It's been an incredible few weeks for game companies making avoidable mistakes they immediately back down from

The Super Earth Spokesperson in Helldivers 2 looks very confused as a massive explosion rocks the earth behind him.
(Image credit: Arrowhead Games)

The year has started with an impressive string of boneheaded moves from game publishers. The particulars are different, but they're connected by how predictable, and therefore avoidable, they were. Here are the biggest recent hits on the 2024 wall of shame:

  • Helldivers 2 suddenly insisted that its millions of PC players make and connect PSN accounts to keep playing. The requirement had been previously announced, but caught the Steam audience by surprise. It has since been taken back.
  • Escape from Tarkov announced a new $250 edition that included an exclusive PvE mode, even though owners of a $150 version were previously promised access to all future DLC. They reconsidered.
  • Fallout 4 got a big "next-gen" patch that, on PC, didn't do much except break a lot of mods and force the fan creators of Fallout: London to delay their release. (This is the only one where there was no subsequent backtracking.)
  • Hearthstone tripled the effort required to complete Weekly Quests, but only increased the XP reward by 20%. After players called out the increased grind, Blizzard dialed things back, although not all the way.

It isn't always obvious when a gaming company has stumbled into a beehive it could've avoided and when it decided that walking face-first into a ball of stingers was a good idea, actually. Maybe whoever's in charge of raising Hearthstone engagement numbers knew that tripling the quest requirements would make everyone mad, and planned all along to concede by 'only' doubling them. Machiavelli walks among us?

Maybe, but the other examples don't really suggest 4D chess. Tarkov's blunder might've sent droves of players to new competitor Gray Zone Warfare, and the whole Helldivers 2 thing amounted to a lot of angry noise and no benefit to Sony. The ill-timed Fallout 4 patch seems like a net negative, too—just bad feelings at a time when the series is celebrating a successful TV show.

The simplest explanation is that these decisions were made by people who were too out-of-touch with players to foresee these very foreseeable outcomes. And I do think they were foreseeable, not just with the benefit of hindsight. We did foresee one of them: "I'm sure this'll go down smooth," Harvey wrote sarcastically when the Helldivers 2 PSN deadline was announced last Friday.

At the heart of all these controversies, I think, is that people really hate it when they feel like the terms have been changed under their feet after they've already become invested in a thing.

If it ain't broke, break it

Helldivers 2 players were happily squashing Terminids when, suddenly, they were told they had to go make a new account with another service. Worse, Sony said that it was for their own good, which felt patronizing, and worst of all, the publisher made out like it had done them a favor by calling the previous three months a "grace period." There was no better way to guarantee that people would get really mad than to say, more or less, 'No, see, the terms didn't change, you just didn't pay enough attention to the fine print.' 

I can see Sony's side: Lots of Steam games require a second account, and people don't riot about all of them, and I'm sure the requirement really would simplify its cross-platform moderation job. But the reaction wasn't mainly about the inconvenience. It was about that inconvenience being introduced after Helldivers 2 had already become the year's best-selling game. You're not going to convince anyone that making a PSN account is necessary for their safety three months in, and knowing how protective people are about their Steam experience, the review bombing was entirely predictable. (I shudder to think about what it would've been like if they'd insisted everyone make an Epic account.)

Let us spare a thought for all the folks at these companies who looked at the length of the ramp and the size of the gap and said "this seems like a bad idea" while someone else stepped on the gas.

It takes real commitment to change the status quo. Among last year's biggest controversies were D&D planning to change its license agreement (walked back) and Unity introducing a new fee structure (CEO resigned), but it doesn't have to be anything that serious: When Blizzard tried to change the name of to "Blizzard App" in 2017, everyone said no, you can't do that, and so they changed it back.

The Fallout 4 patch was the least dramatic of these recent blow-ups, but didn't have to go down like it did: the short notice and no beta period took the ground out from under a modding community that had grown used to stability. Tarkov's snafu was the worst: There's no world where promising all future DLC for $150 and then later defining DLC so that it doesn't include a new mode wasn't going to cause a riot. And Hearthstone's grind increase was a naked attempt to increase weekly playtime by altering a system players had grown accustomed to.

Every company will make mistakes, and maybe snarls like these are inevitable, but you do get the feeling that at least some of them could've been avoided if publishers spent "a bit more energy listening to the voices within their own studios who warn them when these decisions are obviously going to land appallingly," as Tim put it when writing about the Hearthstone controversy.

Now that the flames are dying down, let us spare a thought for all the folks at these companies who looked at the length of the ramp and the size of the gap and said "Hey, this seems like a bad idea" while the person in the driver's seat stepped on the gas.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.