actual WORK! Don’t go there, man!”

IMHO, if equivalent questions to many you see on gamedev.stackexchange appeared on StackOverflow, they would get shutdown quickly with some variant of:

  • “this question is irrelevant and trivial”
  • ” this is not a website for getting your homework done for you”
  • “this is not a website for “tutorials””
  • “please just google it – the answer is the number 1 link”

…etc

Revisiting gamedev.stackexchange, Spring 2011

At the gentle urging of friends and ex-colleagues, all of them professional game devs, I tried again. Their winning argument? “Give them time, the community will improve; it’s better now – it’s getting there” and, most key: “if we don’t help, it’ll never go beyond blind leading the blind”.

I quickly found several trails of different people asking THE SAME QUESTIONS over and over again, and getting different incorrect answers. Zero effort to read what was already there. Zero effort from the community in marking duplicates. I found some related to entity systems, and thought “Oh, FFS, this is easy for me – I’ll answer these”.

SMACK! “You can only answer 1 question every 3 minutes”.

Annoyed, but undaunted, I kept going. Just to be clear: my answers were all different, but the questions themselves were close duplicates; obviously, they’d been asked without bothering to check if they’d already been asked. And then a few hours later, I started getting emails about my answers being downvoted. No explanation, just … someone didn’t like them. WTF?

At this point, I realised the futility: it’s actually quite *hard* to get down-rated on StackOverflow. The attitude of SO users is “help, explain, and educate” (shaped by the SO penalities for downvoting). By contrast, it appears easy on gamedev.stackeschange: and it comes with no explanation, no commentary. Drawing from my experience in MMO development, these are the characteristics of a negatively charged online community: it’s not heading towards a flourishing, happy family. Time to get out while the getting’s good.

So, I’ve killed the account. I want nothing to do with it. At least, not until a good community-moderator takes things in hand and changes the culture of the site. Hard job.

Want answers to game dev questions?

So, what are you to do instead?

My advice: send twitter messages @ game designers, artists, programmes, etc. Maybe half of them are on twitter these days, and generally very easy to find. Most of them (including all the non-twitter ones) have blogs, and are happy to help and give copious free advice.

As a secondary source, read a lot of blogs. Blogs are better than following people on twitter – game-dev is too deep and nuanced for twitter, and *nearly* all the good stuff is in blog posts. This may change, but for now it’s the case.

Finally, try emailing people who’s blogs and tweets you read. But this is a last-resort: most people are very busy, and will struggle to respond to your emails with the depth they would LIKE to. Most will – therefore – not answer at all. They’re not ignoring you, they’re just waiting until the get time. After years of doing that myself, these days I try to reply to people quickly, even if all I can say (in 99% of cases) is: “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to answer this properly.”. Where I can, I’ll add pointers to other people to ask – but usually they’re just as busy, so it doesn’t much help.

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