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Big, fat disclaimer, right up front: I have not played Helldivers 2. I haven't played it on PS5. I haven't played it on PC. So I don't really have a horse in this race either way. But since I do have an interest in corporations trying to pull sleazy bullshit, I've been casually trying to keep up with what's been going on with Helldivers 2, and want to weigh in with my own thoughts (for whatever they're worth).

Honestly, I think that both Sony and also the PC Hellidvers 2 players come out of this looking like assholes, and I have very mixed feelings over the whole thing.

On the one hand, Sony requiring a PSN account for online play of a PC game post-launch gives off strong bait-and-switch vibes. It's especially bad considering that the game was sold in regions that do not have access to PSN. So what the heck were those players supposed to do? Sony selling the game in those regions, knowing full well that it won't be playable a few months after launch, absolutely deserves anger and a middle finger. And those players should absolutely be outraged and demand refunds. Those players are the only actors in this particular instance who are completely in the right, and deserve everyone else's un-conditional sympathy and support.

And yes, Sony knew full well that they would be changing the game post-launch to require a PSN account. It was clearly posted for months prior to the game's release. Everybody knew this was happening long before the game launched. It should not have been a surprise to anybody. And yet Steam still sold it in those regions, and all these players bought it anyway. Caveat emptor.

Helldivers 2 on Steam required a PSN account to play.

I feel that PC players should have every right to be annoyed that Sony would require a PSN account in order to play the game. If you don't own a PlayStation, then you shouldn't need a PSN account to play a PC game, especially a PC game that was fully playable without a PSN account for months after launch. This is a matter of principle.

Like, if I were to have a stroke and suddenly start thinking that Elder Scrolls VI might actually be good at launch, and I decide to buy it on the PS5 (or PS6 or PS7 or whatever the hell generation of console it may eventually release on), then I would be annoyed if Microsoft asked me to create a new XBox account in order to play a game on my PlayStation. I wouldn't want to do it, and if I can get away without having to do it, without significantly damaging the gameplay experience, then I won't do it. But if it's required, then I'll bite the bullet and create the bloody XBox account. After all, it's Microsoft's game, and they have every right to require an account as a condition for releasing the game on a PlayStation console to begin with. And it's not like they're asking me to pay for the account, or to install some stupid launcher or DRM that is going to run in the background and spy on me or grind my system's performance to a halt.

So yeah, I sympathize with the PC players of Helldivers 2. But jeez, does this minor inconvenience really warrant the scorched Earth approach that PC players took? They boycotted the game, asked for refunds, and review-bombed it on Steam. If all this protest were being done in solidarity with the aforementioned people who bought the game in places where Sony does not provide PSN access, that would be one thing. But so much of what I see looks like angry PC players who just don't want to have to sign up for a PSN account. This, despite the fact that many other PC games on Steam require 3rd-party accounts in order to play, whether it's a Microsoft account, an EA Origin account, Ubisoft account, 2K account, and so forth. Almost every publisher has their own account that they want gamers to use when playing their games. Granted, very few games require such an account in order to play, but they almost all have them. I'm pretty sure I needed to create an Ubisoft account to play the awful Skull and Bones demo.

And that's to say nothing of all the PC games that include 3rd party launchers, DRM, or other software that borders on malware, but which PC players seem to tolerate in most games. Every now and then, there will be an uproar regarding specific DRM, especially some of the DRM or tracking software that looks suspiciously like malware or spyware. Those games will get boycotts and review bombs. This happened to Firaxis and Civilization VI a couple years after that game's release. There was justifiable outrage in that instance because the launcher prevented some players from playing, and the Red Shell monitoring software was collecting player data without their knowledge, and might have been slowing down the performance of their PCs.

But as far as I know, nobody is suggesting that a PSN account is anything close to spyware or malware. As far as I know, Helldivers 2 only required a free PSN account. It did not require a paid PS Plus account. Though, I can definitely see there being an argument for the slippery slope here: just because Sony doesn't require a PS Plus account to play Helldivers 2 now, that doesn't mean that they won't suddenly require a paid account in the future. After all, playing almost any online multiplayer game on a PS4 or PS5 requires a paying for a PS Plus account (including the PS5 version of Helldivers 2). But let's be clear: Sony was not asking any PC players to buy a paid PS Plus account to play Helldivers 2 (at least not at this time).

As far as sleazy corporate bullshit goes in the video games industry, requiring an account for an online multiplayer game is about as benign as things get. And if that account was going to be used to collect analytics and play data that would be used to improve the game's balance, or for cheat-detection and enforcement, or any other mechanism that could tangibly improve the gaming experience, then PC players may have actively sabotaged Helldivers 2's long-term future. The "negative" or "mixed" reviews currently on Steam sure as heck aren't going to do much to attract a larger player base, which is a really important thing for the long-term success of an online multiplayer game. The boycotts and review bombs may have done as much (or more) damage to the game's long-term viability than Sony did.

Steam players want Sony exclusives, but draw the line at creating a PSN account to play them?

So yeah, I think that the outrage shown by PC players over this situation is completely overblown and makes them look like spoiled assholes. They refuse to buy consoles (whether it's because they genuinely can't afford one, don't want one, or out of some smug sense of superiority), but they keep begging for Sony to release PC ports of its popular first-party exclusives. Then they cry foul when Sony gives them one of those exclusives, but has the nerve to ask them to sign up for a PSN account? Like, I get the frustration over having to create a cloud account, or have an internet connection to play a single player game with no multiplayer functionality at all (ahem, I'm looking at you, SimCity (2013)!). But this is a Sony-published online multiplayer game!

At the same time, I think Sony's approach was stupid and asshole-ish as well. A much better way of handling this would have been to make the PSN account optional, but to incentivize player to use a PSN account by giving them additional perks. For example, a PSN account could be required for cross-play between PC and PS5 multiplayer servers, but not necessary to play in PC-only servers (which I think would be hosted by Steam anyway, and require no infrastructure from Sony). Microsoft, for instance, already does that with Minecraft, which has online multiplayer with other PC players being available without an XBox account, but cross-play with XBox players does require an XBox account. Sony also could have thrown in some exclusive cosmetic items for anyone who signs in with a PSN account (including all PS5 players, by default), or some other superficial bonus content. That would have the psychological effect of making the PSN account look like a reward that people would want to have, instead of like a burden that you need to have.

Further, Sony should have had the PSN option available on launch day (including the ability to cross-play). It should not have been something that they changed about the game months after release. And, of course, there should have been some accommodations for players in regions that do not have PSN support. In fact, if the PSN account were optional (and only required for cross-play), then people in un-supported regions would still be able to play online perfectly fine -- just not in cross-play with PS5 users. Ideally, if Sony is going to sell online multiplayer games in those regions, then it should have PSN support in those regions.

Anti-consumer decisions are starting to hit game publishers where it matters: in their bank accounts.

With all that being said, Sony's decision to reverse course on the PSN requirement is kind of a "win" from a consumer rights and protection standpoint. It shows that the voice of the consumer does matter. Complaints, negative reviews, and boycotts can, indeed, force concessions from these corporations. And it's kind of heartening to have seen some successes in this regard.

Consumers pushed back against crypto and NFTs in video games, and that worked! Consumers have begun rejecting live service games, which will hopefully force publishers to pivot back to making fully-featured offline games. Backlash against loot boxes in Star Wars: Battlefront II lead to legislative action and outright bans in some countries, and has created a chilling effect on some of the most obscene monetization schemes (though publishers continue to find new ways of shoving disgusting monetization practices into new games).

I wish there had been this kind of backlash against in-app purchases in Dead Space 3 and Oblivion all those years ago. Maybe we wouldn't be in the dystopic situation we're in now, regarding in-game monetization.

I wish this level of outrage had been levied against crunch culture.

I wish these boycotts and review bombs had been done against publishers like Activision and Ubisoft that were known to engage in (and cover-up) active sexual harassment and abuse of female employees.

Where is all this outrage whenever a publisher buys an up-and-coming game developer, only to force them to make a game that's outside of their wheelhouse, and then shut down the studio when that game underperforms? Hell, I don't remember anybody throwing a fit when Sony closed Japan Studio, which was its premiere development studio of first-party games (such as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gravity Rush, Bloodborne, and others).

Why are gamers willing to tolerate all this other despicable behavior from game publishers, but they're going to die on the hill of not wanting to create a free PSN account to play an online multiplayer game that is published by Sony? And that's to say nothing of all the awful stuff that's going on around the world that has nothing to do with video games! Things like war, genocide, economic inequality, climate change, and so forth. Can we maybe save our outrage for things that actually matter?

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