With Denuvo Broken, Ubisoft Doubles Up On DRM for Assasin's Creed Origin, Tanking Everyone's Computers

from the destroying-reputations-monumentally dept

There are really two themes when it comes to DRM, software supposedly created to stop video game piracy. The first and most notorious theme is what an utter failure DRM has been in accomplishing this core mission. Even once-vaunted DRM platforms like Denuvo have been reduced to code-bloat within the games they’re meant to protect. And that’s the DRM on the effective end of the spectrum, relatively speaking. But the other theme, one that is arguably far more important and impactful, is how absolutely great DRM software tends to be at annoying customers and prohibiting them from enjoying the games they legitimately purchased. This theme presents itself in multiple forms, from people being flatout unable to use the software they purchased at all, to performance hits due to the DRM software slowing down the customer’s computers, to opening up grand new security holes through which malicious actors happily dive into the lives of those very same customers.

The track record for DRM, in other words, is almost laughably bad. That AAA publishers haven’t acknowledged this reality and still use various forms of DRM is an absurdity. But what Ubisoft did in reacting to the demise of Denuvo, essentially to double up on DRM, is backfiring in predictably frustrating ways. Ubisoft, being Ubisoft, included Denuvo’s DRM for Assasin’s Creed Origins. But with all the news for Denuvo being bad, the company knew the game would be cracked in hours or days using Denuvo. So, instead of simply removing the customer-annoying DRM, Ubisoft decided to add another layer of DRM on top of it, in the form of VMProtect.

According to Voksi, whose ‘Revolt’ team cracked Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus before its commercial release last week, it’s none of these. The entire problem is directly connected to desperate anti-piracy measures. As widely reported (1,2), the infamous Denuvo anti-piracy technology has been taking a beating lately. Cracking groups are dismantling it in a matter of days, sometimes just hours, making the protection almost pointless. For Assassin’s Creed Origins, however, Ubisoft decided to double up, Voksi says.

“Basically, Ubisoft have implemented VMProtect on top of Denuvo, tanking the game’s performance by 30-40%, demanding that people have a more expensive CPU to play the game properly, only because of the DRM. It’s anti-consumer and a disgusting move,” he told TorrentFreak.

If the VMProtect name sounds familiar, that’s because it was the company that actually accused Denuvo of using its software in its product without properly licensing it. And if layering DRMs on top of one another and expecting it not to have a negative effect on legit customers sounds like the product of insanity, that’s because it is. Basically, unless you’re running an upper end processor, the game is likely to be unplayable.

“What is the normal CPU usage for this game?” a user asked on Steam forums. “I randomly get between 60% to 90% and I’m wondering if this is too high or not.”

The individual reported running an i7 processor, which is no slouch. However, for those running a CPU with less oomph, matters are even worse. Another gamer, running an i5, reported a 100% load on all four cores of his processor, even when lower graphics settings were selected in an effort to free up resources.

“It really doesn’t seem to matter what kind of GPU you are using,” another complained. “The performance issues most people here are complaining about are tied to CPU getting maxed out 100 percent at all times. This results in FPS [frames per second] drops and stutter. As far as I know there is no workaround.”

Well, gentle Steam user, there is a workaround, but it mostly involves buying games from a company that is more interested in providing a great gaming experience to its actual customers than attempting to stamp out game piracy when doing so has proven the most futile task in the industry. If even lowering the graphics settings doesn’t keep the game from stuttering noticeably, it won’t be long before the refund requests start pouring in. Especially when this decision to layer DRMs like sweatshirts causes customer machines to overheat.

The situation is reportedly so bad that some users are getting the dreaded BSOD (blue screen of death) due to their machines overheating after just an hour or two’s play. It remains unclear whether these crashes are indeed due to the VMProtect/Denuvo combination but the perception is that these anti-piracy measures are at the root of users’ CPU utilization problems.

Ubisoft is always going to Ubisoft, I suppose.

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Comments on “With Denuvo Broken, Ubisoft Doubles Up On DRM for Assasin's Creed Origin, Tanking Everyone's Computers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When you buy Ubisoft....

You know, I’ve been saying the same thing here for YEARS. If games stayed away in droves, rather than queueing up at midnight for the latest release, then vendors would either learn to stop using DRM or they’d go out of business. It’d probably only take one highly-publicized instance for them to learn the lesson and act on it.

But it hasn’t happened and it’s not going to happen. Gamers don’t have the self-discipline to make it happen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: When you buy Ubisoft....

The problem isn’t so much that gamers don’t have the self-discipline, it’s that this group consists of a lot of very young people who haven’t learned self-discipline yet and/or have never been burned since they’re still fairly new customers.
We have an ever rotating crop of fresh minds to dupe. There’s plenty of evidence that lots of smaller publishers and gaming devs are learning their lesson. GOG’s growing popularity is just one of the stronger ones.

Machin Shin says:

Re: When you buy Ubisoft....

Yeah…. This is why I bought a Ubisoft game on steam once. It then required me to launch steam to launch Ubisofts shit launcher to then launch the game.

Next time I wanted an Ubisoft game I went to buy it, saw it used this annoying DRM and so I said “Fuck that shit” and I pirated the hell out of it. (glad I did too, was a shit game anyways)

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, gentle Steam user, there is a workaround, but it mostly involves buying games from a company that is more interested in providing a great gaming experience to its actual customers.

Or, as many of these people will no doubt do, downloading a pirated copy of the game which has stripped out the DRM. Is there an analogue to the Streisand effect for DRM and pirates? The Sparrow effect?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You could make that argument, but I’m not sure how well it would hold up in court. You’re not taking the copy you purchased and removing the DRM(which would be a crime in itself, regardless of the legality of ‘format shifting’), rather you are downloading an additional copy without paying for that one.

Now, I can certainly see the logic in what you are presenting, if someone has paid for a copy of the game exactly what ‘harm’ is being caused by them downloading a working copy and playing that instead, but given how utterly insane copyright law is I suspect that it’s not an argument that a company or a judge would buy.

Avatar28 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

This is also the flip side to the whole “you’re only licensing it” bullshit. Since the license that allows you to use it is distinct from the physical copy they don’t have to be the same. E.g. I have a license for Windows 10 on my computer. If I need to reinstall it it doesn’t have to be the same copy I used originally. I can download a fresh copy and use that. As long as it’s the same software (e.g. Windows 10 Pro) it’s legit.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

He seems to be labouring under the assumption that obtaining a cracked copy is OK so long as you didn’t personally crack it and you own a legal copy elsewhere.

I doubt that’s the case legally, and even if so it would be a defence presented in court when you’re sued for pirating, not something that would stop legal action in the first place.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s where we get into the inevitable bottom feeding frenzy that drives the middle managers.

When I used to game on the PC (before crap like this put me off entirely), it was routine to buy & install the legal version of the game, then immediately go to dark corners of the web to install a no-CD crack or other way of circumventing DRM so that I could play the game properly.

Unfortunately, this will have been interpreted not as “paying customer wants to be able to play on a flight / not have to search for the CD every time they launch the game” but as “OMG lost sales!”. So, instead of realising that they were just inconveniencing paying customers, they double down on the DRM. “Stronger” DRM causes more problems for more paying customers, leading to more pirate downloads to make the product useful, and so on.

I wish there was a way to quantify the amount of money actually lost to piracy vs the amount of money lost directly due to DRM and money wasted on its development and deployment. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re at least equal, but alas there’s no way to accurately quantify these things. But, middle managers will always want to cover their backs to make it look like they were trying to “stop piracy”, even if their actions only lead to more of it.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

_not have to search for the CD every time they launch the game_

Or spare an optical disc reader from unnecessary wear. I always assumed game publishers had a deal with the hardware industry here. Many who play a game frequently and aren’t using the drive for anything else are simply going to leave that disc in all the time.

IDK did optical drives ever get “smarter” and not leave the lasers on all the time, whether the drive is actually being used or not? (And i remember them polling incessantly for no good reason under older OSes as well, which was just annoying.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Those damned things crap out way too early, I think they make crap products on purpose in order to increase their bottom line … and why not? … Let’s continue to fill the oceans with our crap that does not work because that will not bite us in the ass some day – I know this because our present administration (EPA etc) says so.

I would laugh but this is sad

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

DRM (noun; initialism for “Digital Rights Management”) — closed-source black-box code that gives control of at least part of a given electronic device to the company that either owns or operates that code; the digital equivalent of an ankle bracelet tracking device for paying customers that does nothing to actually prevent copyright infringement by non-paying customers; a stupid fucking idea

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

On one hand, I could believe the explanation offered by Ubisoft. AC: Origins looks like a game that would make even the most powerful gaming PC work hard to achieve maximum results. That explanation has an air of plausibility.

On the other hand, we are talking about Ubisoft; I would sooner infect my PC with a bitcoin miner than give that company my trust. When did they even disclose their Inception-styled DRM to consumers—if they ever even disclosed it before news got out about these claims?

Avatar28 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

30 frames is probably fine. Since it’s third person you can get away with a lower framerate. It’s the first person stuff where you really want to shoot for 60 fps. I mean, yeah, the higher frame rate is great and all but it really doesn’t make a significant difference. What DOES make a difference is not having the system continually stutter or drop down to teens or single digit frame rates momentarily because you put too much DRM on your shit.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

A previous game ‘protected‘ by Denuvo apparently had the game suffering serious issues thanks to the DRM calling home an insane number of times, so there’s at least some evidence that the infection can have notable negative consequences as far as gameplay goes.

Add an additional DRM infection on top of that and it’s not hard to suspect that yes, it is the DRM causing if not all of the problems, then a good portion of them.

Andy says:


This whole polava will do one thing and one thing only , it will ensure that the game is pirated more than any other game when it is cracked and uses no drm at all.

Games makers should have learnt that the only thing drm does these days is slows the pirating of a game by a few hours at most and makes the hackers/crackers a lot of money or whatever they get for breaking the drm.

If they removed all drm and sold the game a little cheaper they would sell more and make more money.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve mentioned before that I think we’re missing an opportunity.

We should be calling encryption “Digital Rights Management.” Which it is, of course; it’s only a matter of who manages the rights to the encrypted data.

That way, powerful people who have declared jihad against encryption would be declaring jihad against DRM.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Our sales are down!!
And in a fucked up way, it is.

Pirates who aren’t going to ever pay you, have all of your attention.
You invest large portions of the budget in the DRM that somehow magically this time won’t fall.
Lets put more DRM in!!!

Lets see the result –
The pirates are playing the game more than paying customers.
Paying customers are having their machines fail.

Pirates get awesome performance.
Paying customers are expected to upgrade to liquid nitrogen coolers.

Paying customers are wondering why they bothered.
Pirates notice a surge in new recruits, some who paid & some who saw the horrible way paying customers were treated & signed up.

Somewhere there needs to be an adult in charge, who can remove the execs who are destroying the company.

You spent more on DRM that is going to drive people to pirate the game. Period, there is no upside, you tripled down on ‘we’ll bet the pirates this time!!!’ at the cost of the people still stupid enough to pay you for the game.

Imagine a burger place fighting a war against raccoons raiding the dumpster.
To get more money for the next weapon to repel the trash pandas, they decide to let the coolers run warmer.
Meat spoils, customers get sick, sales stop, more meat ends up in the dumpster… but this new ‘Trash Panda Repelling Rock v4.5’ is totally going to work.
You have a few people who still come in to get burgers, but they get sick 75% of the time and are thinking perhaps its time to try a new place.
Meanwhile in the back of the restaurant the trash panda’s have stolen a lighter & are using the rock to cook up the meat.

A normal person would tell you that this is so far fetched and stupid no one would do it… but they never bought a Ubisoft game.

You are actively screwing people who want to give you money for your product to chase people who are NEVER going to pay you. You are shocked that there are growing numbers of people who will never pay you, while you keep punching that last few paying customers in the nuts every 3 minutes they play the game with the latest nutbuster DRM.

The company exists to sell a product.
You have focused more resources on those who won’t pay, than offering the best product possible.
Maybe its old fashioned but maybe focus on making sure the paying customer gets the best possible game instead of worrying about dumping real money chasing imaginary money. You no longer care about paying customers. Pirates can play for hours and not have their machine crash… and you can’t put your finger on why more people pirate the game….

nerd bert (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Interestingly, most publishers have gone to less oppressive DRM schemes and have learned to accept some "losses" from piracy over the years. Back in the day, I spent more on a Lattice C compiler than I did my car, but publishers learned that by cutting the price they actually made more money so things changed.

Game makers haven’t changed, however. Yes, their target demographic generally tends to have less money to spend so they’re more likely to pirate to play. Still, the fact that their content plays much more poorly with DRM installed drives ever more of their customers to pirate solutions. I know that I would be tempted to go that route if I were a young gamer these days just because the DRM sucks and causes more problems than it’s worth. Being an old fart, however, I don’t need to play the latest games this very second to have cred with other gamers. I can wait until both the price comes down and the DRM goes away, so I do.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

One of the biggest problem is they think they can stop it.
They have dreams that every pirate DL is costing them tons of money, ignoring that in all honesty there are people who pirate first to see if its complete shit.

You want someone to plunk down $60+ in the age of bought reviews, day 1 patches, DLC shipping on the disc. Can’t trust reviews on YT, can’t trust released images (because they render them on super computers), the entire industry (well the big boys) seem bent on lying to paying customers… then are shocked, just shocked, that piracy happens.

System requirements are a joke, as wide as possible to sucker more people to buy something thats gonna run like crap… but why do we care? We got paid, we don’t need to worry about them… now lets chase some pirates.

I’m old enough to remember getting a demo disc from ID where they offered single playable levels of their games. I could see how well it ran on my setup & if the game lived up to the hype.

Perhaps it’s time to run the MBA’s out of the business.
They focus to much on deadlines, cutting costs, & keeping control… at the cost of the game experience for paying customers.

Gone should be the days of 2 yrs of promises of new releases soon, but at the same time stop shipping broken crap because the release date is here. Gamers would have way more respect for a delayed release because they refused to ship crap thats broken day one.

Put the focus back on the people who want to pay you money, hell even giving them half the effort you waste on pirates and you would have the best studio rep ever.

Daydream says:

Hmm, the EULA...



(Copy-pasted. Blame them for the capslock.)

Translation: We won’t give you a refund for the game because the DRM makes it unplayable, so there.

…Hey, I wonder; if you sent someone something (like a funny cat video) with an EULA that basically said ‘in order to view this video, you must consent to have software installed which will access your personal information for the purpose of withdrawing $100,000 from your bank accounts’, would it be enforceable in court?

Amos Professional says:

I bought Amos Proffessional

When Amos first came out as the new bewt game programming system for the Amiga computer in 198x some time ago, i didn’t buy it thinking that Amiga Basic was good enough, and it was. I then was given a copy of Amos for free cause a friend copied it as they were not protected by anything in those days. I used it for a while all the time thinking , this is a great system and much much better than Amiga Basic. So what did i do next, yes i bought a copy not only of Amos but their much much pricey system called Amos Professional no less for $300 back then. If i hadnt been exposed to Amos for free i would never have thought about it and continued using Amiga Basic. Amos was just a better system to use for graphics and so better displays.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: I bought Amos Proffessional

I pirated Flight Simulator II for the Apple II. I could never have afforded it at the time, and would never have had the opportunity to even try it otherwise.

But I was hooked, and I paid for the Amiga version and then every version for the PC – plus many add-ons – for over 20 years until Microsoft stopped making it.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I bought Amos Proffessional

Just the opposite. Back in the early ’90s I picked up the Aircraft & Scenery Designer add-on. This let you compile a text file full of commands into Flight Simulator scenery. Mountains, buildings, signs, etc.

And so our inventory system, written in-house, which would output data to Excel for graphing, suddenly got Flight Simulator 4 as an alternate graphing package. You could fly through the mountains and valleys of your product class history report.

Granted, it was more demoed than actually used.

LittleCupcakes says:

Mob reacts without evidence-Internet shocker

The increasingly shrill Techdirt lathers the rabble about Origins. Comments section predictably prepares torches and pitchforks. Ancient grievances are raised. Evidence provided, none.

Nope, no proof of any sort that DRM has any effect on the performance of Origins. None. Just a crowd and a grudge.

Yep, Techdirt isn’t what it used to be.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Mob reacts without evidence-Internet shocker

“Nope, no proof of any sort that DRM has any effect on the performance of Origins.”

None. Apart from user complaints. And common sense, since the systems in place will absolutely use system resources. But, you won’t read the article, you just need to bitch about the site you voluntarily visit, for some reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Mob reacts without evidence-Internet shocker

I’m more amused by the fact that one of out_of_the_blue’s most recent gimmicks was to claim that posters who rarely left comments behind were “zombies” as a part of a greater Techdirt conspiracy. And now we’ve got one-off nicknames trying desperately to be clever.

To think that this is the sort of rodomontade that MyNameHere wants elevated and respected. It’s telling.

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