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.