Helldivers 2 Players Scramble to Undo Damage Caused Fighting A Controversial Change

Playing with fire.

screenshot from Helldivers 2
Arrowhead Studios

Helldivers 2 has been a massive success ever since its February launch — at least, it was until last week, when developer Arrowhead Game Studios announced that a PlayStation Network account would soon be required to play. Players responded by submitting hundreds of thousands of negative reviews on Steam, turning the game’s rating from Overwhelmingly Positive to Overwhelming Negative almost overnight. But unlike so many other review bombing campaigns, this one surprisingly ended in a tangible win for both Helldivers 2 players and its developer.

Review bombing campaigns and other forms of protest by players have grown quite common in recent years. While they’re sometimes tied to vague complaints over microtransactions and other unpopular decisions, they’re often used by reactionary agitators to punish developers for their political views, as was the case with The Last of Us Part II. That’s not what happened with Helldivers 2.

Helldivers 2 players briefly turned as militant as the game’s soldiers themselves to battle Sony.

Arrowhead Game Studios

Players in this case did have a clear and reasonable complaint in mind. The requirement to link a PSN account was poorly communicated before it was implemented, and it was going to leave players from regions where PSN accounts aren’t available without a way to play the game legitimately. Whether you agree with review bombing as a general tactic, this was a clear case where players felt misled and vented their frustration. Some Helldivers 2 developers even encouraged players to keep up the protest as a way of forcing Sony’s hand, and it worked.

Just days after the announcement, Sony reversed course, confirming that it would not require a PSN account to play Helldivers 2. That’s when the most remarkable part of the whole episode began.

Immediately, users in the Helldivers subreddit organized to undo the damage they’d done to the game’s reputation. Moderators posted a mockup of a Major Order — which are used to designate objectives in-game — called Operation Clean Up. The moderators asked players to remove their negative reviews and replace them with positive ones. And the community has largely complied.

As of writing, Helldivers 2’s Steam rating has risen back to Most Positive, and the vitriol players were expressing has largely dried up, replaced with satisfaction for a successful mission. Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt posted on social media that he was “impressed by the willpower of the Helldivers 2 community and your ability to collaborate,” after cheekily remarking that an image of Steam’s rating graph showing a rising number of negative reviews would make a good design for an in-game cape cosmetic.

Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt took Helldivers 2’s review bombing in stride.

That’s a far cry from many similar incidents, where players get up in arms about poorly defined or overtly regressive gripes and spend years taking their hurt feelings out on developers. The campaign against The Last of Us Part II I mentioned earlier resulted in violent threats against individual developers, for instance. To be clear, some Helldivers 2 players did take the controversy as an excuse to harass developers at Arrowhead, as they’ve been doing since the game launched. That kind of behavior is clearly abhorrent, and while it sometimes flourishes in places like the game’s subreddit, those taking out their anger on developers have also gotten significant pushback from others in the community.

Helldivers 2’s pervasive fascist satire — with everything from the game’s menus to posts from developers being written in character as if dictated by Super Earth’s leaders — has been a double-edged sword. While it’s led some players to take the roleplay much too far and use the same authoritarian rhetoric the game is mocking, it’s also helped bind many in the community together. The fight against Sony was in some ways treated the same as any other mission in the game by fans swept up in the idea of playing soldier.

As toxic as some Helldivers 2 fans can be, this latest chapter in the game’s history marks a rare time when players not only rallied to hold a publisher accountable while taking steps to avoid damaging the developer itself. For now, that seems like a solid win for everyone, but given the drama already surrounding the game, it may only be a matter of time before the community tries to flex its newfound power again.

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