The harm of DRM protection in video games – myth or truth

Publishers are vying to build DRM and other forms of protection against copying and hacking into games. Users massively complain about such solutions, pointing out that they overload the central processor with unnecessary tasks and consume the SSD resource. Journalists and YouTube bloggers are involved in the war – they conduct tests and compare performance indicators with and without protection. Let’s try to understand who is right in the DRM dispute.

What is DRM
The English abbreviation DRM stands for “digital rights management”. This translates to “digital rights management” and refers to software and other tools. Film companies, music labels, book publishers and game creators are turning to DRM protection. She saves them from piracy.

Next, we will talk about DRM in relation to virtual entertainment. Protection makes it difficult to modify the executable files of the game and copy it. DRM also checks from time to time to see if you are running a legal copy.

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For users, implementing protection often turns into a headache. It seems that I honestly bought the game, but you can’t just transfer it to a second computer. You have to run it using specific software like Steam, Origin, Battle.net, Ubisoft Connect clients. And when DRM leads to a drop in the frame rate, it becomes completely sad.

A bit of history
Developers have been on the defensive against market filibusters since the 1980s. At the dawn of the industry, the fight against freebie lovers was approached in an original way, for example, providing the game with a guide. At a certain point, the game asked the gamer to enter such and such a word from such and such a page of the manual. If the user typed the wrong word, they would have a tedious restart. Or here: the authors put paper maps of cities in the box with the first GTA. Without them, it was problematic to go through the action.

San Andreas Map for GTA (1997)

Regional protection has long been used on consoles. That is, a cartridge or disc purchased in the United States could not run on a European set-top box.

With the proliferation of CD-ROMs, it was a time of bread for pirates, at least judging by the situation in Russia in the second half of the 1990s. The problem of piracy remained relevant for other countries as well. Sega took an unusual and extremely costly step with the Dreamcast console. Yamaha developed GD-ROM discs for her. They held approximately 1.1 GB of game data, while the CD-ROM held 700 MB. However, the filibusters got out: they removed the “extra” materials from the image and wrote down the rest on a “blank”. Rollers, soundtrack, voice acting went under the knife.

The cover of the pirated copy of Shenmue 2. The voice acting is missing from it

In the 2000s and 2010s, publishers turned to such types of DRM as online activation, a limitation on the number of installations, the requirement for a constant connection to the network, the installation of a security driver on a computer, the requirement to insert a disc into the drive for verification before each launch. If we turn to the personalities, the enemies of every gamer were DRM SecuROM and StarForce – a kind of Denuvo of those days. We’ll talk about Denuvo a little later.

SecuROM was developed by Sony, StarForce – Russian Protection Technology. Basically, both were intended for computer games. SecuROM was remembered for, among other things, it required regular online checks. Notable projects with this protection are BioShock (2007), Spore (2008), Mass Effect (2008). At the launch of Spore, a scandal happened: when tens of thousands of users began to register online, the servers simply could not cope with the load.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition Activation Key (PC)

[18+, action, role-playing game, thriller, release date: 05/14/2021, full Russian translation]
3 499 *
1In stores: in 198 stores
StarForce stopped copying discs. She was considered very reliable. For example, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) with StarForce protection was hacked only 422 days later. There was a serious flaw in the system that was not directly related to it – it was about the quality of the disk. The discs go through the stages of packing, loading, transporting, unloading and so on. Everywhere there is a risk of mechanical damage. A disc with damage is recognized by StarForce as pirated.

Concluding the point, we note that sometimes developers have an original approach to the implementation of DRM. In the illegal version of Serious Sam 3: BFE (2011), a special enemy runs after you, an invulnerable red scorpion.

The harm and benefits of Denuvo
Denuvo is endlessly discussed in the specialized press and on gaming forums. Several years ago, it seemed to hackers virtually unapproachable and threatened to bury piracy on computers. Ironically, law-abiding citizens also inherited from her.

The same people are responsible for Denuvo as for SecuROM. Only they were no longer working as part of Sony, but under the roof of Denuvo Software Solutions. The company is based in Austria. The developers themselves call Denuvo a protection technology and deny the term DRM. And yet, on gaming resources, an equal sign is put between Denuvo and DRM.

Its two main tasks are to prevent executable files from being modified and reverse engineered. The former prevents the game from running without online authentication or disk, the latter prevents hackers from replacing code snippets. According to the Austrian firm, it is “digital rights management” (= DRM) that is not protected.

This decision is very expensive. As a rule, only large publishers can afford it.

The lion’s share of the game’s sales occurs in the first month / months after the premiere. Denuvo aims to keep the project safe from hackers during this critical period. At first, Denuvo successfully repelled attacks by hackers. Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014), FIFA 15 (2014), Lords of the Fallen (2014) gave up just a few weeks after release.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

It took hackers several years to adapt to the new realities. They prepared well: Middle-earth: Shadow of War (2017) and Total War: Warhammer 2 (2017) were registered on torrents right on the day of the premiere. Final Fantasy 15 (2018) and Hitman 2 (2018) were there even before the start of sales. FF 15 failed demo, Hitman 2 – early access for preorders.

Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition Activation Key (PC) 3 199 *
In 2019, Denuvo was hit by several heavy blows: Resident Evil 2, Metro: Exodus, Devil May Cry 5 did not resist even a week. Sometimes the publishers themselves made inexplicable blunders, take Bethesda. She added a version of Rage 2 without Denuvo to her Bethesda Launcher store, and with Denuvo on Steam. Of course, the pirates immediately sent Rage 2 to torrents. From impotence, Bethesda had to remove protection from the Steam version of the game.

Rage 2

Publishers are not turning their backs on Denuvo Software Solutions, but it has definitely lost its “tough nut” halo. The situation is aggravated by criticism from the community.

There is widespread speculation in the forums that Denuvo clogs the CPU with redundant computing and is detrimental to SSDs. Company representatives rejected both attacks in a comment to the press . The assumption about the SSD generally looks incorrect, since the protection does not perform write and read operations.

Let’s talk about real harm. Tekken 7 (2017) producer Katsuhiro Harada reported that Denuvo caused problems in the PC version of the fighting game. When performing certain tricks, for example, Shakunetsu Hadouken at Akuma, the frame rate dropped.

Sonic Mania (2017) couldn’t be played offline on PC due to Denuvo. Sonic Mania Plus (2018) added crashes and freezes to the list of problems. Friezes mean a short freeze of the image.

Resident Evil Village Deluxe Edition Activation Key (PC)In recent Resident Evil: Village, Denuvo’s protection in tandem with Capcom’s own DRM resulted in delays in firing. Experts from Digital Foundry, Eurogamer’s hardware lab, concluded that the hacked version worked better. Gamers are confident that the delays are to blame for the checks initiated by Denuvo. Denuvo itself compared the versions with and without protection and stated that there is no difference in performance.

Not in favor of Denuvo is the analysis of the Overlord Gaming channel, cited by the leading IT media. The tests revealed the main protection problems: it increases the load time by 50-80% and noticeably drops the frame rate.

And finally, about the fresh failure of Denuvo. Its servers were unavailable on November 7th. As a result, “single” projects suffered (Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet Zoo, Football Manager 2022). Users received the error “The server is not reachable”, which prevented them from entering the game.

conclusions
Over the years, gamers have developed a sharply negative attitude towards DRM. The performance issues caused by Denuvo only reinforced the dislike.

However, there is a tangible benefit from Denuvo. It has generated huge sales for PC games. As a result, the console giants drew attention to this niche, and yesterday’s PS4 exclusives Days Gone and Horizon: Zero Dawn came to computers. Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection and God of War will follow in early 2022.

God of War

PC stores burned with DRM handle protection with care. First of all, they offer gamers additional motivation in the form of achievements, collectible cards, multiplayer modes, leaderboards. All of the above is not in the pirated versions. Even in most PC stores, you can try out any project and, if you don’t like it, then request a refund. Modern replacement for demos.