Helldiver's Live Service Has People on Board. How?

Helldiver's Live Service Has People on Board. How?

Helldivers 2 is breaking all the rules. It’s a Live Service, AAA premium game that’s been borderline unplayable, with MTX and Battle Passes. And yet other than the servers, everyone loves it. How?

Conor Caulfield

Helldivers 2 is breaking all the rules. It’s a Live Service, AAA premium game that’s been borderline unplayable, with broken matchmaking and non functional progression - with twitch drops, microtransactions, battle passes and gameplay altering cosmetics. And yet other than the servers, everyone loves it. How can this possibly be the case when we watch games like Diablo 4 come out and be critiqued for the same problems?
Today we’ll break down the answers to this, the distinctions between this title and those other ones.

  • Helldivers 2 is suffering from Success.
  • The team at Arrowhead studios are working overtime (literally) to try and resolve the server issues that have been plaguing the game.
  • They’re now at a concurrent player count on Steam that utterly dwarfs any and all competition in the co-op shooter space.
  • Remember that this is a game where they expected to have a small enough concurrent population that individual GMs would be able to modify live matches.
    • These numbers are way beyond their expectations.
  • The servers are being worked on, and despite what those outside the dev team might say - it’s not as simple as buying more server space.
  • But other than Server issues - people love Helldivers 2.
    • In spite of it’s live Service nature.
  • To the point we’re getting headlines like:
“Helldivers 2 is an important reminder that Live Services games aren’t the enemy”.
Helldivers 2 is an important reminder that live service games aren’t always the enemy
And we could definitely use more reminders.
  • But why?

The $40 Argument

  • It’s fairly simple - for many, Helldivers 2 is okay because it’s a $40 AAA game that “feels” complete.
    • Compared to for instance, a Diablo game that costs $70 and that (for some) didn’t feel like it had an endgame on launch.
  • This does suggest there’s a spectrum, where players are more willing to accept a paid live service title at a “fair price”
    • But then we can look at free to play games like the recent MTX controversies for Apex Legends and see that the spectrum is probably more like a horseshoe.
  • So a $40 buy in is a start - but it’s not the whole story.
  • So let’s actually dig into the live service model of Helldivers 2.

Helldivers 2’s Live Service

  • Lets stick with Diablo 4 as a comparison point.
  • Both are sequels in series built around live service gameplay.
  • They are premium games which have shops, battle passes and plans for ongoing live service support.
  • As of right now, Diablo 4 has plans for ongoing content in the seasonal model, plus a paid expansion yearly.
    • The seasons are free to access with expiring paid passes.
  • The actual live service model for Helldivers 2 is unknown - though the team currently claim that they intend to be "constantly updating" with "enemies, objectives, biomes” and that these updates will be free.
    • Though they will have their own battle pass with the warbonds which will add new (non-expiring) progression for the game.
  • Overall, many similarities.
  • So why does the perception of Helldivers 2’s live service model not seem to put people off?
  • In fact, to go another PCGamer headline, why is it that:
Helldivers 2 is the least I’ve felt pressured to spend money on a game in years, so of course I’m buying everything in the store.
Helldivers 2 is the least I’ve felt pressured to spend money on a game in years, so of course I’m buying everything in the store
It’s not perfect, but Helldivers 2’s modest monetization is a breath of fresh air.

Why doesn’t Helldivers feel bad?

  • It comes down to several factors - everything is presented diegetically (or in universe), the presentation of purchase opportunities is limited - and the premium currency options feel fair.

Diegetic Design

  • The warbonds are possibly the best example of this diegetic design.
    • Super Earth has provided everyone’s first Warbond in HD2 - and it represents the core progression for the game including weapons and armour.
      • Effectively, the “free track” is the whole progression.
  • Things that are good here - no tier skips of any kind, they bonds don’t expire, the progression through each page only requires you to buy most of the items and there are 80 items total - including ~$7 of premium currency total.
  • If you want the premium bond - which will be the only options going forward, you get the chance to unlock 24 new items for $10.
  • All presented as part of the in game support you’re providing to Super Earth and the ongoing war efforts, with the medals earned from missions being spent on this.
    • It’s part of the narrative.
  • By contrast, in Diablo 4 - the season pass expires, each comes with a free track and paid track you can see yourself not getting the full value of, there’s tier skips and you get around ~$7 of premium currency total.
    • But it’s all presented as an external system, unconnected to anything other than the experience of completing missions for the season.
  • The diegetic element is important, because it obfuscates the actual feeling of the warbonds and store as being part of the play experience.
    • In Helldivers 2: Play mission, earn medals, come back, spend on warbonds - repeat.
    • In Diablo 4: Run dungeon, wait for ping as season level increases.
  • And this diegesis continues to the store.

Limited Purchase Opportunities

  • In HD2 you go to an “acquisitions” screen from your main hub, presented in the same way with the Warbonds progression or your ship upgrades, or galactic war map.
    • On that screen, there’s an image of what you could be buying - and a set of in universe reviews (that are usually written comedically).
lmao, are you guys reading the item reviews?
by u/_NauticalPhoenix_ in Helldivers
  • You have four options.
    • Two matched pairs for Armour and Helmets.
    • Ranging between (so far) 75 and 600 currency.
  • That’s it.
  • These rotate after 48 hours and it’s never clear when they may return.
    • Which yes - is a FOMO based design.
  • Proportionally - let’s look at D4’s shop.
    • They have a weekly rotation on items in the shop. (more FOMO)
    • That shop is personalised, so reflects your preferences for play.
    • Back in December - Diablo 4’s shop had 34 options total for purchase - with these ranging from mount armours and class accessories at 800 platinum to the Wraith Lord Prestige equipment set for 2800.
  • But it also has Addons and Bundles, like two of the most recent:
  • The Vitreous Scourge Bundle - $64.99 for a Horse and 7000 Platinum.
    • With the platinum being what you’re actually buying at a discount, and the horse effectively being free.
  • The Dark Pathways - $30 for a set of class locked portal skins and 1000 platinum.
    • Where you’re paying $4 per portal once you take out the platinum cost.
  • In both cases, you can’t just buy the cosmetic, you have to buy the bundle with the currency.
    • Both of these are external sales presentations to the player.
  • This is what we mean when we derisively refer to something as a purchase opportunity.
  • It’s a way of acquiring currency fast - while getting bonus cosmetics - in a deal presented to the player outside of the gameplay.
  • And what’s most key is how these currencies feel and interact with the above options.
  • The purchase options for these currencies are worth considering in contrast.
  • In Helldivers 2, Super Credits cost:
    • $1.99, $4.99, $9.99, $19.99 for 150, 375, 1000, 2100 respectively.
  • Contrast this with Diablo Platinum:
    • $4.99, $9.99, $24.99, $49.99, $99.99 and $149.99 for 500, 1000, 2800, 5700, 11,500 and 18,500 respectively.
  • Helldivers 2 never charges more than half of the price of the game for any currency.
    • D4 offers options that cost more than double the price of the game - in theory so you can buy “efficiently” with your options.
  • But the intent of the two shops, and two formats for purchase, differ drastically.
  • The four items in the HD2 shop cost between 75-600SC meaning a spend of $1.99 to $9.99 to get any one item in a given window.
  • The thirty four items in the Diablo store in December cost between 800 to 2800 Platinum - with the former costing $9.99 to buy and the latter $24.99 to buy.
  • When presented with this - it’s no wonder the average user sees Helldivers 2 as a fairer proposition.
    • It’s entirely conceivable they could actually get everything compared to the bankruptcy option that D4 presents.
  • And that’s before we get to the fact that Helldivers 2 just gives away premium currency for “free”.

When is a Premium Currency “fair”?

  • In games like Diablo 4 you can unlock currency through the battlepass, but not enough to actually buy any item.
  • In HD2, you not only get enough currency from the pass to buy items, but you can also go and get currency through actual missions, with the below rates from Arrowhead Discord messages suggesting 2-4 hours play will allow you to buy one of the cheaper cosmetics from the store.
    • Despite the drop rate not being high - the potential for players to get premium currency through regular play is what’s making the difference here.
"We anticipate that players should be able to earn between 10-40 SC per hour depending on efficiency, experience, and your playstyle. As you continue to unlock more firepower and get more experienced we anticipate that players will be able to earn more rewards.”
  • If you really want something within the 48 hour window, it wouldn’t be impossible to earn enough currency through random pickups in play.
  • As such, it feels fair because you’re able to earn the currency with your original $40 purchase.
  • Helldivers 2 also theoretically has this as an answer for the leftover currency problem.
    • Usually buying a currency pack is your first step in the door to more spending, because you’ve already got some currency.
    • In Helldivers 2 the fact you can then supplement that with earned currency means there’s less pressure to buy more.
  • And all of this is why Helldivers is seemingly able to get away with what many folks would otherwise consider a cardinal sin - gameplay altering cosmetics that directly influence the build of your character.
    • We’d previously covered the fact that weapons were on the battlepass as an issue in and of itself - but as the release has progressed, it’s become clear that the ongoing cosmetics will feature a minor passive effect for your armour as seen above.
  • To attain these otherwise will require progression on the battlepass/warbonds (which other than the first one will be paid).
  • From the perspective of CEO Johan Pilestedt, this isn’t a problem - he frames the model as Pay for Variety in gameplay terms.
  • Because everything else about monetisation seems fair, and the model is that these are just options within the whole range - this is acceptable in HD2’s case.
  • Which effectively sums up everything about this scenario.
  • The implementation is the key here, and overshadows everything else.
  • Because it turns out that for the most part, if people feel good about the spending and monetisation of your game, they’re actually entirely happy to participate in it - rather than begrudge it.