Game Developer Updates Game To Remove Denuvo DRM As Fans Cheer

from the better-late-than-never dept

Denuvo, as you will recall, is the name of a modern version of anti-piracy DRM, foretold to be the end of video game piracy, when the reality is that its legend exceeded its capability. While we’ve begun to see an uptick in stories of game developers actively limiting or excluding the use of DRM in their games, those stories tend not to be about Denuvo DRM. Many have taken this to be an indication of Denuvo’s strength and usefulness, even if it isn’t 100% effective.

But now we do indeed have a story about a game developer that had initially included Denuvo in its game, only to yank it via a patch at a later date.

Nowadays, most talk of DRM revolves around titles that add the “anti-tamper” tech known as Denuvo, thus preventing piracy of those games. That’s what makes the latest update to side-scrolling puzzle game Inside so unusual: the developers have chosen to do away with Denuvo.

Playdead did not give a reason for the removal of Denuvo in the short patch-notes, though it’s worth noting that the game was also recently released on GOG—which is marketed as a digital storefront that does not believe in DRM.

Which is one of the ways that GOG is most useful. Like a popular candidate on the extreme end of the political spectrum, the success and popularity of GOG serves to yank what might otherwise be a near-uniform desire to use DRM by game developers back to a more reasonable position. If developers see GOG as a good platform for selling their games, even with the site’s virulent anti-DRM stance, then it stands to reason that DRM generally isn’t worth including in their games. That this is starting to become the calculation for what was supposed to be the DRM unicorn is a positive development, though one wonders just how much money Playdead wasted including it in the first place.

Meanwhile, fans of the game are celebrating Playdead’s decision. Some are even actively promoting the game to friends and family, or buying other titles by the studio, all as a result for removing an annoyance to legitimate customers.

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Companies: gog, playdead

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Comments on “Game Developer Updates Game To Remove Denuvo DRM As Fans Cheer”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“I had to go to the Kotaku article, find the name and search for it. Pretty crappy of Tim to run a story about the game, but only include mention of which game he’s talking about in a quote from the “real” article.”

Actually, I completely agree with you. It’s usually not as much an issue in posts like this, except for three things that conspired to make this a bigger problem in this post:

1. I didn’t include the name of the dev or game in the title post, which was kind of dumb

2. I only included the name of the game in the pull quote, which, having not included it in the title was kind of dumb

3. Because the name of the game is a single word, because the pull quotes are italicized (which is how I usually identify game titles in my post, by italics), and because the first letter of the game title is one which can be confused with another lower case letter, the title in the pull quote is SUPER easy to miss, which it was kind of dumb for me not to realize

In other words, mea culpa for being kind of dumb kind of often when it comes to calling out the title in this post. Sorry, guys.

Patrik (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

because the pull quotes are italicized (which is how I usually identify game titles in my post, by italics),

Everything you describe is following proper standards and guidelines. Inside should technically not be in italics in the pull quote since it’s surrounded by italics, but I suspect the formatting of the site might not allow that?

I’ll try to un-italicize a word in a pull quote:

That’s what makes the latest update to side-scrolling puzzle game Inside so unusual: the developers have chosen to do away with Denuvo.

Nope. No dice. I’m not sure how you’d go about fixing it if you’re using the same markdown the comments use.

I guess you could bold it:

That’s what makes the latest update to side-scrolling puzzle game Inside so unusual: the developers have chosen to do away with Denuvo.

But that’s just… not proper.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In other words, mea culpa for being kind of dumb kind of often when it comes to calling out the title in this post.

Not to pile on or anything, but I’ve actually noticed similar issues in a lot of Techdirt’s posts. Often, a story will be talking about a court case and one of the quotes will mention a person’s name, but not provide any context for who that person is. Then the article will continue to mention them without clarifying who they are or what part they play in the story.

I can’t recall the details now, but a couple years ago, I recall reading a post that completely failed to mention that the event being reported was in another country, possibly the UK or Australia. Only by going to the linked story did you discover that it wasn’t in the U.S.

I assume this sort of thing happens because the person writing the post is familiar with the details of the story and they don’t consciously realize that others don’t have the same information about it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

At the end of the day, Techdirt is an opinion blog, not a journalism source. If not sticking to professional style guidelines is that annoying to you, this might not be the best arena.

More valuable to me, however, is displayed above. Tim didn’t edit the original story to make people look stupid, delete comments that criticised him, block or ban users or any similar action. He agreed he made a mistake, owned up and apologised. That level of honesty and responsibility is why I come here. Too many “professional joranalism” sites would take a dishonest route.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Response to: beltorak on Nov 30th, 2016 @ 4:51pm

I’ve always thought that unless DRM is dirt cheap, it’s a waste a money. And I doubt it’s dirt cheap, so…
It’s always been either cracked within days (or comically pirated before the release date!), or a general nuisance to buying customers.
Denuvo, from what little I’ve experienced, seems to not be too bad for buyers, but I have to wonder if it will hinder playing games in a few years due to compatibility problems. Those can, of course, arise from the games themselves, but why had another layer to them?
It seems generally harder to crack, but hardly impossible. If you’d wait for a price drop or a decent sale a few months down the line you’ll probably also have a crack by then, it seems.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I wonder if we can get some comparative sales and piracy numbers and see if Denuvo had any effect on sales.”

The problem is – you can never really tell, and there’s numerous ways to argue away results either way. Whatever figures you get to, they can be explained to prop up whichever narrative you prefer.

Sales too low with DRM. It could be the DRM. Or, it could be bad marketing, overpricing, compatibility issues or bugs, a bad game, lack of or bad achievements, too much DLC, etc. But, there’s a good angle for any game that failed due to the publishers’ actions (as is usually the case) – it’s fault of the pirates who still managed to get a copy, we need more DRM!

Sales fine, or even impressive with DRM – well, the game was still pirated so they could have been even higher, load up more DRM since customers don’t seem to mind it!

The simple facts are these – DRM never stops piracy completely, and piracy makes a handy scapegoat if sales are too low for whatever other reason. The best comparison you could probably make is between Inside and their previous game Limbo, but IIRC Limbo was a slow burn that slowly ramped up sales due to word of moth and ports to more platforms. It’s most likely too early to tell, and even then the data can be massaged either way.

The only think we know for sure if that people are still buying the game through GoG, which by itself proves that the “can’t compete with free” excuse for DRM existing is a lie.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Agreed, those are all valid points. I am not seeking to make an argument based on this alone, just in adding to a data set. Because with enough comparisons, we should be able to draw out some meaningful interpretations.

Marketing, over/under-pricing, game quality, bugs, and everything else you mentioned can in some sense be quantified. The quantification might be a bit fuzzy, that’s why I just want to add to the data set for now.

But even with an extremely limited data set, we can see if there are any correlations that seem to be connected, and do more research to see if there is a causal link. With other sets of data that already exist we might even be able to start taking into account those correlating factors to limit their impact on the study of the link between DRM and sales.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sure, as long as you realise that any such data will always be fuzzy and incomplete, then there’s plenty of things that can be inferred. But, I personally don’t think there’s anything there that will be news if you’re paying attention, and people whose pay depends on denying the obvious facts will always find alternate ways to interpret the evidence.

DeadPlay Did Good says:

Good for us, good for them

Inside and Limbo are pretty cool games for their category.

Good to see developers realize the potential of treating customers with a bit of understanding.

Too all of us who upgrade our PCs and consoles and feel the burn DRM brings, this is refreshing.

A game dev listened… upgrading doesn’t mean even more of a hassle, it means this game company becomes part of the upgrade process, eyeballs are retained aka more exposure and future sales.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

It served its purpose.

Much of the piracy that game publishers want to prevent is during the initial release. Piracy is less of a concern during the long tail. As such, publishers are starting to make initial releases with restrictive DRM to maximize on the initial burst of interest, then remove the DRM after the buzz has died down. That lets them generate more interest for being consumer friendly, reduces support costs, and additionally opens up new markets. They’re getting the benefits of DRM while sidestepping the costs.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

Wholeheartedly agree, GOG is the best. When I first discovered them I was happy to spend a few dollars on some old DOS games I’d already been trying to bring back to life. The time saved was well worth the money, and I figured I’d never bother with the site again after that.

And now here we are couple of years later, and I have a ~350 GB folder full of GOG purchases.

DCL says:

Game Life cycle and security tech....

Having been in the video game industry a while I can say that the value for game Devs of DRM changes during the course of the lifecycle.

TL:DR – Games are hard and complex to make (not just the tech) and have differing security requirements during their lifecycles (more critical for PC)… unfortunately the gains for keeping and incentives for removing it don’t converge on the timeline.

Here are some key time frames:

A. Pre-release.
Between Dev, QA, reviewers you have to distribute build to a LOT of people… in the old days it only took one person to leak the game and it was likely the game was cracked before it shipped. This is a huge deal more from an IP and keeping spoilers out of the public eyes (and keeping preorder/early purchasers happy) then it is from a financial sense (unless the game is crap or the build is not optimized… bad rumors/reviews start that way).

B. Post-release early sales cycles.
This is where the traditional “piracy = lost sales” arguments and “I only want to check it out before I buy”(if they actually do) come into play. I am going to gloss over that here but I will say that you see more publishers with programs for trials such as what EA is doing to minimize help minimize the overall “perceived need” for a cracked game.

C. Long tail and ongoing user experience:
10-15 years ago games were: ship, one/two patches and forget about it till GOTY addition. Online games these days require upkeep for years… so there need to be other ways to finance it and keep the community engaged to make it worthwhile for everybody: DLC, mod support, community events, eSports are examples.
For DRM during this time frame is more about ensuring only valid players play. There are a LOT of people that are more than happy to use cracked versions or abuse loopholes in giveaways to grief others in the game. Valid players then look to the Game Devs to solve the problem that is always a cat and mouse effort, but preventing unauthorized use of the game code is a key factor (more antitamper then DRM at this point).

D: End of life:
This is where you start to see game devs/Publishers strip DRM. Most DRM is a third party with some sort of payment per activation. It doesn’t make sense to keep it going. BUT since DRM is such a high priority target for crackers during the early days DRM and Anti-Tamper (they are different) has gotten more complex and therefore harder to “strip off” later (also there are a lot of tweaks needed to make sure performance is not affected).

A key thing here is that a month or two after launch the majority of the game team takes vacations and comes back to move to another game… so a year or two later it is rare for anybody on the original team that implemented the DRM/Antitamper code to still be around. If the launch dev team was smart they would incorporate a way to easily remove it during the build process (or make a clear copy with every patch), but when you are about to ship a game the last three/four months has 10s of thousands of bugs to fix at all times and those are always priority. Fast forward to the ‘end days’ there is not a lot of desire to spend 10’s if not 100’s of thousands of dollars to strip the DRM/AT, test it, certify it and make it live.

I write this to help the understanding that it isn’t as simple as just “don’t use DRM/AT” as there are a lot of factors and issues for making games that most people don’t realize. The Techdirt crowd (cough-Tim-cough) has been hypercritical of the game industry, but really only from the “I am a user” POV and rarely has a good conversation for how to REALLY solve it when may issues are not even touched upon. If you look at the Video Game industry there has been a lot of innovation for sales strategies (some reduce/remove the need for DRM) happening over the years in terms of but the community is quick to find the faults for the ways of doing things or they quickly fade from popularity (Facebook games, F2P, Season Pass).

Some thought questions to help seed the conversation:
1. How do you assure your marketing partners (like Target or GameStop) that piracy won’t affect the game sales? Major retailers still have a big say in things as there are still a lot of physical copies sold.

2. How do you protect the user community during pre-launch in such a way to build excitement for the game? (this is where it is critical for marketing to drum up sales to help cover game dev cost and sales expectations). This time period is what sets the tone for game devs/publishers to support/expand the game.

3. How do you protect your paying customers from griefers that are dedicated to cheating and/or ruining the game experience for others?

4. How do you align the incentives for when to remove DRM/AT?


beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Game Life cycle and security tech....

I think some of these concerns are out of bounds. Protecting legitimate users from griefers, for instance, is not in the problem space of preventing piracy. The problem with employing DRM is that it’s the old "when all you have is a hammer" approach.

As for #1 (How do you assure your marketing partners … that piracy won’t affect the game sales?), we have many studies (and hear about them frequently here at TD) that piracy actually helps sales. That is, it helps sales if the game is actually worth a damn. So there’s the rub in the eyes of the publisher. The publisher doesn’t want to take the risk that the market will decide not to pay for a shit game, so I feel they employ DRM to ensure that people will pay for it before they find out it’s shit. There are, after all, no refunds.

There’s a lot of connected things involved in this that need to get disentangled. In the world of physical goods for example, there’s often an exchange or refund policy. But the trade-off is obvious in the world of physical goods; the customer loses access to a physical item in order to reclaim currency. Such is obviously not possible with digital media. How to effectively work in this type of market is well beyond what I want to cover here (not that I am in any way an expert in this problem domain), but other options are emerging.
2 (How do you protect the user community during pre-launch in such a way to build excitement for the game?) I sorta touched on, but I’ll expound a bit. Publishers should stop blindly charging a premium price for shit games. If the initial leak sours the public opinion on the game, maybe they should take the hint and drop the price to what the market will bear. Again I’ll go back to the studies that assert that piracy actually helps sales of good games and that many who pirate simply would not have bought or played the game if piracy wasn’t an option. And this is where it becomes hard to override the natural human reaction of "well if you won’t pay me for it then you don’t deserve to have it, I’ll sell it to someone else". This reaction works in the realm of physical goods, but it is literally meaningless in a world where one or one million extra copies has no effect on the paid-for copies.
And this is where DRM actively harms the paying customers. If I pay a premium price for a game, I lose all the advantages of the digital nature of what I paid for. If I lose or damage the disk I have to pay another premium price to regain a copy. If it’s an always-online style of DRM, once the company is no longer interested in maintaining servers, I can no longer play the game no matter how much I am willing to pay. Games that are built on a multi-player social experience don’t escape criticism here – there should be no reason I cannot run my own private server if the company is no longer willing to run theirs. But this attitude of "well if you aren’t willing to pay me for it then you don’t deserve to have it" is so toxic to reason, the situation devolves into the fable of the dog guarding a stack of hay. That old game has ceased to be profitable for them so they shut it down, but heaven forbid someone else might make a buck breathing life into what they have discarded in the trash heap.

The simple reality is that the market has fundamentally changed. Reality has fundamentally changed. And it is not my job to solve the publisher’s business problems that stem from them not willing to accept reality.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Game Life cycle and security tech....

Thanks for the comments, it’s always nice to see what is actually being considered in the industry.

Speaking as a consumer, though, DRM is always wrong. Once a single unprotected copy is out in the wild (and there always will be), DRM is useless. It removes my rights as a consumer, makes your product less valuable and actually encourages piracy (no, I’m not buying another copy of your game because the DRM screwed the first one up, I’m downloading it).

So, I never buy a game with DRM infection applied. If you have DRM on your game, you not see my money, ever.

“How do you assure your marketing partners (like Target or GameStop) that piracy won’t affect the game sales? “

By lying your ass off. Whether you do this by inserting a piece of malware that gets some consumers returning the product afterwards or not is up to you. If you pretend that DRM stops piracy, you’re openly misleading them, so own the negative consequences of your actions.

“How do you protect the user community during pre-launch in such a way to build excitement for the game?”

I have to call bullshit on this. Applying an artificial restriction to keep a release date doesn’t protect anyone, except your investors’ projections based on release day and pre-release sales. If your community realised they were just being made to wait for a completed game with no technical reason, they’d be very pissed off. They’re only “protected” because they don’t know how the industry works.

Also, this is something that regularly backfires when applied to regional restrictions. If something is being played in one country, but another has to wait a few weeks, people will download the released copy, no matter which localisation justification you try to explain.

“How do you protect your paying customers from griefers that are dedicated to cheating and/or ruining the game experience for others?”

What the hell does DRM have to do with this? Nothing. Stop clouding the issue.

“How do you align the incentives for when to remove DRM/AT?”

I’ll be more open to buying your product if it’s not infected with your malware. Align with that.

Rekrul says:

The state of gaming today saddens me.

On the one hand, games today usually have amazing graphics, which make me want to play them. Then I look at all the other crap that you have to put up with and my enthusiasm for playing the games vanishes.

I’m not just talking about DRM, but all the other stuff that’s become standard, like online activation, auto-downloading patches (where do you get these patches once the company stops supporting the game or if you want to install the game on a system not connected to the net?), micro-transactions that virtually force you to pay extra to be able to play the game properly, etc.

Last year, I played through the game Dark Forces again. That game is 20 years old, but it can still be played on compatible hardware (or in DOSBox). Will I still be able to play today’s games in 2035, or will they be missing half the content because the servers are no longer around to let you download it?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Last year, I played through the game Dark Forces again. That game is 20 years old, but it can still be played on compatible hardware (or in DOSBox). Will I still be able to play today’s games in 2035, or will they be missing half the content because the servers are no longer around to let you download it?”

Since GoG is part of the original story, I have to laud them again for the great work they do:

Not only are they selling Dark Forces at a reasonable price with zero DRM, not only are they guaranteeing it will work on modern hardware, they’ve even made it playable on Linux. As long as they keep that attitude, I’m confident that any game bought through them, at least, will be playable in 20 years.

Whatever the state of the modern industry, it’s nice to know that some venues still do it right.

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