The Daily Grind: Are we plagued by a ‘video game culture reset’?


Author and academic Ian Bogost recently tweeted something that struck me, particularly since it’s a topic I harp on all the time. “Video-game culture resets every ~5 years and forgets everything that happened before that,” he said. “Part of it is because of the planned obsolescence of hardware, which affects more than consoles. Part of it is churn of players/critics/developers/etc. Part of it is the borrowing of ahistoricism from computing (which has a similar problem). There are other reasons I’m sure.”

Usually I blame this phenomenon, when it happens in MMOs as it so often does, on brain drain – losing older developers to retirement or old age, losing middle-aged developers to stress or other genres, and losing newbie developers to other genres before they’re even trained. That leads to shabbier MMOs and people reinventing the wheel every few years (sure, yeah, this time your free-for-all PvP gankbox will work!). But Bogost is arguing that the whole industry, alongside many other industries, is plagued by this reset that seemingly forgets everything that came before it.

Do you agree we’re plagued by a “video game culture reset” whereby the industry – even its players – willfully forget the past? What is really going on here?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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“Video-game culture resets every ~5 years and forgets everything that happened before that,”

I’m sure a lot of publishers wish this was the case but I’m not seeing it myself… :p


Brain drain does seem like a common issue with long-term development of MMOs or just companies in general. Blizzard is a good example right now – most of their visionary leads are gone. You have a few veterans still but only one seems to have any degree of power right now (Jeff Kaplan in Overwatch) and the few WoW devs of note are all being led by Ion who’s appeared to be going with what data shows works best VS player experiences.

Same thing seems to happen with writing, especially when there’s social pressure to push certain narratives by folks who don’t know how to do it in an elegant/natural fashion.


The customers don’t forget, and we make developers pay the Stupid Tax every chance we get.


Not something that I have observed.
Or at least, I don’t follow the line of argumentation for it. Maybe only that many people in the games industry don’t stay long, but then again those that do are the ones who gets to be in charge of new games; doesn’t sound like a reset to me.
The planned obsolescence of hardware is not even a thing, sure it happens with consoles but switching to a new box doesn’t affect console games one bit.


I wouldn’t call it a “video game culture reset”. I don’t feel like things reset.

There are definite trends, and you can see these trends change every few years, along with the customer base. But I wouldn’t call that a reset.

What I feel is the core problem is that making a video game is treated like an art form, rather than engineering. This, combined with being a relatively young industry, means that there is a lack of scientific research and a lack of good engineering practices.

This is what allows past mistakes to be repeated – its not that studios are forgetting the past, it’s that they haven’t analysed the past properly in order to learn lessons from it. It’s all guesswork.


If video game culture resets every 5 yrs, why have loot boxes / micro-transactions been getting worse over the last 15 yrs?
Shouldn’t they have reset out of existence for a new trend then?

Toy Clown

Anything having to do with the world of MMOs seems to shift around every five years, that I’ve noticed as well. Not only in design, but also in the influx of new gamers into the market, and existing gamers exiting the market. Even MMO RP communities are like this, where the average roleplayer tends to exit most communities around their 2-5th year.

It’s rare to see tenure, so to speak, in the MMO industry across its various levels. Sure, there are people who’ve stayed around, still play, create content, columns, have been in development for more than 10 years, etc, but in comparison to those that exit the industry, it’s a startling contrast.

In the real world it usually takes a generation, or three, to lose our memories of past events, especially the less they’re noted and spoken about, which in turn allows some to take advantage and rewrite history. In our current world where people are becoming wired into brainlessness, it’s easier than ever to get away with this behavior.

While gaming is still a hobby, it’s no longer one I enjoy with gusto to the extent that I did even 5 years ago. Where I used to love seeing what a new MMO had to offer, I no longer buy new MMOs and have settled into swapping between three that have been out 4 years or more. I don’t relate to the current gamer mentality and it makes it incredibly difficult to connect with others to the point I join guilds anymore. Every friend I’ve made through the internet years have quit MMOs, with the exception of two, and they’re on the same thread about it all as I am in that playing MMOs is no longer the main hobby. I currently don’t have hope for a new MMO being innovative enough to bring me back around (although I’m keeping an eye on what Raph Koster is doing. He’s my generation’s Obi-wan Kenobi!)

Jon Wax

IRL it’s roughly a 50 year cycle or as you said about each 3rd generation will be so far removed from “how bad it was” that they rebel against current standards.

Last time we did this it was about 68-70.


I think the PvP/gankbox phenomena can be reasonably explained mostly by other factors.

With most MMOs being crowd funded you suddenly have developers who are now their own bosses rather than being plugged into a soulless factory dedicated to min-maxing the most amount of profit imaginable. In the last 20 years that mostly meant PvE focused titles that largely resembled an existing game. So seeing people go the opposite direction now that they are “free” makes a lot of sense.

There’s also the ego factor which no developer who starts something thinks they’re going to fail or run into the same issues others have. They are aware of what is going to happen and when you do an interview with all of them they all show they know about past games. However they all think they are going to be different, they’re the ones who will come up with the brilliant idea and system implementation. We see this in PvE titles as well as many Devs copied WOW, but they failed to copy what made WOW compelling as a game.

While MMOs have stagnated and largely stopped being developed we see a huge rise in competitive games like MOBAs, Battle Royales to mention nothing of settlement management style PvP games like Travian which are immense as well. This signals a demand for competitive based game content and people are going to try to bridge the gap between an RPG and those competitive environments as many gamers play games that cross over multiple genres. That doesn’t mean they’re going to translate 1:1 Fornite players to PvP gankbox players but if they can get even a small shaving of players that would be big money.

There’s also very few examples of games that have made or struck it really big in the PvP space. While many titles are memorable they’re mostly remembered for the few months at their launch with huge populations rather than ongoing endeavors that PvP players can call a home like many people do World of Warcraft. Albion Online is one of the first games that shows significant users but there’s lots of room there to grow without having to worry if the latest WOW or FF14 or ESO expansion is just going to steal all their players back each time.

So what might seem like a “reset” is really just a scenario that is a combination of factors that lead to this outcome of game type. If we end up with 1 or even 2 games that end up enduring through all the failures I will see that as a success.


How much of the problem comes from how the companies approach the games? Look at all the titles (MMO or otherwise) that are reduced to vehicles for monetization schemes. You don’t need creativity in the game itself when that’s your goal–in fact, reducing things to the same well-worn formulas creates less risk, and when your bottom line is the one on the balance sheet, that’s key. The only real innovation now is in how they bleed our wallets dry, and the games themselves have suffered as a result.


New tech means new ways to create as well. I think his thinking is a tad reductionist. These new proprietary SSD units on the PS5 and new Xbox mean totally different ways to load assets. Since these two consoles are where most games will be developed for, many big developers won’t have to use tricks like the infamous Mass Effect elevator loading screen to transition. More subtle techniques like going through a crevice in a mountain via quick time event in say a Nathan Drake game or like Lara Croft don’t need to happen either all because the hard drive has evolved.

This is the one area on these new machines where the PC is actually behind a tad and as a primarily PC player I am super interested when us PC players will get access to this new faster drive method. Digital Foundry covered this tech recently and I really think it will be great for games.