The Best Video Game DRM in the Business Is Getting Cracked Before Games Even Launch

After years of anti-piracy dominance, Denuvo's security is getting broken faster and faster.

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Nov 12 2018, 7:01pm

Developers selling their games on the PC face a perennial problem: hackers cracking the copy protection on their games and their sales getting eaten away by pirates taking the game for free. It's a problem that sends many developers hunting after better and better solutions for "digital rights management," or DRM, which basically tries to make sure that only people who pay for a game are allowed to play it.

Since Denuvo launched in 2014, it has maintained a status as the most crack-resistant and most widely used third-party DRM solution by large developers and publishers. Recent large games that use Denuvo include Battlefield V, Hitman 2, Assassin's Creed: Odyssey, Madden 19, and Far Cry 5. Denuvo's effectiveness seems to be waning, however: yesterday, a partial crack for Hitman 2 was posted by an anti-DRM group a full three days before its official launch. Motherboard was able to confirm that pirated copies of Hitman 2 are being distributed on Pirate Bay. According to users on Reddit, the crack currently allows the game to be launched and for pirates to play the prologue level for Hitman 1, the 2016 entry for the Hitman series. With full Denuvo protection, pirates shouldn't be able to launch Hitman 2 at all.

Denuvo's makers knows better than anyone that nothing is hack-proof. Instead, their stated strategy is to simply delay the hack. Like movies banking on money from a big opening night, video game releases make most of their money in the first 14 days from eager fans ready to play full price for the latest and greatest games.

"The most critical part of the release cycle is the first 14 days as the majority of activations occur during this period," Irdeto, the company that purchased Denuvo early in 2018, wrote in a press release just last week. "For highly anticipated titles, this could include up to 80% of sales, 50% of which are within the first four days."

Denuvo maintains that if its protection can just last during the initial blast of publicity and cultural relevance, developers will have gotten money back on their investment with Denuvo. That value proposition has gotten a little shakier in the last few months, though. Central hubs of game piracy like reddit and Pirate Bay were completely stumped by Denuvo through 2014 and 2015, but now it's common for games like Soulcalibur 6 and Football Manager 2019 to reportedly get cracked within those all-important first four days.

To be fair to Denuvo, this problem may be partially of Hitman 2's own making. Developer IO Interactive sold a special edition that released to select high-spending customers on Friday, five days before the wide release. The cracked version was posted by a group of game crackers calling themselves FCKDRM; they use the same name and logo as FCKDRM, an anti-DRM advocacy group founded by DRM-free online store GOG.com, but GOG isn't involved in game cracking. Because cracks are usually posted a few days after a game launches, in this case it's likely that the game crackers used a copy of the special edition to crack the game, leading to this embarrassing security break before the official release.

Denuvo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.