Sega Releases 'Sonic Mania' Without Informing PC Customers Of Denuvo Inclusion And Always Online Requirements

from the always-dumb dept

Searching for stories about Sega here at Techdirt results in a seriously mixed bag of results. While the company has managed to be on the right side of history on issues like SOPA and fan-made games, it has also managed to be strongly anti-consumer on game mods and has occasionally wreaked havoc on the YouTube community, all in the name of copyright protectionism. Despite all of this, Sega has gone to some lengths to successfully craft for itself a public image more accessible and likeable than its long-time rival Nintendo.

Stories like the following will put dents in that image, however. Sega recently ported its new title Sonic Mania to the PC and released it on the Steam platform. The port also included Denuvo DRM and an always-online requirement, except that it (oops!) forgot to tell anyone about either.

I tried loading the Windows version of Sonic Mania while my Steam account was offline. That's when Sonic Mania informed me, in no uncertain terms, that "Steam user must be logged in to play this game."

Turns out, Sega has applied the much-malignedDenuvo copy-protection system to Sonic Mania's PC version—and this Denuvo implementation won't unlock the game for players so long as Steam is operating in "offline mode." Until the game receives an update, Sonic Mania fans hoping to play the PC version in an offline capacity are out of luck. (Your backup option, should you want to do something like board a plane, is to boot the game while connected to Wi-Fi, then disconnect from the Internet and leave the game running in the background until you're ready to play. It's not necessarily an ideal workaround.)

Gamers immediately began complaining both that the DRM was keeping them from playing their legitimately purchased game and that the Steam store page for Sonic Mania was devoid of any notification of Denuvo or its online requirement in the system requirements page, or anywhere else for that matter. Somewhat oddly, a Steam account with the handle of "Sega Dev" responded to the complaints, saying the omission on the store page was a mistake. That mistake has been rectified and the store page now informs buyers of the Denuvo requirement. But that same account also informed Steam users that "Sonic Mania is intended to be played offline", and has promised to investigate the issue.

Even stranger, the PR lead for the Sonic franchise went even further and practically begged for the public to complain to the company about Denuvo and the online requirement.


I simply can't recall ever having seen anything remotely like this, with the PR wing of a company soliciting complaints to corporate in what sure seems like a way to get corporate to move off of a DRM. It seems there is some infighting at Sega over this requirement, though to what level that infighting rises is unknown to me. Any Sega employees reading this are free to contact me and relay your concerns.

Regardless, this is a terrible look for Sega among the gaming community. Including a much-maligned DRM and requiring a single-player game to be online to play it can only have one sort of impact on the company's standing in the public. While Sega has not removed Denuvo from the game entirely, it has since released a patch that allows the game to be played offline. The damage, however, has likely already been done.


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  • identicon
    Some Gamer, 30 Aug 2017 @ 7:32pm

    Rapid fix, but still suspicious.

    It's worth noting, the online requirement was removed within about 12 hours of the game's release, before this article was even posted.

    Still, even if it was a simple oversight, it's an unusually massive oversight.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2017 @ 12:14am

      Re: Rapid fix, but still suspicious.

      That was mentioned in the article ;)

      But, it's not really suspicious. Sega had the option not to mandate online play, but either didn't think through the consequences of enforcing it or believed the phantom head start they'd have would generate enough sales for the bad press to be worth it. Once enough people complained, they changed the way the DRM was enforced.

      The PR stuff mentioned above might imply that someone at Sega is deliberately to undermine corporate confidence in DRM, by making sure it's enforced in the worst way and generates a significant enough number of complaints for them to take note.

      "Still, even if it was a simple oversight, it's an unusually massive oversight."

      It's not particularly unusual, sadly, which is a major issue.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2017 @ 7:33pm

    Given the way Denuvo is going, by the time this comment is posted, Denuvo will have been cracked. And it'll all be for naught.
    The Steam reviews and ratings however, will be a permanent stain.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 Aug 2017 @ 5:38am

      Re:

      The Steam reviews and ratings however, will be a permanent stain.

      You'd think someone in a high position in the company would understand the simple idea of 'You only get one chance to make a first impression'.

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

  • icon
    OA (profile), 30 Aug 2017 @ 7:47pm

    I simply can't recall ever having seen anything remotely like this, with the PR wing of a company soliciting complaints to corporate in what sure seems like a way to get corporate to move off of a DRM. It seems there is some infighting at Sega over this requirement, though to what level that infighting rises is unknown to me.

    I believe the situation with the Rime game was similar. IIRC it was a rift between the Developers and the Publishers.

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

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 30 Aug 2017 @ 7:49pm

    There has been a workaround since about... 12 hours or so ago, via hex-editing. However, this seems to be a Sega of Europe decision rather than Sega Japan/Sega of America decision. Hence why it seems odd, yet understandable to complain to Sega about the DRM.

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

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 30 Aug 2017 @ 7:59pm

    Reporter: "How long do you think it'll take for Sega to just drop Denuvo altogether?"

    Gamer: "Ten..."

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

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Aug 2017 @ 9:46pm

    Maybe they should stick to letting the fans make Sonic fangames. At least those will never have DRM.

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2017 @ 12:09am

    "Until the game receives an update, Sonic Mania fans hoping to play the PC version in an offline capacity are out of luck. (Your backup option, should you want to do something like board a plane..."

    I think this is symptomatic of the attitude of the devs/publishers, in that they often forget to include real world usage in their consideration of things like this. They're invariably doing to be sat at a desk with decent high speed connectivity, and use the product in a certain way. They either forget to cater for, or consider them so uncommon that they're irrelevant in their mind, use cases where people are on the move and/or without decent connectivity.

    This is why Microsoft were so astonished by the outcry against permanent connectivity being mandated for the XBox One when it was first released. They were so used to being in a place with guaranteed, reliable connectivity, they didn't consider the huge proportion of their customers who had spotty, slow or non-existent internet (including the armed forces who regularly gamers on the 360 while stations away). They reversed their decision, but it cost them dearly - because they were trying to dictate to customers how to use the product rather than addressing their actual needs.

    Oh well, at least the guy who pirated the game can play it on the plane, while the guy who paid for the product has to wait till he gets home - and maybe decides not to make the same mistake of paying for the game next time.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2017 @ 4:03am

    DRM will end the human race

    When the zombie apocalypse happens we will be unable to train survivors how to fight zombies because DRM will prevent the zombie game from running.

    Just like the post apocalyptic world, when my parents force me to take vacation with them camping in the Montana wilderness I'll be unable to play my favorite DRM infested game even if I bring solar panels to keep my smartphone charged.

    Screw games, I'm gonna invest my money in a new hobby free from DRM, anyone know a good place to pickup some quality knitting needles?

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

  • identicon
    Ven, 31 Aug 2017 @ 6:41am

    Minor correction

    While the game launch had an online check it did not have "Always Online Requirements". The game could be launched and then minimized while online, and left open running in the background even while disconnected from the internet, the brought back to the front and played. As long as the game stayed running it could be played even while offline.

    This is in sharp contrast to say UbiSoft's U-Play that often would pause or exit the game if there is even a small hiccup in network connectivity.

    I think the difference between "online check at launch" and "true always online" is important, the former is dumb and annoying, the latter is dumb, annoying, often disruptive or even destructive to play, and thoroughly anti-consumer.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 31 Aug 2017 @ 6:49am

      Re: Minor correction

      The distinction is meaningless if you're unable to access the internet at the time of launching the game.

      This is one of the problems with DRM - it assumes you are a pirate unless you prove otherwise. That proof can fail, meaning that legal purchasers are left unable to access the content - while actual pirates, who have never had a DRM infected copy of the game can access it no problem.

      Whether or not the game was "always on" or just checking at launch, it demonstrably falsely accused people of being pirates and prevented them from accessing the content they purchased. Worse, it did so without prior warning that it would require connectivity before purchase.

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

      • identicon
        Ven, 31 Aug 2017 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re: Minor correction

        The distinction is meaningless if you're unable to access the internet at the time of launching the game.

        Your right, with enough work you can construct scenarios where almost any distinction becomes meaningless. That doesn't mean the distinction isn't valid, and that it shouldn't be made. Sonic Mania did not contain an "Always Online Requirements". There are in fact single player only games that do have real "Always Online Requirements", they are an abomination.

        If you read my post as apologizing for the choices made to add crappy DRM and online checks to Sonic Mania then I'm sorry, I did not intend my post that way. I try to avoid games with DRM like Denuvo, for the reasons you mention, and because I've had a system trashed by the old StarForce DRM.

        You really don't need to explain to me that the choice by Sega was bad, I already get that. I'm just arguing that there is 'bad' and 'really bad', accusing someone of being 'really bad' when they were in fact only 'bad' is not good for constructive discourse.

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

        • identicon
          ryuugami, 31 Aug 2017 @ 9:03am

          Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

          Your right, with enough work you can construct scenarios where almost any distinction becomes meaningless.

          Although some scenarios don't require much work at all :)

          If you have a laptop that's not bolted to your table, or bad connection, or occasional internet outage, this directly affects you (that's a significant percentage of gamers!), even if you have no moral problems with lies in product descriptions or the existence of DRM itself.

          I'm just arguing that there is 'bad' and 'really bad', accusing someone of being 'really bad' when they were in fact only 'bad' is not good for constructive discourse.

          When you say "really bad" and "bad", it sounds like one and two stars on a standard five-star rating scale. I'd put it more like 0 and 2 on a 100 point scale (I think that'd be 1 and 1.1 stars). Both are so idiotic that they defy all reason, although one is almost imperceptibly less so :/

          I'd also like to point out that "not so bad in comparison" is also a lousy way to conduct constructive discourse :)

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

          • identicon
            Ven, 31 Aug 2017 @ 9:29am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

            I'd also like to point out that "not so bad in comparison" is also a lousy way to conduct constructive discourse :)

            When did I or any one but you say "not so bad in comparison"?

            FWIW it is very very bad practice to use what looks like a quotation of another person that is not a quote of that person.

            I would argue there is a very large difference between an online check and an always online check.

            If you have a laptop that's not bolted to your table, or bad connection, or occasional internet outage, this directly affects you

            I think you misunderstand, the check Sega added to Sonic Mania would only check if your Steam account was on line once when the game started and never again after that point until the game was closed. If you had a "bad connection, or occasional internet outage" this might mean you had to try a few times to launch the game, or play a game that didn't have stupid DRM. I have previously stated that this is 'bad' and 'dumb'. Once the game was running it worked without internet.

            Now compare this to true "Always Online" DRM, U-Play in the past has actually force quit games without saving when an online check failed. It could do this at any time in the middle of a game session. This results in some times hours of progress in game lost forever. Even worse it could be the U-Play servers having network problems!

            Please explain to me how these scenarios are even remotely close.

            Online checks like those added to Sonic Mania may suck, but they are not destructive. Always online checks are actually destructive, they can ruin a game in progress instead of just annoy.

            You may have a different scale than me, and that is fine, but for me this is far more than 2 points of difference on a 100 point scale.

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

        • identicon
          Thad, 31 Aug 2017 @ 11:44am

          Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

          Your right, with enough work you can construct scenarios where almost any distinction becomes meaningless.

          It doesn't take much work to come up with "what if you don't have an internet connection when it does the online check?"

          Sonic Mania did not contain an "Always Online Requirements".

          It did, though; or at least that's what people are reporting. Ars may have quoted the wrong error message, but people were unable to play the game offline, even after an initial activation, until a patch was issued. (Otherwise, why would they have needed to issue a patch?)

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

          • identicon
            Ven, 31 Aug 2017 @ 1:25pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

            > Your right, with enough work you can construct scenarios where almost any distinction becomes meaningless. It doesn't take much work to come up with "what if you don't have an internet connection when it does the online check?"

            I've answered this exact same comment previously, so short version one more time:

            A game not launching offline is worlds of difference from a game not launching offline and that exits without saving because a short loss of internet connectivity.

            It did, though; or at least that's what people are reporting. Ars may have quoted the wrong error message, but people were unable to play the game offline, even after an initial activation, until a patch was issued. (Otherwise, why would they have needed to issue a patch?)

            From Ars also quoted by the TechDirt article:

            Your backup option, should you want to do something like board a plane, is to boot the game while connected to Wi-Fi, then disconnect from the Internet and leave the game running in the background until you're ready to play.

            At launch Sonic Mania required an activation at install (aka one time online activation) and it also required an at start Steam online check, but it could continue running after that without any internet connectivity.

            That is not "Always Online". To be "Always Online" it needs to require a continuous connection while playing.

            The patch removed the at start Steam online check from the game. Since that was not an "Always Online" the patch didn't remove an "Always Online" check. It only remove and At Start Online check.

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

            • identicon
              Thad, 31 Aug 2017 @ 4:56pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

              I've answered this exact same comment previously, so short version one more time:

              A game not launching offline is worlds of difference from a game not launching offline and that exits without saving because a short loss of internet connectivity.

              That's not an answer so much as a non sequitur.

              At launch Sonic Mania required an activation at install (aka one time online activation) and it also required an at start Steam online check, but it could continue running after that without any internet connectivity.

              That is not "Always Online". To be "Always Online" it needs to require a continuous connection while playing.

              The patch removed the at start Steam online check from the game. Since that was not an "Always Online" the patch didn't remove an "Always Online" check. It only remove and At Start Online check.

              That's a fair point, I suppose, but it also feels a bit like hairsplitting. It's nice that the game doesn't boot you out if you lose your Internet connection after you start playing it, but it never should have required an online check for offline play in the first place. That's the point.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 1 Sep 2017 @ 12:54am

          Re: Re: Re: Minor correction

          "Your right, with enough work you can construct scenarios where almost any distinction becomes meaningless. "

          Erm, I've literally describing the real scenario described in the article.

          "I'm just arguing that there is 'bad' and 'really bad', accusing someone of being 'really bad' when they were in fact only 'bad' is not good for constructive discourse."

          I'm saying that the distinction is meaningless for some people.

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


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