First-person shooter Doom is among 2016’s biggest AAA releases. A highly desirable title with an outstanding back-story and pedigree, it was bound to be a target for pirates.
However, following its release in May, Doom did not immediately hit pirate networks. Like so many other big games, its makers had invested in anti-piracy technology supplied by Austria’s Denuvo Software Solutions.
In the end it took around four months for Doom to appear in unauthorized form after being cracked by scene group CPY. Then, earlier this month, developer Bethesda removed Denuvo from the game altogether.
This development triggered much speculation which was only intensified by claims from an alleged developer that Denuvo offers refunds to studios and publishers if their games are cracked within a set period.
“I do want to explain what happened here. Denuvo Software Solutions offers a guarantee, if your Denuvo game is cracked within a certain time (3 months is normal), you do not have to pay for Denuvo,” he said.
While the iteration of Denuvo protecting Doom was cracked just outside this period, the dev’s claims seemed to make sense. The only point of a copy protection technology is to stop games getting pirated, if only for a short length of time, so some kind of guarantee would be a reasonable requirement.
However, in an interview with Kotaku, Denuvo co-founder Robert Hernandez said that the protection was removed from Doom because it had served its purpose. He also denied issuing refunds.
“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,” Hernandez said.
“The protection on Doom held up for nearly four months, which is an impressive accomplishment for such a high-profile game.”
In that respect, Hernandez is absolutely right. A third of a year is a respectable period for a game developer to begin recovering its costs and a far cry from the “cracked before launch” situation the PC games market was suffering from a few years ago.
However, even with Denuvo having outlived its usefulness on Doom, Hernandez denied anyone at Bethesda was getting their money back.
“We can’t comment on our deals with specific customers, but we do not have any deals in place that offer refunds if a game is cracked within a specific time frame,” he said.
Of course, all of these kinds of statements are open to interpretation. Clearly, Denuvo has to perform and no developer in the world is going to pay for something that fails to live up to its billing of being able to protect the title during its launch period.
So, if there really aren’t any cash-back guarantees and no crystal balls, it seems reasonable to presume that Denuvo customers pay for its protection based on real-world performance.
Denuvo obviously isn’t sharing its deals in public, but protecting the first month would definitely be the most valuable option (and potentially most costly) for developers. A further couple of months of protection would be desirable too but as sales go up and the potential customer base diminishes, so does the value of paying for protection.
If we believe Denuvo that there are no refunds, there seems to be little value in buying six months worth of protection up front on a gamble. Paying by actual performance and longevity would make the most sense.
The developer who made the original claims about refunds did insist that studios would have to remove Denuvo from their games after they stopped paying for protection. At least in some form, this appears to have happened with Doom. After all, one of the supposed selling points of Denuvo is that it doesn’t hurt gaming performance, so if it’s been paid for already, why not simply leave it in place?
That being said, Hernandez told Kotaku that the removal was the publisher’s decision.
“[E]ach publisher is of course free to remove our anti tamper tech from their title once they feel the protection has achieved its purpose in protecting the initial sales window, or if they have other reasons for doing so, such as selling the title on DRM-free platforms,” he said.
Finally, what is perhaps most interesting about Denuvo is the fact that despite it being a little more vulnerable in recent months, it still generates plenty of discussion. That in itself shows that the technology is still an irritant to pirates and for games developers, that’s nearly always something worth paying for.