from the back-to-the-arms-race dept
As you may recall, earlier this year a well-known hacking group that specializes in cracking PC games made the bold prediction that cracking games would no longer be a thing in another year or two. Contrasting with what seems like the neverending trend concerning DRM in software, 3DM stated that the software industry had apparently found its unicorn in a DRM called Denuvo, which was increasingly elongating the time between a game hitting the market and the crack for it becoming available. A practice that usually took days or weeks was suddenly being measured in months, pushing to a year. 3DM made the case that this amount of time and effort to crack a Denuvo-protected game made the practice too costly and, more importantly, that the DRM software was being updated and getting so good that it might essentially become uncrackable.
This prediction, of course, flew in the face of the history of DRM and the speed with which it has always been defeated, leading me to be more than a bit skeptical of the prediction. Skepticism well-founded, it appears, now that Denuvo appears to have been neutered in the days since.
Early this month, a ‘Scene’ group called CONSPIR4CY properly cracked an iteration of Denuvo that had been protecting Rise of the Tomb Raider (ROTTR). The news had many pirates extremely excited. While undoubtedly a momentous occasion, ROTTR had been released in January, meaning that in theory CONSPIR4CY might have worked on the crack for six or seven months, a lifetime for most pirates. Furthermore, half a year’s head start is huge for the title’s developers in terms of sales, so without doubt Denuvo had done its job.
Yesterday, however, there was a new development which might represent a more worrying chink in Denuvo’s defenses. With a lack of fanfare usually associated with some of the Scene’s more mature groups, CONSPIR4CY (a reported collaboration between the CPY and CODEX groups) released a fully cracked version of puzzle-platformer ‘Inside‘.
Inside, by the way, was released on July 7th, meaning that even if work on the crack had begun on that very day, a Denuvo-protected game had been unlocked in a matter of weeks. It's a return to normal, in other words. Or it will be, if CONSPIR4CY can duplicate this with another recently released game protected by Denuvo software.
So all eyes now turn to the brand new release of Deus Ex Mankind Divided. If that game is quickly cracked by CONSPIR4CY, Denuvo could be coming out in a cold sweat. In the meantime, others are also attempting to dismantle their empire.
At which point the handsome amount of cash these game developers will have paid for Denuvo might as well have been doused in gasoline and lit on fire. This brings us back to my original reaction to 3DM's original prediction that DRM would eventually stamp out piracy: that ain't how arms races work. I was actually hoping that the game industry had found its DRM unicorn, because then we could start getting some solid impact numbers as to how its use might increase sales in the absence of piracy. Unfortunately, Denuvo instead was just another rung on the arms race ladder.
And that brings game publishers back to the question that they have faced for the past twenty or so years: is it worth sinking money into what is at best temporarily-effective DRM, or is that money and effort better spent figuring out how to connect with their fans and giving them reasons, and business models around which, to buy their products?