Helldivers 2 PlayStation Network Account Linking Controversy Explained

Helldivers 2 PlayStation Network Account Linking Controversy Explained – If you hadn’t heard, at the beginning of February 2024, a small game called Helldivers 2 launched and took over the games industry by storm – or more accurately, through spreading democracy – and months later continues to be one of the best selling games for 2024.

Not only does Helldivers 2 succeed in being a very good third-person co-op game, but Arrowhead Games has been able to craft a narrative within a multiplayer game that really encourages its players to role-play within the world, and it works exceedingly well. But what makes that work, is how transparent and open Arrowhead studio head and the dev team has been with the community from day one.

Basically, Arrowhead was doing everything right, and it was working, critically and commercially. So what happened that incited the community to review-bomb the game so hard, it went all the way down to “Overwhelmingly Negative” on Steam? Well, there’s a lot to it, and while it seems like things have come to a close on this scandal, its impact still lingers.

Let’s get into it.

Helldivers 2 PlayStation Network Account Linking Controversy Explained

February 8, 2024-May 3, 2024

Helldivers 2 launched and became an immediate success, which was obviously a great thing for developer Arrowhead and publisher PlayStation. But it was also a problem, because the level of success was so unexpected, Arrowhead and PlayStation had to put in a lot of crunch effort to increase player capacity on the game’s servers, and keep the whole thing running smoothly.

It took some time to get there, but people suffered through the long-queue times because when they did get in, all the waiting felt worth it. Everything around these launch struggles though is how Johan Pilestedt first showed his willingness to be so transparent with the community, it felt like more than a breath of fresh air.

Once things were sorted on the technical front, the game continued striding forward, with Arrowhead leaning into the narrative of Super Earth spreading democracy that is the glue to the role-playing potential in Helldivers 2. While of course gamers almost always find something to complain about, overall there were really no complaints you could lob at Arrowhead for the direction they were taking the game in.

Until on May 3, 2024, Sony published a statement to the game’s Steam community page, notifying players that beginning May 6, 2024, all brand new players to Helldivers 2 on PC will be required to link their Steam accounts to a PlayStation Network account. Players already on PC who had not linked there accounts would have until June 4, 2024 to do so.

Sony explained that this requirement was originally meant to be in the game since day one, but after the technical issues the team faced at launch, a decision was made to keep the account linking temporary, to take as much pressure off the servers as possible, and prioritize ensuring that the servers could handle the huge influx of players, over the account linking.

“Due to technical issues at launch of Helldivers 2, we allowed the linking requirements for Steam accounts to a PlayStation Network account to be temporarily optional. That grace period will now expire,” Sony wrote.

“Account linking plays a critical role in protecting our players and upholding the values of safety and security provided on PlayStation and PlayStation Studios games. This is our main way to protect players from griefing and abuse by enabling the banning of players that engage in that type of behaviour. It also allows those players that have been banned the right to appeal.”

The Backlash

The announcement didn’t sit well with anyone. At best players were ambivalent, and at worst they were very, very upset. Issues were taken on multiple fronts from players.

Firstly, the big issue is the simple fact that you can have a Steam account in more countries and regions than you can have a PSN account in. Which meant that there were a lot of Helldivers 2 players around the world who would soon not be able to play the game without a workaround that could potentially have them breaking Sony’s terms of service.

The fact that this was always true, and that the account linking requirement was meant to be there from day one, means that Sony was ready, from day one, to sell a game in regions where those players would be unable to play the game they purchased, without an aforementioned questionable workaround.

Secondly, the security claim was laughable to many, as players quickly pointed to Sony’s own history of security breaches. Thirdly, a lot of players also expressed a heavy fatigue with needing to have a publisher-specific account for every game in today’s day-and-age.

Players upset with the old/new requirement used the only tools they had at their disposal – speaking out against the change over social media channels, and review-bombing the game on Steam. Both were done to an incredible degree, so much that Pilestedt acknowledged the review-bombing and apologized for the change and for “how this all transpired.”

Pilestedt didn’t try to ask players to stop review-bombing the game, even calling it “warranted,” and the review-bombing kept getting worse the longer we went without any official word from Sony. Meanwhile, Pilestedt and the rest of the Arrowhead team in the game’s official Discord made it clear that they were not happy with how things were going.

And they especially made it clear that this decision did not come from Arrowhead – it came from Sony. Upset players issued more than 300,000 negative reviews in just three days.

Looking back on the whole situation has also shown that, while players were review-bombing Helldivers 2, they weren’t submitting a negative review then hopping on to kill bugs. They also weren’t playing Helldivers 2, and the drop in numbers is clear.

Also, Steam had begun issuing refunds to players requesting them, making exceptions for players who had played the game for more than 2 hours.

Arrowhead And Sony’s Response: Take 1

It should be noted that Pilestedt didn’t tell players to stop review-bombing the game, nor did he tell them to keep review-bombing the game. The associate community manager for Helldivers 2 however, who goes by “Spitz” in the official Discord, did in fact tell players to review-bomb the game.

For most of this fiasco, Sony didn’t say anything. It was all Arrowhead trying to be transparent and keep communications up, but things didn’t start off great.

The aforementioned community manager first responded by saying “It’s not like this is the first or even the fourteenth mainstream game to require a third-party account that takes a couple of minutes to create, but if it’s a dealbreaker to have to take 120 seconds out of your day to enter an email and make a password and then forget about it, change your Steam review and make your displeasure known on a platform where it matters.”

It should be noted that Pilestedt didn’t tell players to stop review-bombing the game, nor did he tell them to keep review-bombing the game. Spitz did tell players to review-bomb the game, and doubled-down even further after his initial response, which still struck as tone-deaf in the face of players who quite literally could not make a PSN account.

Spitz said “I want people to make their displeasure known in a place where it might actually make a difference, Steam reviews and refund requests will do that, angry posting in the Discord won’t. I’m not happy about this decision either.”

And players did that so much, the negative reviews put the game’s overall review score into “Mixed” on Steam, while recent reviews sat at the bottom at “Overwhelmingly Negative.”

Pilestedt and the Arrowhead team did what they could to calm nerves and keep communication going. Pilestedt showed a consistent level of transparency that didn’t stop when players were at their angriest. He continued to reply and even gave a full timeline of why this account-linking requirement was there in the first place, when players were asking about contract details, wanting answers that Pilestedt realistically wasn’t at liberty to fully speak on.

That he still said what he could however, spoke volumes as to how important this level of clarity was important to him and the team.

Meanwhile, Sony still wasn’t saying anything, and instead spoke with an action that just made things worse. Almost as if Sony realized the mistake of offering Helldivers 2 in countries that couldn’t create PSN accounts only just as this was going on, Sony pulled the game from Steam in more than 170 regions.

To be clear, Sony didn’t just remove it from Steam to stop it being sold to more players that, with these new rules, wouldn’t be able to play the game – Sony removed total access to Helldivers 2, so anyone who had bought the game was now locked out of it.

Unsurprisingly this didn’t make things better for how players felt and the whole situation, but at the very least it inspired plenty of Thanos-related memes of players being ‘snapped’ out of games when Sony cut access in regions across the world.

Arrowhead And Sony’s Response: Take 2

After Arrowhead was actively telling players to tank the game’s review score on Steam, and Sony removed the game from sale in more than 170 regions, and the review-bombing didn’t stop, but in fact spread to other PlayStation published games on Steam, Sony tried speaking up for a change.

This time, what Sony had to say was taken well by players – because On May 6, just three days after the announcement that kicked this all off, Sony revealed it would be backtracking and not moving forward with the decision to require all PC players to link their Steam accounts to a PSN account to play Helldivers 2.

“Helldivers fans — we’ve heard your feedback on the Helldivers 2 account linking update,” Sony began in a statement published on Twitter. “The May 6 update, which would have required Steam and PlayStation Network account linking for new players and for current players May 30, will not be moving forward.

We’re still learning what is best for PC players and your feedback has been invaluable. Thanks again for your continued support of Helldivers 2 and we’ll keep you updated on future plans.”

This was the victory players wanted, the requirement to go away, and remain optional, as it was in the first place. This time, things went over much better with players, and despite not being obliged to do so, players began changing their reviews from negative to positive.

Out of the 300,000+ negative reviews left over the three day period this lasted, there have already been more than 200,000 positive reviews, which shows that a huge number of players are sticking to their word of changing it back to positive now that the requirement is removed.

Pilestedt has even gone further with the change, and suggested a cape for players that symbolizes the initial review-bombing before the decision reversal. In what’s become consistent Helldivers 2 fashion, it looks like the cape will actually be implemented into the game.

The Aftermath…?

Since the reversal, things are already back on the rise for Helldivers 2 and the community. Pilestedt revealed that someone sent the team flowers, as a sign of support. The review bombing has stopped, and players are rescinding their negative statements on the game on Steam and across social media.

Even though things feel like they’re finished, that’s unfortunately far from the truth. Now, account linking for every PlayStation game published to Steam going forward will be a question. People were quick to look to Ghost Of Tsushima, where Sucker Punch had to confirm that account linking will be required for those that want to play the online multiplayer Legends mode.

It will not be required if you just want to play the single player campaign, however.

More important than account linking though, is the fact that even two days after the reversal decision, at time of publishing on May 8, 2024, Helldivers 2 is still unavailable to access in those 170+ regions. That hasn’t been changed.

What to do about the account linking is a conversation that’s still happening between Arrowhead and Sony. Once again coming from the game’s official Discord, one of the game’s community managers has made it clear that this isn’t over yet.

“Ideally, we would’ve liked to have some more information before posting an announcement here. However, as questions about the details surrounding account linking keep pouring in, and understandably so, we feel it’s better to say something, even if it’s not much,” they began. (Just another example of the consistent clarity).

“We don’t have any updated information about the account linking yet, particularly of anything related to players outside PSN regions. To clarify and per Sony’s earlier statement, mandatory account linking will not be going forward. There are still ongoing discussions between parties about the details and we at Arrowhead acknowledge and respect that it will take some time to sort those out.

We therefore kindly ask you, our cherished community, hardcore helldivers and precious players, to try to be patient as well. As soon as we learn more we’ll post an update here.”

So it’s clear there will be more to come on this front. What that looks like remains to be seen, but there will be more.

What we’re also left with is another example of how players can weaponize their voice, when action is taken collectively. It was an onslaught of review-bombs and pressure from a community that, arguably had been trained by Arrowhead to perform in this way. The charge to review-bomb the game and hope to change Sony’s mind was treated like an in-game “Major Order,” by players, an call-to-action Arrowhead uses with new content.

It’s happened before with PlayStation, notably with the attempted shutdown of the PS3 and PS Vita digital storefronts. It’s happened again with Helldivers 2. Will it happen with every major decision that creates backlash from players? Definitely not. Does it open the door a little more to the idea of it happening more often? Definitely yes.

Also, remember the associate community manager who told the Helldivers 2 community to review-bomb the game if they want to make their voices heard? Well they are now the former associate community manager it would seem, though it’s unclear if they left or were fired for their handling of the whole situation.

Now that we’re in the aftermath of sorts for this whole fiasco, it’s important to remember two things. First, that it’s not over yet, and we know that there will be more said on account linking for Helldivers 2 in the future from Sony.

Second, that this didn’t have to happen in the first place. All Sony needed to do was absolutely nothing, and Helldivers 2 would’ve continued without this blip on its record. Now, the community will have little to no trust in Sony regarding anything they say about Helldivers 2’s future.

Not that it’s wise to trust corporations or the people who run them, because at the very top of the food chain, money and data are more important commodities than quality products.

Make no mistake, the collection of player data and increase of PSN numbers was, at the very least, considered a boon when requiring all Steam players make a PSN account, and that’s being as gracious as possible without trying to claim it was a key factor in why Sony made the push for it to happen at all.

Hopefully this event is taken as something to learn from, and that in the future we see less of these entirely avoidable issues. Pilestedt made it clear when he presented a timeline of the account linking even being discussed that Arrowhead saw this backlash coming. They told Sony it wouldn’t go down well with PC players, and Sony didn’t listen.

We can only hope someone will listen the next time a similar warning is issued. For now, we’ll be updating this article as more comes to pass, since there will be more to add when a permanent decision is made and revealed around account linking, and whether or not the regions currently without access to the game will get it back.

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