Denuvo and the Apparent Hubris of Anti-Piracy

Denuvo on Resident Evil 7 Cracked

With the seemingly lightning-fast recent cracking of Resident Evil 7, taking only 5 days since release, I thought a bit about Denuvo and the whole thing about DRM protection. Cracking groups have always been there to break the DRM of game releases, with names like RELOADED, RAZOR1911, 3DM, and CPY being familiar to those who have no qualms about pirating games, whether it’s to try them out or to be a complete freeloader. Whichever side you’re on in the discussion, perhaps we can all agree that this whole thing with Denuvo is pretty interesting.

Personally, I started to see this sort of backpedaling from Denuvo when they pulled their Anti-Tamper tech from DOOM. They claim that it had done its job by keeping it uncracked for the first few months of release, so it’s no longer needed. Then again, this happened just after CPY had successfully cracked the game. Other publishers have been following suit with the removal of Denuvo Anti-Tamper from their games, like Playdead with Inside and Crytek with their VR game The Climb.

DISCLAIMER: I highly encourage people to support developers and publishers by paying for their work. I currently have 583 games in my Steam library and dozens more in my GOG, Origin, and Uplay accounts as of this writing. I think I’ve made up for my many years of pirating back when I was young and unemployed.

With that said, I still download cracked games to check them out before deciding to spend money on them. I think it’s sensible practice, especially when it comes to AAA titles. This is a friendly reminder to readers—if you like it, BUY IT.

The Low-Down on Denuvo

I first encountered Denuvo after the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. When their Anti-Tamper tech first came about, there were these rumors of how it’ll shred your hard drive if you try to run it without having legitimately bought it. But Denuvo is more about “continuously encrypting and decrypting itself,” as early reports described it. The resulting hype caused it to be seen as “impossible to crack” even though it had been cracked many times before, albeit after a long while.

Denuvo claims that their Anti-Tamper tech is not “uncrackable” but “hard to crack.” Arguing semantics aside, I do think they’re only saying that after they started to notice that the crackers have started to get their number. Maybe they now have to go back to the drawing board and rework their tech to make it more crack-proof, but it’s safe to say that they benefited a lot from the word of mouth on their perceived invincibility when Denuvo Anti-Tamper first came about.

Locks are Stupid

I’m not exactly saying keeping your things locked up is stupid, but there are some things to consider before you put the stress of having to worry about security on your own shoulders. In this case, for the most part, game companies know what they’re getting themselves into, but then do a lot of other things to cover for everything else they tend to worry about.

It’s understood that game publishers are in the business of releasing video games, so it’s understandable that they’d shelf out tons of cash to Denuvo to protect their investments. However, this fear of having their products pirated and wanting to make sure they secure high number of sales in the first month or so of release has made them incredibly nervous. You can argue that it’s why they do all those other unsavory practices that they’ve been constantly criticized for like bullshots, excessive marketing hype, pre-order bonuses, and shameless microtransactions.

Meanwhile, Denuvo is in this weird time now wherein they have to make sure that they still have their customers’ confidence when it comes to their Anti-Tamper tech and double down on making it better. However, it’ll take a good bit of time and resources for them to strengthen it as the Denuvo Anti-Tamper no longer has that seemingly ironclad reputation of being nigh impervious to cracking. Most likely, the infamously skittish Capcom just facepalmed after seeing yet another one of their releases fall to piracy, which may have either exacerbated or even caused the fall in their stock price after RE7’s launch.

It’s just like the locks and safes industry, wherein they’re trying to come up with better ways to lock up things that need to be kept safe, but they still have the run-in-the-mill Master locks, door knobs, deadbolts, and shitty drawer locks for regular consumers to use. Good luck trying to keep thieves out since locks practically aren’t for keeping them from stealing your stuff, but for just delaying their attempts at doing so. Hopefully, you have a burglar alarm and a shotgun to go with your locks if you’re really worried about people getting to the fake Rolex watches you have in your desk drawer.

Other Interesting Anti-Piracy Methods

Perhaps the most effective anti-piracy method I’ve ever come across is having a game with really good online multiplayer. Pirated copies can’t be played online, unless there are illegal private servers, so you either buy it or not play it at all. I’m okay with this, but not always-online authentication for singleplayer games. It’s not that I hate the latter outright (since I can afford buying my own games now), but always-online in a singleplayer game will always feel wrong, no matter how you slice it. Just ask people who bought the final SimCity game.

The other anti-piracy method I’ve found to be fairly effective is GOG’s DRM-free approach. Just have none of that and trust the customers to buy it anyway if they really like it. You can actually download GOG versions of games through torrents and they’ll run just fine. Then again, it will make you think of how much you really value those titles. Since Good Old Games is all about what it says on the label, the selling point is in adults with money can now buy whatever games they grew up with. It’s actually fairly effective, albeit an anti-piracy method that’s “well after the fact.”

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