Denuvo Spins Doom Dropping Its DRM Into A Victory Dance

from the managing-expectations dept

The speed with which the prevailing opinion of Denuvo, the DRM unicorn de jour, has changed has been nearly enough to make one's head spin. It was only at the start of 2016 that the software was being rolled out en masse by many game publishers, leading some normally bombastic cracking groups to predict that the video game industry had finally found its final solution to piracy. That lasted until roughly the middle months of the year, when several games using the DRM were cracked. While Denuvo's makers remained fairly silent, the opinion of it shifted from "final solution" to "hey, it's still the hardest DRM to crack." Cracking groups that typically measure their work in weeks were finding cracking Denuvo to be a project measured in months. That likely explained why so many big-ticket games still used it. Until, somewhat suddenly, multiple big-name games began dropping Denuvo from their code via patches and updates. The latest example of this was Doom silently nixing Denuvo, with id Software not even referencing the move in its patch notes.

And so the speculation began as to what was going on. Some said the game makers were finally realizing that DRM is pretty much useless at everything other than being a minor inconvenience for cracking groups and a major inconvenience for many legitimate customers. Others suggested that perhaps Denuvo offered some kind of money-back deal if a game using it was cracked within a certain time-frame. Still others claimed that publishers were only using the DRM during the initial release window of the game to protect it during the most crucial sales period, and then dropping it afterwards.

Denuvo, just recently, publicly endorsed the last theory.

“The simple reason why Denuvo Anti Tamper was removed from Doom was because it had accomplished its purpose by keeping the game safe from piracy during the initial sales window,” Denuvo’s Robert Hernandez said to me in an email. “The protection on Doom held up for nearly four months, which is an impressive accomplishment for such a high-profile game.”

Hernandez also insisted there is nothing like a money-back program if a game using Denuvo is cracked. And perhaps he's correct about why these games are suddenly dropping the DRM, although it should be clear that this theory is the best one available for Denuvo's business. The other two theories mean Denuvo is a failure. At least the idea that game publishers are using it during the initial release window allows the company to claim it's still providing a benefit to publishers.

But for how long? Given the precipitous drop in the posturing around Denuvo from "un-crackable" to "hey, we kept the game safe from piracy for a couple of months", it's reasonable to wonder why that downward trend shouldn't continue in that direction. Unless the company has some serious tricks up its corporate sleeve, it's not like cracking times are going get longer rather than shorter.

And the bigger question is one of math. If Denuvo carries negatives in its use, as its being dropped by several games clearly suggests, are those negatives really made up for by a couple of month's worth of protection? At four months, perhaps id Software thought it was. But if that protection window shrinks, there is going to be a line which, once crossed, makes Denuvo more trouble than its worth. You know, like every other DRM ever created. Denuvo's business still relies on its software being a unicorn, although one it already acknowledges has a horn much less shiny than originally believed.

Filed Under: copyright, cracking, denuvo, drm


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2016 @ 10:52am

    Denuvo is Doomed

    If the trend continues and more Denuvo-encumbered games are freed by their publishers after a delay measured in months, then the logical action for anti-DRM gamers is simply to put off even considering the game until the DRM is formally removed. When publishers kept their titles DRM'd for years (or, more often, indefinitely), anti-DRM gamers had to choose between their principles (skip this game indefinitely or accept it in a DRM-encumbered form). Now, waiting a few months is an easy tradeoff. It may even lead to fewer sales in the early months, since gamers who grudgingly bought the game despite the DRM now wait for it to be removed, so that they do not pollute their systems with DRM and waste time fighting DRM-induced artificial failures. I suspect many gamers who understand DRM fell into the category that they would grudgingly buy the game anyway, on the expectation that it would never be freed. Now, why not wait and see?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Dec 2016 @ 11:36am

    Faint praise

    The funniest part as I see it is that even Denuvo, the company providing the DRM, admits that DRM is unwanted.

    In their defense they claim that it worked 'long enough' for the companies that purchased it, but in doing so they're basically admitting that the companies see DRM as a lesser of two evils, something to be tolerated only so long as the gains outweigh the losses, and gotten rid of as soon as that's no longer the case.

    If DRM was really as awesome as they claim it was then there would be no need to remove it, nor would anyone want to, yet here they are, doing so as quickly as they think is 'reasonable', making it clear that it's not this amazing piece of technology filled with rainbows and puppies that everyone wants, but something that is at best put up with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pirates of the world unite, 23 Dec 2016 @ 12:14pm

    more funny

    the fact the cracking group would release only after 4 months , when the dev said the money back guarantee was 3 months...NICE DOUBLE WHAMMY

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Groaker (profile), 23 Dec 2016 @ 4:27pm

    The entertainment world will mutate the web into a the same sorrowful and boring mess that the rest of the "extravaganzas" are, and all cords coming into the home will be cut.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 23 Dec 2016 @ 5:27pm

    "The simple reason why Denuvo Anti Tamper was removed from Doom was because it had accomplished its purpose by keeping the game safe from piracy during the initial sales window"

    Except this simply is not a reason to remove the DRM. So it worked for 4 months.. Great, yay, awesome. That is not a reason to remove it now. We were done with it isn't a reason to remove it. Try "We were done with it and [insert reason it needs to be removed here]"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Eldakka (profile), 23 Dec 2016 @ 9:02pm

      Re:

      It would not surprise me if Denuvo was licensed on a per-copy sold with Denuvo basis (or some other similar unit-time basis). So at some point the $-cost-per-unit vs $-lost-per-pirated copy (if u believe in piracy as lost sales - which their financial departments usually do) is no longer worth it.

      Therefore the developers will stop shipping new copies of the software with Denuvo and 'patch up' extant copies to the same level so they don't have to support different editions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        DCL, 24 Dec 2016 @ 12:40am

        Re: Re:

        Having some insider info (but not to be considered an official source) I can confirm that at least one major game publisher had a per activation cost (along with an upfront cost for some advance features). So it makes sense that the publisher has incentive to remove the protection at some point.

        The impression/understanding is that I have is the Denuevo team are really sharp and been doing this for a long time so they understand the publishers position very well.

        I also know that Denuevo devs worked closely with that publisher's game team devs to ensure proper integration and to work out performance issues.

        The Denuevo team keeps tight control of their wrapping tech but from what I have seen I am convinced that they alter the implementation for each game to make things harder to crack.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 28 Dec 2016 @ 7:29am

    Hmmm. It's funny, I don't mind waiting 4 months to test the full thing before throwing money at it. And if it doesn't get unlocked then I don't buy unless I can get my impressions somewhere else. So basically file sharing actually enables sales in my case and the successful prevention of it means guaranteed "lost sales". Or I will buy it years later in the used market or in the discount bin for a fraction of the price.

    It's us the consumers who have to educate the companies with our wallets. It's not like they are Comcasts of the world that hold the effective monopoly on service providing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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