Last month we reported how anti-piracy company Denuvo is in the process of recruiting a a Sales Director for its video games security system.
For the right candidate, it will provide a unique opportunity to not only encourage uptake of Denuvo but also become part of a team that is on the one hand respected by game developers but on the other disliked by some elements of the gaming community. This is par for the course with Denuvo since when it works (by protecting games in their early release windows), developers love it and pirates hate it. When it doesn’t, which is relatively rare these days, the opposite is broadly the case.
But what is it really like to work at Denuvo and what goes on behind closed doors? TorrentFreak caught up with Denuvo’s Chief Marketing Officer Steeve Huin for the lowdown.
Denuvo: Passionate Gamers at Heart
“The Denuvo team is a team of passionate gamers with software engineering & cybersecurity background,” Huin explains.
“Working for Denuvo is great as you get to work with the coolest game studios in the world, advising them on security and design and getting access to the games before they are published so we can validate and optimize our technologies for their new games. Who would not want to be part of a team like that?”
Obtaining access to games before release is certainly something that most if not all pirates would be interested in. But of course, it’s Denuvo’s job to delay pirate access for as long as possible, ideally forever.
As part of that, Huin says that the team has to understand the latest trends, including new cheating and hacking techniques. Some of this research is carried out on the dark web, with the team reverse engineering code so that they can better understand what their opponents are up to. That being said, it’s not all about hiding in the shadows while gathering intelligence.
Huin says that his team are all gamers and playing games is the best way to learn about the latest issues, cheats and trends. In that respect at least, they’re not that different from regular consumers or indeed pirates, so why does Denuvo have such a bad reputation in some areas of the gaming community?
Gaming Performance: A Big Issue or Simply Overblown?
To be clear, it’s not just pirates that dislike the presence of Denuvo. Many people who purchase protected games at retail have developed a mistrust of the system, with persistent claims that Denuvo slows games down or affects performance in other ways.
Huin says that the claims are simply not true.
“Denuvo is regularly blamed for decreased game performance. We guarantee to our customers (game development studios) that it’s not the case. We do this by benchmarking the game before/after applying our technologies (and they also see it for themselves). We would not be used by most of the large game publishers today if our technology was not great and had an impact on in-game experience!”
While this makes complete sense from a logical standpoint, this is essentially Denuvo’s word against those of its detractors. If there was a way to confirm this, with public support from game developers, for example, perhaps some of the fears could be allayed. We put it to Huin that a joint and public Denuvo/developer response might be the solution but Huin says that’s unlikely to happen.
“Sadly there is, in general, a lot of secrecy expectations from our customers, and that even includes the ability to mention which studios or which games we are providing security technologies for. It makes it therefore pretty hard for us to defend ourselves in practice. That being said, I can refer you to these independent testings (1,2),” he says.
Denuvo: Being Called ‘Evil’ Comes With The Territory
There are several online forums where hatred for Denuvo reaches its peak and unsurprisingly they are populated by some of the most dedicated pirates. In the English language, Reddit’s /r/crackwatch is probably the most popular due to its accessibility, with emotions swinging from anger when Denuvo is doing its job through to jubilation when a cracker manages to circumvent the company’s protection.
These negative sentiments towards Denuvo’s work are expected, Huin says, given the company’s position in the market.
“We’re sometimes depicted as evil which is not cool but I guess it comes with the territory – a possible parallel is with the traffic cops, for example, which are there for the greater good of the community but are not really appreciated – especially when you are stopped for running a red light or driving over the speed limit,” he says.
“We are here to ensure that games studios can sell their games and recoup investments they made in the game and ensure they can then invest in the next games and that does not draw popularity amongst the gamers. Sadly, people have not realized that in our hearts we side with the gamers (as we are gamers ourselves). We’ve been recently more focused on anti-cheat technologies to make sure gamers have fun while playing, instead of games being ruined by cheaters – which is seriously uncool.”
But Couldn’t The Presence of Denuvo Leave Buyers Exposed?
Some gamers have aired concerns that DRM-protected titles requiring online verification might become casualties should those holding the keys go out of business. While that seems unlikely in the short term for Denuvo, does the company have any reassurances for those worried that legitimately purchased games will cease to work in a worst-case scenario?
“Given that Denuvo is part of Irdeto, which is a Cybersecurity company founded in 1969, the risk is very low of Denuvo to go out of business (or even Irdeto, which is in turn part of a $2bn+ group a year). That being said, the game publishers can easily republish the games without the Denuvo protection without our help; and have all information on the legitimate purchases and can allow re-download of the games,” Huin says.
“Our contracts are in place for time-limited protection for games (6 or 12 months for example, that may or not be renewed). After that period, games get released unprotected, so a process to republish the games without protection is already in place today for most games in practice.”
Monitoring Crackers and Cracks
It’s common for anti-piracy outfits of all kinds to have employees closely monitoring their adversaries and of course, this must also be true for Denuvo. But how much would the company reveal when asked directly about its secret work? Not much perhaps, but certainly better than the “no comment” offered by similar groups.
“A fair amount of time is spent in the cracking and cheating communities to understand what’s going on to help our game studio customers (and ourselves) be best prepared for what’s coming next. We have as part of our wider Cybersecurity team, ex-law enforcement team members as well as white hat hackers. Some of our hackers have won worldwide hack fests – so pretty good and skillful people,” Huin reveals.
On the law enforcement front, TorrentFreak asked Denuvo directly about Voksi, the Bulgarian cracker who abruptly ceased his activities back in 2018 after being targeted by a local cybercrime unit. Voksi said that Denuvo was involved, something that was later confirmed by Denuvo in a now-deleted post.
So what happened there and are we likely to see a legal process featuring the Bulgarian or did he settle? Denuvo would not provide additional details but did confirm that legal action can take place at the behest of a publisher.
“Overall, we focus our efforts on making our technology better but we do have indeed a Cybersecurity team that supports the game publishers in identifying what cracks have occurred, how and who’s been involved,” Huin says.
“At times, on the request of the game publishers (who you can imagine are not taking it lightly when their investments are ruined by cracked games being published), we do support law enforcement agencies around the world. We however cannot comment on any possible cases and whether we have provided support or not.”
Finally, then, the big question remains – what happens when things don’t go to plan? A game protected by Denuvo gets cracked by someone and placed online. Do sirens go off at Denuvo HQ propelling everyone to action stations? Maybe a little bit but Denuvo says it is concerned on other fronts too.
“When a crack appears, then we go and investigate if it’s true (there are a lot of malware floating around pretending to be cracks or cracked versions of a game), we reverse engineer/understand how the crack has been achieved and then we focus our energy on making our tech even better,” Huin reveals.
“More than anything we monitor that there are no issues with the game, and if there are, that we’re not the cause of it – as we want our customers to be successful and we want the games that we protect to be great, and the gamers to enjoy the gaming experience.
“Of course we monitor the hacking scene too but that’s not as important as the launch of the games!” he concludes.