There have been a number of anti-piracy technologies that have become loathed by video games pirates over the years. Some are hated due to their tendency to reduce the quality of the gaming experience. Others are predictably hated due to their effectiveness.
In fact, if one took the time to map dislike of a particular technology and place it on a timeline of how long it takes it to get bypassed or ‘cracked’, those graphs would look very similar indeed. So, when we say that Denuvo is currently the most-hated of all anti-piracy technologies, there’s no real need to ask why.
Just recently, however, pirates have had reason to celebrate. In a matter of months, Denuvo has gone from pretty much uncrackable to a little bit vulnerable.
Early August, a cracker known as Voksi found a loophole in Steam which allowed many Denuvo-protected titles to be played for free. It was a Denuvo bypass, not a full crack, but pirates were grateful. Then, just a few days later the gratitude developed into glee when the first full crack of Denuvo appeared online courtesy of cracking group CPY.
But pirates are always hungry for more and immediately wanted to know when new games would become available. They didn’t have to wait long. Just a couple of weeks later the iteration of Denuvo protecting ‘Inside’ was cracked in record time.
Not long after, those victories were followed by cracks for new games including Doom and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, so was this the beginning of the end for Denuvo? Well, it all depends on one’s perspective.
Over the years, anti-piracy companies have learned that claiming their technology is flawless has always come back to bite them. Denuvo is no different. In a new interview with MCVUK, the company explains that being uncrackable is neither the claim nor the aim.
“You have to have a realistic view of anti-piracy measures,” marketing director Thomas Goebl explains.
“There is no such thing as unbreakable protection. That’s something we always tell our clients to help manage their expectations. Our scope is to prevent early cracks for every title. We want to allow an initial window when a game is released to have an uncracked version and thus guarantee sales.”
When one considers the effort and funds expended leading up to a game’s release, it’s no surprise that the first few days and weeks are the most important in terms of sales. For so-called ‘AAA titles’ (a big target market for Denuvo), marketing expenses can run into millions of dollars, with every cent designed to make gamers salivate with anticipation while moving their hands ever closer to their wallets. Any delay on stopping a pirate copy appearing quickly translates to more sales, Denuvo says.
But despite notable recent setbacks, Denuvo-protected titles still do not appear online on day one. Or week one. Or even month one. If people want these games, they’re going to have to pay for them. In fact, it is not unusual for games to remain unpirated for months, something that was unthinkable only a year or two ago when titles often appeared online before launch.
Denuvo CEO Reinhard Blaukovitsch told MCVUK that there are a number of strategies that can be employed by developers in order to recoup their development costs and Denuvo is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Some trust in DRM solutions, ones that are user-friendly. They also trust in our solution. There may be other solutions, where you go DRM free or do different price ranges in different territories. This is a marketing decision and strategy that the publishers may want to use. If they decide on some DRM technology or techniques, we can help them,” Blaukovitsch says.
Marketing man Thomas Goebl says that good games will always sell well but as soon as a working pirated version is available online, suddenly developers have to compete with free.
“Even if the service is good, if it has nice community features and so on, those people who don’t want to pay for it simply won’t pay because there is free competition,” he says.
Interestingly, Goebl notes something that many pirates will understand already. Multi-player games that require constant access to an online service are in many cases less vulnerable than variants that can also be played substantially offline. Just Cause 3 (released 11 months ago but yet to be cracked) might be considered one such example.
“Especially for single player games, or if there’s a big single player portion to the game, it makes perfect sense to use an anti-tamper solution like ours to prevent any cracks during the launch window time frame,” Goebl says.
Some pirates might be asking why it’s possible to quickly crack Inside, for example, but not other games that have been released since. The partial answer to that is while crackers like CPY burn the midnight oil circumventing Denuvo, the developers at Denuvo are doing the same with CPY’s work.
“The procedure [after a crack] is the same every time. We analyze how the crack was done and then we update our protection. It’s a game of cat and mouse that we play,” Blaukovitsch says.
“There are many techniques we use to prevent people from debugging, reverse engineering and otherwise tampering with our software. We are improving that technology or those techniques on a day-to-day basis, and coming up with new ideas that are almost entirely new inventions on a monthly basis on how we improve our service.”
The end result, no matter how unpopular with pirates, is that by the company’s own metrics, Denuvo is winning. In the majority of cases the technology does indeed stop games being pirated before, during and after launch, and indeed many months on in most cases.
Whether that will continue to be the case moving forward is unclear, but right now Denuvo is still the most-hated anti-piracy technology on the market. As long as it remains that way, it will be doing its job.