The PC's Best Anti-Piracy Technology Appears to be Defeated
With 'Total War: Warhammer II' cracked in less than 24 hours, it calls into question why publishers would continue to use Denuvo.
Image courtesy of Sega
In less than 24 hours, the cracking group Steampunks released a version of Total War: Warhammer II without Denuvo, the anti-piracy technology that's been the bane of DRM critics (and pirates) for years, reports TorrentFreak. It's the latest in a series of brutal blows to Denuvo, and this one might finally prove fatal for a technology that some pirates feared might bring the end to PC gaming piracy.
Denuvo did not respond to my request to comment, nor did Sega.
Piracy has always been more rampant on the PC because it's easier. Nobody controls the hardware, users do. It probably doesn't help PC users tend to be on the tech savvy side.
And for a little while, Denuvo had provided game publishers on the PC with something that had eluded their grasp for decades: total control. Games that incorporated Denuvo's anti-tampering technology simply weren't being pirated. Just Cause 3, for example, went more than a year without people being able to easily download a free copy. That didn't happen prior to Denuvo. If you were publishing on the PC, you just expected piracy to happen. It was baked into expectations.
Denuvo is often spoken of in the same breath as DRM, but it works differently; it integrates with existing DRM solutions. Denuvo places a lock around existing DRM, such as Steam and Origin, that's extremely difficult to pick, by generating a lock that's unique to the computer the game was first run on. That's why it can't be shared. You'd have to share the PC, too.
Denuvo critics have long argued that incorporating the technology is not only anti-consumer, but it slows down performance in games. Denuvo has denied the performance claim, but the belief is widely held among somecracking communities. Whether it's true is largely irrelevant at this point.
Things got shaky for Denuvo a little more than a year ago, when hackers used a loophole in a demo for Doom to play the full version of the game. This loophole was extended to break open Rise of the Tomb Raider and other games. Since then, it's all been downhill for Denuvo, with games being cracked within months, then days, and now hours of release.
"Welcome to the new world," said the hacker who broke open Doom.
The new world is full of piracy.
Id Software ended up dropping Denuvo from Doom after it was cracked. Same thing happened to Inside. The idea, it seemed, was to let Denuvo hold off piracy for as long as it could, and then move on. In fact, the developers behind Rime made theory explicit, ahead of the game's release.
Per a Kotaku story at the time, here was the developer's thinking:
"We have had discussions about Denuvo internally, and one of the key points of all of those discussions have simply been, we want to ensure the best gaming experience for RiME players. RiME is a very personal experience told through both sight and sound. When a game is cracked, it runs the risk of creating issues with both of those items, and we want to do everything we can to preserve this quality in RiME.
We are very committed to this, but also to the simple fact that nothing is infallible. That being said, if RIME is cracked we will release a Denuvo free version of RiME and update existing platforms."
Plenty of games shipped with Denuvo in 2017: Resident Evil 7, Halo Wars 2, Conan Exiles, Ghost Recon Wildlands, NieR: Automata, Dragon Quest Heroes II, Prey, Tekken 7, Agents of Mayhem, Sonic Mania, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, Marvel vs.Capcom: Infinite. The list goes on and on.
The cracking of Resident Evil 7 in less than a week prompted Denuvo to respond.
"Please note that we always position our Anti-Tamper solution as hard to crack, not as uncrackable," Denuvo marketing director Thomas Goebl said to Eurogamer in early February. "So far only one piracy group has been able to bypass it."
That claim has not held up in the months since.
"Given the fact that every unprotected title is cracked on the day of release," said Goebl, "as well as every update of game, our solution made a difference for this title."
That claim has not held up, either.
The mere presence of DRM tends to rile up hardcore PC fans, but from the perspective of a publisher, it seemed worth living through the negative buzz to prevent piracy. If Denuvo can no longer provide more than a few hours of safety from the endgame, what's the point? Maybe this is the beginning of the end.