Helldivers II - Did They Earn Their Monetisation?

Helldivers II - Did They Earn Their Monetisation?

Helldivers 2 has had a messy launch - especially as it's Sony's first Live Service. But as fans flock to the game, and the CEO argues they're earning their monetisation - we ask if that's true.

Conor Caulfield

"You have to earn the right to monetize" - I truly believe that. If people want to support this title they have an option, but we are never forcing anyone to do so.

The words of Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt in response to thanks from a player of Helldivers 2 - the first Live Service title launched under Playstation’s ongoing plan. As the game blows up in player counts, and the internet is flooded with memes and captured footage, we should actually check whether Helldivers II and Arrowhead studios have done the work. Have they actually earned the right to monetise?

What is Helldivers 2?

  • Helldivers was a 2015 isometric co-op twin stick shooter, developed by Arrowhead Studios, published by Playstation.
    • Arrowhead previously made the original Magicka.
  • The game features a thinly satirical force of supertroopers as they slaughter swarms of alien insects and robots to “defend democracy”
    • It had up to four player co-op, constantly on friendly fire and the ability to turn the tide of battle with player deployed stratagems like strafing runs or orbital strikes.
  • Folks loved it on launch on PS3/PS4/Vita - and then more did when it became the first Sony published game to also launch on PC nine months later.
  • Helldivers 2 is all of that, but in a similar way to previous exclusive Returnal, the step up to PS5 has the isometric game turn into a third person shooter and take advantage of the processing power of a PS5 by upping the detail and hordes.
  • The change has opened up the game to a whole new audience.
    • Folks have taken to twin stick shooters massively in the last few years with the resurgence of the genre thanks to titles like Vampire Survivors.
    • But there’s an inherent limitation in that chunks of the audience will automatically dismiss these games when they’re 2D.
  • In that sense, Helldivers 2 as a third person game is calling back to a different era - the third person shooter/horde mode waves that followed Gears of War.
  • Proven game team, proven design structure, more approachable (and marketable) aesthetic presentation, backed as Sony’s first new game of 2024.
    • All things that lend itself well to the idea of making a good game first - then earning the right to monetise.
  • Then things started to be a little fuzzier as we approached launch.

Pre Launch

  • There were concerns.
  • Helldivers 2 would be simultaneous launch on PC and PS5.
  • What would not be simultaneous with that launch were reviews.
  • There were no pre-launch reviews for Helldivers 2 - a Playstation published game.
    • There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that codes weren’t sent out to reviewers in any kind of blacklist.
    • But prior to launch, there was no coverage of the launch product.
  • To a degree, this makes sense - reviewing an online multiplayer game with no online community is hard.
    • But it set alarm bells ringing.
  • In addition to that, there were technical concerns.
  • Arrowhead announced there would be Kernel Level anti cheat being installed on PC - a system only really currently used for hyper competitive shooters like Valorant and Call of Duty.
    • Why did a PvE game need it?
  • Per Peter Lindgren, technical director (speaking to TechPowerUp) it’s all about maintaining the game’s balance, relating an anecdote from after the original launched on PC.
Shortly after release we noticed there was a cheat going around which granted 9999 research samples.
Unfortunately any non-cheaters in the same mission would also be granted 9999 research samples.
These non-cheating players now had their entire progression ruined through no fault of their own.
We were able to deal with a lot of these early issues without using a third party solution, but it took a lot of work, and most of it was done reactively.
  • In short - it’s about ensuring parity and avoiding the game’s live service model being broken.
  • Because yes - the change to a third person shooter also comes with the shift to a Live Service model - the first released under Playstation’s new plan.
  • And that’s where we get to whether the monetisation is earned.

How the Live Service Works

  • Helldivers 2 both is and isn’t a typical live service title.
  • It has a battle pass - the Warbond system.
    • These require you to use another currency (Medals) which are earned through completing missions, daily missions and can also be found during missions as loot.
    • These bonds work on a progression model, in that there will be a selection of cosmetics, emotes, premium currency and weapons available for unlock.
    • The first one is free to everyone at launch.
    • None of these warbonds will expire - so it’s a matter of unlocking what you like and then working towards it.
  • It also has a premium currency you can purchase with real money. (Super Credits at a rate of 150 per $1.99 to 2100 per $19.99)
    • But you can find that premium currency as loot (rarely) in the middle of missions.
    • With the developers estimating that at launch, it will be earnable at a rate of 10-40SC per hour - and the premium battle pass costs 1000.
    • While individual cosmetic helmet/cape/armour options range between 75 and 250SC in a rotating shop.
Helldivers 2’s microtransactions won’t stop you from having a good time
You won’t be stuck in microtransaction hell
  • Other than that, there’s other upgrade currencies that are used to upgrade your abilities but those are all earned through play.
  • As live service go - it’s certainly not the most egregious?
  • There has been concern around the weapons in the warbonds, where you can get different versions of the core weapons as part of the premium pass.
    • Were these pay to win?
    • Not really - in that they have slightly different stats but they aren’t necessarily better than the free warbond weapons.
    • And those still have to be unlocked with the medals earned through play - so it’s not a straightforward pay to win scenario.
  • Going back to Pilestedt’s comments on earning the right to monetise, he argues it’s not pay to win for that reason.
  • Which is kind of where the game is designed to reinforce that playing the game is how any gains are made.
  • For example, It has daily objectives.
    • Just One - which is currently something along the lines of “Kill 200 bugs with the Machine Gun weapon”
  • Meanwhile any “season” comes from Helldivers 2 having an always on campaign that sees all of the available player base trying to complete missions on the same planets - slowly completing a population wide goal of eventually liberating it.
    • At which point everyone playing will be getting rewards.
  • So monetisation simply unlocks other ways to progress, or cosmetics.
    • All geared towards encouraging play.
  • Which would be great
  • If players had been able to play or progress all weekend after launch.

The Launch

  • As a multiplayer game, it’s not surprising to see issues on launch with servers and connection problems.
    • When we initially saw it, our first reaction was to wonder if this was why the reviews hadn’t been out pre-launch.
  • The steam user reviews initially were 50/50 especially, with many of them blaming the kernel level anti cheat for crashes or server problems.
  • Things improved slightly - but over the course of the weekend, the team spent a significant amount of time attempting to fix the servers live.
    • Matchmaking didn’t work with anyone but friends
    • Crossplay seemed to break the game
    • Actually logging in to the game servers was a crapshoot
  • And most importantly - progression wasn’t being recorded.
  • Leading to a flurry of updates and fixes from the devs.
  • As it stands, any one of those would be bad.
    • All at once would be enough to kill any game, but especially a live service one.
  • In an update, Pilestedt explained that they and their service providers had expected total concurrent capacity of 250,000 players or so - and that they had increased their rate limit on those servers to 360,000.
    • And then as soon as they’d done that, the new capacity was also met.
    • Something backed up by peak player counts on Steam.
  • So new solutions were needed.
  • Explaining that the team had been firefighting all weekend, and needed to not burn out in order to fix the problems:
For now, please once again accept our sincere apologies for the issues you’re facing and rest assured, we’re doing our utmost to make it right. In order to do so, right now it is crucial that our team gets some sleep and we will be back at this again in a few hours.
  • And yet, as we come into the week - Audiences are absolutely forgiving Helldivers 2 for all of that.
  • People love this game.
  • To the point where it's Playstations' biggest PC launch ever - and ironically seemingly confirms that Xbox's principle of dual platform releases doesn't cannibalise sales.
Helldivers 2 is now PlayStation’s biggest Steam launch ever
Helldivers 2 is now Playstation’s biggest Steam launch, clocking up over 150,000 concurrent users on the PC platform ov…
  • A $40 title that offers system driven gameplay that creates dynamic, varied experiences each time you play.
    • One that lends itself so well to memetic spread as a result of the emergent gameplay
  • Where the team working on this game have refined their actual game design in prior multiplayer titles.
  • Where the monetisation doesn’t feel egregious to the audience.
  • And where even as the servers are visibly straining under the weight of interest - players are forgiving the developers a loss of progression because the core premise is so much fun.
  • There are things to be concerned about for Sony’s live service titles going forwards.
    • The lack of reviews especially is something audiences should not tolerate.
    • But when the stories came out about Bungie advising on live service principles, many feared the worst.
    • If Sony’s upcoming slate of MP Live Service titles like Concord, Fairgames and more are half as appreciated and unintrusive as Helldivers is - then they might be on to something.
    • Maybe they will have earned the right to monetise.