Sony demands PSN accounts for Helldivers 2 PC players, and it’s not going well

Helldivers 2 player posing in winter armor
Enlarge / This gear is from the upcoming “Polar Patriots” Premium Warbond in Helldivers 2. It’s an upcoming change the developer and publisher likely wish was getting more attention of late.

Sony Interactive Entertainment

There’s a lot of stories about the modern PC gaming industry balled up inside one recent “update” to Helldivers 2.

Sony Interactive Entertainment announced Thursday night that current players of the runaway hit co-op shooter will have to connect their Steam accounts to a PlayStation Network (PSN) account starting on May 30, with a hard deadline of June 4. New players will be required to connect the two starting Monday, May 6.

Officially, this is happening because of the “safety and security provided on PlayStation and PlayStation Studios games.” Account linking allows Sony to ban abusive players, and also gives banned players the right to appeal. Sony writes that it would have done this at launch, but “Due to technical issues … we allowed the linking requirements for Steam accounts to a PlayStation Network account to be temporarily optional. That grace period will now expire.”

“We understand that while this may be an inconvenience to some of you, this step will help us to continue to build a community that you are all proud to be a part of,” Sony writes in the update. The Helldivers community on Reddit is flush with dissenting posts today, and Steam reviews of the game have taken a marked turn since the announcement.

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

Oh, right, that PlayStation Network

It’s the combination of “safety and security” and “Sony” that make this more than just the typical grousing about game launchers, cross-play, or other user/password demands. The PlayStation Network was fully and famously hacked in April 2011, with 77 million users’ names, addresses, emails, birthdays, passwords, and logins compromised. Sony Online Entertainment also suffered a separate attack while PSN was down, exposing millions more accounts and thousands of credit card numbers. PSN came partially back online 26 days later, then fully online two weeks later, with a complimentary year of identity protection and Welcome Back packages for subscribers. Less than a month later, other aspects of Sony were hacked by LulzSec.

Sony was fined nearly $400,000 in the UK for the hack in 2013, which regulators said could have been prevented by updating software and taking precautions. Sony agreed to pay up to $17.5 million in a US class-action settlement in 2014, along with some providing free games and other benefits in 2015.

Those with a long enough memory of computers, security, and Sony might also recall the Sony rootkit debacle, which, while nearly 20 years old now, was such a notably bad and bizarre thing that it stuck around.

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

An online game people want less online

Helldivers 2 was not supposed to be this big a game. Sony was still cautiously trodding into PC games after years of treating its exclusive and first-party games as console leverage. Helldivers 2 was a sequel to a game that, while well-regarded, didn’t land as a smash hit.

Within one day of its launch, Helldivers 2 was Sony’s most successful PC launch, and it wasn’t even close. Within two weeks, it passed the all-time concurrent player counts of Starfield, Destiny 2, landing at 18 on the SteamDB charts. It helped that it launched on the same day as the PS5 version, was cheaper than most AAA titles, and arrived with no (uncommonly) egregious performance or crash issues. There were, as noted by Sony, early server issues, largely due to demand. Whatever the case, it was Sony’s seventh highest-grossing game as of May 1.

That success hurts the optics of Sony’s demand, months after it had an unexpected hit, that players must now register with its far-from-trusted network to keep playing. A non-mega-budgeted game, a trial-balloon sequel, hits big, and Sony, finding its footing in this new realm, doesn’t want to leave said opportunity as a one-time Steam purchase.

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Sony Interactive Entertainment

Two blimps jousting overhead

Helldivers 2 is explicitly multiplayer, and the action takes place on Sony’s servers. But Steam is the means by which Helldivers 2 reaches its players, fosters engagement, and, of course, tries to entice them into DLC, further sequels, and perhaps other Sony PC games—so long as they’re on also on Steam.

There are no rock-solid numbers on Steam’s PC gaming market share, but we know that the biggest competitor, Epic Games, is losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year giving away games just to get some kind of foothold. Steam’s market position, recommendation whims, and broad 30 percent revenue cut have left many companies searching for ways to disentangle their futures from a single platform. Sony just happens to be the one making the hard ask, for reasons that don’t entirely sound obvious months later, and with a network that has some tough Google search results.

It’s worth noting that PSN is not necessarily available in all countries where Steam sells games. We’ve reached out to Sony to ask about this and for further comment on their PSN requirement, and will update this post if we hear back.

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