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Helldivers 2 CEO describes the ‘War Room’ atmosphere on launch day, as a server-breaking tidal wave of unexpected divers came flooding in: ‘We saw the graph, just—players rising and rising’

Helldivers 2’s meteoric rise to fame has been a double-edged sword for Arrowhead Games. As a round of consensus from other veteran devs noted earlier in the month, studios can only prepare for server load with what might as well amount to soothsaying—and if said predictions are off, chaos ensues. Speaking to PC Gamer, Arrowhead Games’ CEO Johan Pilestedt described the atmosphere in the studio’s HQ as it became rapidly clear what a monumental task his team had on their hands.

“I don’t know if it’s because we’re Swedish or anything,” Pilestedt jokes. “We have a tendency to have a lot of self-doubt in what we’re actually doing. I mean we knew we had a game that was special … there’s several people [at the studio] who have, y’know, over 2,000-3,000 hours in the game.”

But a dev team’s fondness for their product rarely predicts success—fate, discoverability, and market conditions can be cruel even to the best of games. “As launch came around the corner, people of course got a little more anxious, like ‘what’s gonna happen?’, ‘pre-orders look really strong’.”

Arrowhead didn’t see the wind change direction for the better (and more chaotic) until the game was almost out: “[We thought]: If this matches Magicka, it means that the day one sales would be 10 times higher week one, and three times higher month one. We started doing the math.”

Two days. That’s the amount of warning Arrowhead Games received that something big could be coming.

“The realisation comes pretty sudden, on like, the sixth of February (two days before the game launches): If these numbers hold up, do our severs hold up? Nope. Not at all,” Pilestedt says through laughter. “Like, ‘what are we gonna do?'” Still, “the team really got cracking immediately … I was like: phew, let’s ensure we can be in a reasonable ballpark here, because this is way more than we ever anticipated.”

Despite the work the studio put into bracing for impact, the full scope of the player-count lovebomb didn’t become clear until the good ship Helldivers 2 was already floating away from the dock. Pilestedt paints a picture—a celebration wrapped around a War Room that quickly started to sound off alarms.

“So: The release night. We had hosted a celebration at the studio, where we’re streaming the game and having fun with the community … but a lot of people were in what we call the ‘War Room’, where we were looking at performance. Eventually it became clear that like: ‘this is actually going to be a big problem in a couple of hours.'”

Even then, when things started breaking it hit like a tidal wave. “We saw the graph, just—players rising and rising. The people that we watched, they were able to play the game fine, and for the most part it was holding up? But then we suddenly got this massive drop, and the servers started freaking out—backend engineers fixing it on the fly.”

Despite the issues that followed, the team’s been “ecstatic”, says Pilestedt. “Solid in disbelief—both from a point of ‘we have to solve the issues’, but also from the reception of the players … a lot of players were still able to play, but a course those that weren’t had a very vocal opinion about it, and of course we want everyone to be able to play.”

For the most part, things are on the up-and-up for Helldivers 2. The server capacity has been ramped up to a whopping 700,000 players and, at least from my personal perspective, I’ve not had many issues playing since—bar some finickity matchmaking and a rare crash here and there. It was a bumpy entry, but Arrowhead Games came out the other side only a touch banged up and bruised, with bright plans for the future.


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