What the heck is going on with Helldivers 2?

How a Steam account-linking fiasco turned into a victory for democracy.

Sony Interactive Entertainment

In the last five days, Helldivers 2 was removed from the PC market in 177 countries and the game’s Steam reviews collapsed under the weight of more than 200,000 negative ratings, dropping from Positive to Mixed. It’s now Tuesday and the Helldivers 2 Steam page is overrun with people ranting against Sony and celebrating democracy, and for anyone taking their first glance at the game, it’s all a bit confusing.

Here’s what’s going on.

Helldivers 2 is a third-person co-op shooter developed by independent team Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It went live on PlayStation 5 and Steam on February 8, marking a rare instance of cross-platform parity from Sony. Immediately, Helldivers 2 was a hit on PC — it clocked more concurrent players on Steam than any other PlayStation game, beating God of War, Spider-Man Remastered, Horizon Zero Dawn and The Last of Us Part I. Helldivers 2 was so popular in its first few weeks that Arrowhead’s servers had trouble meeting demand and had to be capped at 450,000 players.

“I am completely exhausted by the success,” Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt tweeted one week post-launch. “So is the team, many, many late nights, on-calls, emergency meetings, discussions around server capacity, shards, capacity units, CPU utilization, login rates and CCU. Tired, but very, very pleased.”

Helldivers 2
Helldivers 2 (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Helldivers 2 is one of the first tests of Sony’s long-term multiplatform goals. While Pilestedt was taking stock of Helldivers 2’s launch week, Sony executives were telling investors about their fresh plans to aggressively chase revenue streams on PC. Sony president Hiroki Totoki said the objective was to “proactively work on” releasing first-party games on PC alongside PlayStation, a shift from the company’s longstanding console-first approach.

Helldivers 2 isn’t a first-party Sony game, but it’s console-exclusive to PlayStation 5 and Sony has been supporting its development as its publisher. As long as Helldivers 2 has had a Steam page, it’s also had a dijon-yellow notification box alerting players that they’ll need to link up a PlayStation Network account in order to play. According to Sony, account linking is all in the name of security and cross-platform play, but of course it also helps boost the studio’s PSN monthly active user numbers.

Due to the game’s early network issues, Sony decided to postpone the account-linking requirement when Helldivers 2 went live on Steam on February 8. It hit the digital PC storefront for $40 with no notable region or account-linkage restrictions. For nearly three months, Helldivers 2 had its moment in the sun.

And then it started to burn. On Thursday, May 2, Sony announced that all Helldivers 2 Steam players would be required to log into their PSN accounts in order to continue accessing the game on PC. The requirement would go live for new players on May 6, and existing players would start seeing a mandatory login prompt at the end of the month.

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

Usually this wouldn’t be a massive issue, since PSN accounts are free and it’s relatively painless to link one to Steam. However, Helldivers 2 had been sold around the world, and PSN is only available in 73 countries. That would leave well over 100 countries and territories in the lurch, with those players unable to play a game they'd already paid for. Refunds were also out of the question for most players — especially the most dedicated ones — since Steam generally limits those to games that’ve been played for less than two hours. The bad reviews started pouring in.

Helldivers 2 Steam reviews
Helldivers 2 Steam reviews (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Neither Arrowhead nor Sony seemed to know what to do next. Sony published an FAQ in the Helldivers 2 Discord that didn’t offer solutions, and instead seemed to advise affected players to create PSN accounts in different countries, a violation of the platform’s terms. It became readily apparent through tweets and Discord updates that while Sony was the driving force behind the PSN requirement, Arrowhead developers kind of hated it. They even encouraged the review riot.

“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,” Arrowhead associate community manager Spitz posted in the game’s Discord server on Friday. “I’m not happy about this decision either.”

Over the weekend, more than 200,000 people posted negative reviews of Helldivers 2 on Steam, tanking its overall rating. On Sunday, May 5, Sony silently removed Helldivers 2 from Steam in 177 countries and territories that don’t have access to PSN.

That same day, Arrowhead CEO Pilestedt tweeted, “We are talking solutions with PlayStation, especially for non-PSN countries. Your voice has been heard, and I am doing everything I can to speak for the community — but I don't have the final say.”

Helldivers 2
Helldivers 2 (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

On May 6, the day the PSN requirement was set to go live for new players, Sony backtracked. The company tweeted that its account-linking plans would “not be moving forward.” The message continued, “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.”

Helldivers 2 is now playable in every region that has Steam, with the option to link a PSN account. Notably, it's not purchasable in the countries that were blocked by Sony on May 5. Still, the game's PC review score is slowly recovering as the rioters return to adjust their rankings, now alongside cheeky messages about the power of democracy.

On Monday, Pilestedt quoted Sony’s reversal tweet and added, “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.”

With Helldivers 2, the account-linking issue was easily avoidable. Sony was knowingly selling a game to people who wouldn’t be able to play it — but first, it gave them a paid trial and three months of false hope. At best, it looks like Sony was completely unaware of the logistics that would support its bold new PC strategy. At worst, it all feels mildly diabolical.

Helldivers 2 Steam reviews
Helldivers 2 Steam reviews (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

It’s unclear what the 2024 Helldivers 2 Steam riots will mean for future Sony games on PC, but there’s another test coming up soon with the release of Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut on May 16. Just like Helldivers 2, the game’s Steam page contains a little yellow rectangle warning players that it requires a PSN account for online multiplayer and the PlayStation overlay. According to SteamDB, Ghost of Tsushima is currently on sale in a handful of countries that don’t have PSN.

As the Helldivers 2 drama began to kick off on May 3, Ghost of Tsushima developer Sucker Punch Productions responded to a concerned fan on X with the following account-linking clarification: "Just so you are aware, A PSN account is required for Legends online multiplayer mode and to use PlayStation overlay. It is not required to play the singleplayer game."

As long as the terms of engagement are clear and Sony doesn't attempt to pull the rug out from under players three months after the game comes out, that all sounds just fine. Account linking isn't a new or even rare scenario in gaming — Microsoft (including Activision Blizzard), Ubisoft, Riot, EA and most other major video game studios require a proprietary sign-in to access their games on Steam and other third-party storefronts. The issue with Helldivers 2 wasn't account linking. The issue was Sony's short-sighted execution of a high-profile PC rollout and its poor communication with upset players after the fact.

Most gaming fans want to see PlayStation titles on PC, and Sony wants to wring as much money out of its core franchises as possible by putting them on additional platforms — this plan should be win-win. With Helldivers 2, it's been more like win-lose-win, but at least we got there in the end.

Update, May 7, 3PM ET: This article previously stated that Helldivers 2 was available to purchase on Steam regardless of region, but at publication, it is still delisted in countries without PSN.