Why PlayStation’s Helldivers 2 Reversal Is Both Smart And A Rare Sign Of Ineptitude

Why PlayStation’s Helldivers 2 Reversal Is Both Smart And A Rare Sign Of Ineptitude

Last week, Arrowhead Studios announced that an upcoming update to its hit co-op shooter Helldivers 2 would require existing PC players on Steam to make a PlayStation Network account to continue playing. If they didn’t, they’d lose access to their Helldivers accounts, and that news did not land well. The move was bad for a litany of reasons, not least of which was the fact that Steam is supported in more countries than PSN, meaning that many players in some regions of the world would have no viable way to play the game they’d already owned on PC for months. As Helldivers 2 began getting delisted from several countries over the weekend, its community took to the offensive and review-bombed both the game and its ten-year-old predecessor.

Now PlayStation has predictably reversed course on its decision, and Helldivers 2 will no longer receive the aforementioned update. On its face, this appears like a wonderful development for the community, which won a decisive victory over PlayStation. However, this error also spells out that for all its success, PlayStation still doesn’t know what it’s doing when it comes to cross-platform titles, and will either continue to stumble upwards or accidentally burn itself time and time again at the repeated cost of its developers.

Helldivers 2’s fall from grace

For a while, it seemed like PlayStation wouldn’t mess things up with Helldivers 2. Arrowhead not only found immediate success upon launch, but continued to regularly expand the game, adding new enemy types, locales, objectives, and weaponry. Players became enthralled with its galactic war storytelling, which allows them to drive the narrative via their wins and losses. Hellidvers 2 grew so immediately popular, in fact, it was largely unplayable for its first few weeks, and ever since, it’s been one of the most played (and purchased) titles of the year, turning it into PlayStation’s first bonafide live-service hit after the company decided to double down on the trend a few years back. All the while, PlayStation seemed to provide much-needed resources to keep Arrowhead afloat while keeping a respectable distance, making for what appeared to be an ideal publishing relationship.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that most of that success had more to do with Arrowhead’s ingenuity and ability to deliver a quality product, and less to do with PlayStation, which immediately stepped on a rake the second it intervened. PlayStation’s active meddling turned Helldivers 2 from a phenomenon into a pariah overnight and tanking its reviews on Steam from “Overwhelmingly Positive” to “Mixed,” where it’s still sitting. Not only that, but PlayStation’s ultimatum of making a PSN account or outright losing the ability to play the game reveals just how little it ever considers its audience when making a business decision. It isn’t the first time PlayStation has failed to read the room, either!

When Horizon: Forbidden West was delayed out of the PS5 launch window, PlayStation attempted to go back on its word to deliver free cross-generation upgrades to PS4 players. It took the company getting raked over the coals to force a change of mind, but not before it announced it would no longer offer free upgrades after Forbidden West. Not long after that, the company also thought it’d be a sound business decision to end support for its legacy storefronts, including the PlayStation Store on both the PS3 and PS Vita, before also walking that back. When left unchecked, PlayStation makes the kind of unforced errors that make you wonder how it gained such a significant foothold across the last few console generations and such a fiercely loyal audience.

PlayStation needs to wise up

Now, though, PlayStation is bargaining with the livelihoods of various studios as it attempts to capitalise on the turbulent space of live-service games. The last few years alone have seen the shuttering of numerous titles and the studios behind them because they were incapable of finding an audience or frustrated an existing audience and then were unable to pivot at the drop of a hat when things got rough. PlayStation has shown it can be a flexible publisher, but how long can it continue to make a mess of things before it sinks one of its products and developers?

This weekend did a tremendous amount of damage for Arrowhead, even if it’s largely Sony that’s at fault. PlayStation continues to reap the benefits of being the console market leader this generation, but Arrowhead has no such protection. And while it’s a PlayStation-published title, Helldivers 2 being pulled from Steam in over 100 countries hurts Arrowhead more directly than it hurts its publisher. When Helldivers 2 got immediately swarmed with negative reviews because of PlayStation’s enforcement of a PSN login, it was Arrowhead whose reputation took the greatest knock.

To the outsider who doesn’t know about any of the drama of this weekend and decided to check out Helldivers 2 on Steam on a whim, its reviews likely made it seem like a bad purchasing option. Arrowhead community managers were taking hits in forums and getting chastised for doing a poor job of communicating the terms of PlayStation’s sudden policy change. Arrowhead’s CEO spent the weekend apologising for initially disabling the PSN requirement to help support a bigger player audience, and he was the internet’s whipping boy for it. Not only did PlayStation force an otherwise beloved studio into this position, but its constant kowtowing to tactics such as review-bombing continues to legitimise bad actors.

Though Helldivers 2 fans are now similarly reversing their negative Steam reviews, tactics like this often bury lesser games, and it is little more than a guise for the targeted harassment of developers. Bad actors, like the stalwart Gamergate losers and other bigots, have co-opted similar tactics to enforce their beliefs, and they’re already doing victory laps because they also feel like they won in this Helldivers 2 debacle. Hell, Sucker Punch, which is releasing Ghost of Tsushima on PC very soon, had to get out ahead of this backlash and declare its game’s multiplayer mode would also need a PSN login just to avoid similar harassment. Is that PlayStation’s future in the realm of live-service games and the PC market? The constant harassment of its developers due to poor decisions that trickle downwards from C-suite executives who’ve no idea how to manage a live product in a fickle and ever-changing environment?

If it wants to stay in this field, PlayStation needs to learn not only how to read a room, but commit to a dialogue with its community, so that it might navigate these otherwise choppy waters with a much more deft hand. It needs to learn how to protect its developers rather than hang them out to dry. So far, PlayStation’s shown that it’s amenable when it makes mistakes, but the next step is to stop making them so actively that it might genuinely jeopardise a studio or game that it is publishing. In the increasingly volatile games industry, the last thing anyone needs is a major publisher recklessly gambling with its workforce. So it’s time for PlayStation to start treating this live-service and PC push less like some kind of gambit and more like an effort its livelihood depends on, and get its shit together.

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