Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our subscriber list to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly in your inbox.

Helldivers 2 controversy is the dumbest lesson Sony learned, just ask Microsoft

Among the biggest surprise successes in videogaming this year is Helldivers 2, the third-person squad-based PVE, which has gone on to become one of the most played games on PC and PlayStation this year. Even three months later, after the hype has cooled somewhat, the game remains high on Steam’s most played charts.

But a recent controversy threatened to sabotage all the good will Helldivers 2 has incurred. It’s one that could have been avoided had publisher Sony looked to lessons learned in the past by Microsoft. After months of fun and good times, Helldivers 2 announced that it would require players to sign up and link a PlayStation account in order to continue the fight for managed democracy.

PC players took to review bombing the game on Steam, leaving over 300,000 negative reviews that tanked the game from ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ to a fiery red ‘Mostly Negative.’ In many cases, review bombing has been a bad faith tactic gamers use to punish developers for anything from ‘wokeness’ and other personal or political slights. But in this case, players felt this was their only means of expressing displeasure to Sony and developer Arrowhead Studios.

The thing is, PC players absolutely detest signing up for additional accounts and services to play games. At worst, they openly despise being required to buy games on additional storefronts like Battle.Net Launcher and EA Play. Applications like Ubisoft Connect and Rockstar Games Launcher required by some publishers are treated with contempt.

Furthermore, a PlayStation account isn’t widely available to every person in every region and territory. Players from over 100 countries would effectively have to lie or misrepresent their location in order to sign up for an account. Already, millions of Filipinos select “Hong Kong,” “Singapore” or “United States” when signing up for PlayStation services.

Must be great to be in a region that’s universally recognized as a valid sales market.

That hasn’t really been an issue, historically, but doing so is a violation of the Terms of Service. Effectively speaking, Helldivers 2 would require many players to violate the Terms of Service and bet on the non-zero chance that Sony turns a Sauron-like gaze upon their account and suspends it. Players who have clocked in hours into Sony’s game shouldn’t be put into that position.

Not to cut a story too short, but after a few days of this, Sony reversed course. The publisher announced over their social media that the update that would have activated the requirement would no longer be pushing through. This was after Steam removed Helldivers 2 from their storefront in over 100 territories, effectively suspending sales revenue for the game on PC.

This hasn’t discouraged the publisher entirely. It has only caused it to alter some plans. In the aftermath, Ghost of Tsushima, which arrives on PC later this month, headlines have focused on how a PlayStation account is not required to play the game’s epic single-player story. But the fine print shows it will still be a requirement for the game’s multiplayer mode, Legends.

This treading of water with PlayStation resembles a similar situation that Microsoft was in over fifteen years ago with ‘Games for Windows Live.’ Introduced as a way to unify all of the company’s gaming products on PC with Xbox Live service that flourished on Microsoft’s consoles, it was widely panned for introducing many obstructions that make PC gaming so appealing to its staunchest diehards.

The service had encrypted save files, actively made modding games difficult and experienced a wealth of technical issues that simply weren’t worth features that were often unreliable at best, buggy at worst. It was one of the most derided eras of Windows gaming history and the now discontinued service remains an albatross for the PC ports of games like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. The modern Xbox ecosystem is the inheritor of Games for Windows Live’s questionable legacy, but it is also a vast improvement in every regard.

Technical issues persist when you launch Fallout 3 on PC thanks to Games for Windows Live integration.

Today, Xbox Game Pass and the Xbox app on desktops and smart devices let players access a wealth of games on any device through cross platform progression and cloud streaming. While it’s not without its quirks, Xbox isn’t regarded with the same level of disdain as Games for Windows Live. That’s because Microsoft learned that a service on a historically open platform like PC should never place limits but rather, open the door for what’s possible for developers and consumers.

If PlayStation is going to continue to expand into the PC space with more ports of beloved exclusives like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 and God of War Ragnarok, it’s going to put greater thought into decisions like these. It can start, by taking a good look at the experiences of Microsoft with Games for Windows Live and hopefully, learn the right lessons.