SONY, the distributor of the acclaimed videogame Helldivers 2, by Arrowhead Games, has taken the ‘L’ in their conflict with the Helldivers 2 gaming community.

SONY execs insisted, through a series of unfortunate mistakes, that players of Helldivers would need to get a PSN account in order to play the game, fespite the fact many regions on the planet are unable to do so, due to <insert Internet, political, technological reasons> to get access to a PSN account. The company Arrowhead knew this, but decided they would allow the players to play the game and put this onerous requirement onto the backburner it deserved to be on.

If you were one of 177 countries worldwide (there are only 193 countries on Earth) you would be required to have a PSN account or you would be unable to use Helldivers 2. Worse, Steam, (a Valve company) locked out the purchase of the game in those countries because of that restriction.

One of the most popular games in recent memory, Helldivers 2 has a galvanized fan base, and ironically, motivated by the very nature of the game’s internal dialog of “FOR DEMOCRACY!” It was clear that SONY had no idea what it was dealing with.

The game was a success. Not just a success, a rousing, exuberant and multi-million sales driven success. You couldn’t have picked a better day to be Arrowhead Games. SONY was surely going to end up on the Game of the Year list.

But then SONY grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory. They demanded the activation of the PSN requirement. Arrowhead developers hadn’t insisted on activating this feature. SONY insisted it was necessary, they say, to keep people from cheating, even though the PlayStation Network hasn’t been the most secure online repository of information.

If we are being honest, SONY PlayStation Network doesn’t have the greatest record for security and I can understand why gamers might not want to risk their information on that network service. We all know the only reason this data is being collected is so it can be sold to someone later for “demographic data” and profit. Technology companies pretend users don’t know this and users pretend this isn’t happening so it is the perfect circle of denial.

SONY’s PlayStation Network (PSN) was breached in 2011 and the personal information and passwords of 70 million users was compromised. That breach was followed by many smaller ones. In 2014 came the massive Sony Pictures Entertainment hack, which has been linked to state-affiliated North Korean hackers. Security for the gaming network has remained a challenging issue for the company and frankly fans weren’t pleased when the optional creation of an account promoted by Arrowhead Games became a mandatory requirement.

Steam, a Valve company, unsure where to stand began to rescind sales of the game in a list of countries. This was an ugly bit of business made worse by their policy which said if you played more than two (2) hours, you were ineligible for a refund or credit. If you bought the game after the change you could play it, but if you hadn’t you couldn’t.

Having access to the game and being able to play it, were two entirely different things. Without a PSN, the threat was by May 30, you would simply be unable to play and would have no recourse.

Whew. To recount:

  • A madly successful game produced by an independent game company is required to force players to register, but didn’t because they wanted to make sure the game got wide distribution and attention. So far, so good.
  • The aforementioned registration was to the larger distributor’s (SONY) relatively insecure network service for continued access, on the pretense of security. A layered problem with no clear reason other than data collection.
  • A network where more than 80% of the countries where the game CAN be played cannot gain access to that network (for a variety of unrelated reasons) and the players were unable to get a refund if they played more than two hours. (This appears to have been corrected, at last reading.)
  • This problem is worsened because if you live in a country where Helldiving might not be allowed due to this challenge, you could not use a virtual private network (VPN) to get around the national border issue because this violates SONY’s terms of service. Nor can you be assured of any kind of security on the PSN because… You just couldn’t. SONY is a hacking target and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
  • Ultimately, this was caused by the supposed need to keep cheaters and harassment to a minimum, might have been better served by a two-party authentication process capable of being implemented for anyone, anywhere, country notwithstanding.

Pardon my language, but this warrants the term ‘shitshow’ like few things ever have. I can see a FAFO* moment aborning.

Not to worry, the independently-minded Helldivers took things into their own hands and review-bombed Helldivers 2 from one of the most popular games on STEAM to a middling morass which fans further mocked by creating several shameful icons, such as the Orbital Review Bomb or the Cape of Negative Reviews, featuring the iconic negative review chart found online. Fans of the game hope Arrowhead will turn it into a signature cape for the game to commemorate just how stupid greed can be.

Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt was clearly disturbed with how this turned out saying on X:

“I do have a part to play. I am not blameless in all of this – it was my decision to disable account linking at launch so that players could play the game. I did not ensure players were aware of the requirement and we didn’t talk about it enough.

“ We knew for about 6 months before launch that it would be mandatory for online PS titles.”

What did we learn today? SONY, despite being one of the most powerful and influential gaming companies in the world, has looked into the abyss and the fans stared back, those same fans who made the game wildly popular have proven they will engaged orbital weapons of mass destruction upon their enemies, no matter who they are.

A metaphor directly out of Helldivers 2 itself. Is this the end of this conversation? After the review bombing, the bad press, the reduced numbers, the burning shame of taking the Game of the Year and instead becoming the most Mocked Game of the Year, it appears SONY has decided to rescind their directive for PSN accounts saying:

“Helldivers fans — we’ve heard your feedback on the Helldivers 2 account linking update. The May 6 update, which would have required Steam and PlayStation Network account linking for new players and for current players beginning 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.”

Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt’s response:

“Firstly, I am impressed by the willpower of the @helldivers2 community and your ability to collaborate. Secondly I want to thank our partners and friends at @PlayStation for quickly and effectively making the decision to leave PSN linking optional. We together want to set a new standard for what a live game is, and how developers and community can support each other to create the best game experiences.”

The SteamDB does not reflect whether STEAM will return those ousted countries back to the good graces of the Helldivers 2 community as of yet. I suspect there will be a bit more news on this in the days ahead, but it appears for now, Super Earth is safe and back on course with legions of Helldivers screaming: FOR LIBERTY!

We’ll see how long it lasts. For Managed Democracy Monthly, Super Earth Science Division, this is Thaddeus Howze, reporting.

orbital Review Bomb

“Unleash the Orbital Review Bomb!”


* an abbreviation for the phrase “F— around and Find Out”

Thaddeus Howze
Thaddeus Howze

Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.