The video game industry's best-of-class DRM is routinely cracked in less than 24 hours

And as someone who used to crack games on the C64 for shits and giggles, their efforts were technically brilliant but ultimately self-defeating. Origin programmed one that was good copy protection for a few months. It had the unfortunate side effect of destroying the drive though. What was happening is that the disk didn’t use the normal tracks for data, it moved everything halfway between where the tracks were supposed to be. To get the 1541 to read them it had to recalibrate the drive to work on the half tracks. Doing so involved repeatedly banging the read head against its stop. Needless to say this quickly damaged the drive, and if the game crashed, it would leave the head out of position for other use. I was very glad when the 1581 came out and that kind of BS ended. It’s one of the reasons I detest the term “Digital Rights Management”. It should properly be Digital Restrictions Management and I encourage everyone to use it that way.


Clearly, the solution to DRM is not to make publishers aware that it fundamentally cannot work, because they’ve always known that (i.e. it is knowledge that they certainly possess on some institutional level). They do it knowing that it can’t work, for fascinating but irrelevant reasons of organisational psychology.

It’s an interesting problem if you’re selling DRM software, because the one thing you can’t talk about is whether it actually works. If you’re selling an established system, that means it’s already been cracked, but at least it won’t cause problems for legitimate customers (much). If you’re selling a brand-new product, that might actually delay the availability of cracked copies by a week or so, but you can’t make that case without mentioning the certainty that it will be cracked.

It’s occurred to me before that it might be possible to sell publishers on a DRM system that doesn’t actually prevent copying at all. It wouldn’t disable or compromise anything, and it wouldn’t try to phone home; in fact, it would make a point of guaranteeing that. All it would do is reliably tell you when you’re running a pirate copy, and give you an easy way to pay for it. Since no one would bother to crack it, all the copies on BitTorrent and IRC would have the “DRM” intact.

But the key thing is, you would still call it DRM. You wouldn’t talk to publishers about the ethical aspects. You would say to them “our DRM system has been used on all these AAA titles – it’s the only DRM that’s never been cracked – it’s never caused any tech support issues – and our clients have made $X million in revenue through our unique MakeItLegitTM technology”.

I feel like that approach would get a lot further than simply saying “hey, let’s stop using DRM”.


Just to be clear, DRM has never once stopped a game from being pirated.

Ubi soft (Uplay) is one of the worst I have ever encountered. Not only did it stop the game from functioning, but also limited the amount of installs to 3, which I used up trying to get the damn game to work. The cracked copy (without U-play) functioned fine. Punish legit consumers with a countermeasure that does not even hinder the true offenders, brilliant!
I also solved the problem by never buying a game from Ubi again.


Yeah, people seem to be missing this point. Most games will eventually get cracked, but the bulk of sales at full price are in the opening few days. If it’s not on the torrent sites during this period, the publisher will count it as a win. If it gets cracked after that, they’re not so fussed (which is why games like DOOM had Denuvo patched out a few months after release).

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My first job paid for everything, but it was left unopened and stacked up in a closet in favor of pirated versions simply because they didn’t require crawling around under the desks to attach hardware dongles. Fun times.


I’m sure its a big problem for them. Denuvo’s schtick is relatively unobtrusive DRM that keeps the game from getting cracked for just long enough to preserve important early sales. After that its common for the devs to remove it even if it hasn’t been cracked (its almost always been cracked).

I’m not sure if that was the intended purpose of Denuvo. Seems like their DRM just wasn’t uncrackable as they thought, but took longer for hackers to break. So they rolled with it. Always struck me as a least worst version of DRM. Run it just long enough to slow things down, ditch it once it gets cracked or you don’t need it anymore. If it takes less than 24 hours to crack these days. Then the developers really aren’t getting much more than a few hours of protection during that critical early sale period. Which sort of defeats the whole purpose of the thing.

That seems to be the base approach to Denuvo in practice. But if it’s routinely getting cracked in less than 24 hours I don’t think its serving its purpose. The way I’ve heard it devs look for about a week. The first days are pretty critical, but the next few weeks carry the high volume of sales that are critically, full price. If the Denuvo really doesn’t take any longer to crack than steam integration. Or just routine copy protection like came codes/cd-keys. What the fuck is the point?


I am not sure how much of this i believe, but perhaps its because i have no intention of pirating a game. But the way i see it is the people who are prone to pirating games more often than not never had the intention to buy that exact title, and being offered with the possibility to play it for free gives them the ability to play it without risk to their wallet. Perhaps i’m mistaken in my assumption, which very well could be the case. For me though if i’m not sure on a game i wait for a good sale or until someone buys it for me.


It varies. For my part I have pirated games when I was dead broke. I almost always intended to purchase the game when I had the funds. That usually meant that I was buying it at a discount however. Generally speaking studies on Piracy show that the people who pirate the most often. Are also the people that spend the most on music or movies over all. Although the numbers with PC games are slightly different from what little I’ve seen. Many people, you can look up thread for examples. Pirate specifically to get around broken DRM, always online systems, or to remove aps like Steam and uPlay (I like steam just fine, but I’ve done that for uPlay back when it was straight broke. And EA’s Origin service which has always given me problems and generally pissed me off in concept). In those cases you’re mostly talking about people who have purchased the game already. They are just looking to get around brokenness or find a functionality that works. There is a massive archival/retro game thing that is almost entirely based in piracy. Big chunks of gaming history are just out of print or entirely lost. And while I had fun spending weeks tracking down exactly the right boxed version of Anachronox and spending to much on it. I can’t say it hasn’t been easier and more satisfying to track down out of print or hard to find stuff the pirate way. And there are lots of people actively cracking and distributing new games so that they don’t end up in the same out of print or lost grey area. A lot of people seem to use piracy as a replacement for demos. Something the game industry has largely abandoned. Pirate the game with the intention to buy, then don’t buy it if its no good. With people often trying out early and waiting for a sale. Sort of a bargain hunting approach. It seems like a lot of piracy is to get around region locks, get access to things early, get a game that’s not technically for sale in your country (or for sale yet). A large amount of the pirated material out there seems to come out of Asia and Eastern Europe. And then there are certainly people who just don’t want to pay for things in general (or can’t)

But there are all sorts of reasons people resort to that, and many of them have nothing to do with not wanting to buy the thing, or pay for things generally.

The idea with timed DRM, whether that’s what Denuvo was meant to be or just how it ended up being used, was to get those last 3 categories to buy the game. At full price. Games are expensive. And traditionally they’ve gone down in price pretty swiftly (that stopped for a bit, Steam sales brought it back). Supposedly a large proportion of the profits made by a game are made in the first few weeks. When sales volumes are very high due to excitement, information about quality, bugs etc is short and/or crowded out by hype. And they’re still at full price. After the first however many weeks (I’ve seen everything from 1 to a full month cited) apparently sales volume goes down enough that it matters less. And once the price is reduced even more so.

Its the same reason they’re so obsessed with pre-orders. Guaranteed full priced sales before the reviews can have an effect. All of this stuff is meant to back you into buying the game now before there’s enough information out about quality, and before the price goes down. You’re waiting because you aren’t sure is as much the problem they’re trying to solve as anything else.

But. Its not exactly clear to me that piracy even early on has an impact on profits. Certainly every bit of respectable research I’ve seen shows it really doesn’t for movies TV and music. I’ve seen a bit that seems to show PC very well might be the rare case where piracy has real, clear monetary effects. And Porn certainly has that problem. But the PC case isn’t as clear to me. And since such numbers don’t get published. I’m not sure that the timed DRM even works as stated. We’d need to see games with it being more profitable than those without it. And be able to clearly establish that it wasn’t just coincidence. Are games that use Denuvo more profitable? Or is it that games from more profitable studios/franchises are the ones that can afford to use Denuvo. And the world is full of games that made (and continue to make) good money off continued sales long after release. Or become profitable long after the initial rush is over.

Then you get examples like CD Project. Who’ve been vocal about finding that DRM of any sort wasn’t worth the trouble. And finding better success with simple customer out reach. Demoish stuff like free play weekends. Free add on content etc. All of which might be out preforming DRM in preventing piracy or might simply be attracting more customers.


Actually, half-tracking and quarter-tracking (yes, really) NEVER went away on the C64.

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Yes, but fortunately someone came out with what was essentially a modded 1541 that would automatically copy software which used this method. Origin used this crap on Moebius and it destroyed drives they used on the programmers system. I believe it was Greg Malone who wrote Moebius and also wrote the copy protection. It only took a couple of weeks to see it spread far and wide. It was a classic case of if you bough it, it could wreck your 1541, but if you downloaded it, it worked without doing that. After one of our friends drive was put out of action we never bought anything from Origin again. Their dick move cost them a good deal of money.

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What about Steam DRM?

That made sense when retail store shelf space was so limited that if something didn’t sell well it got tossed after a couple of weeks to make room for the next new thing. But online sales don’t really work that way. Sure, Steam’s front page has limited space, but there’s an entire internet that can link directly to your game. Unlike an old ad in a magazine, someone can click your ad and buy and have the game installed in minutes…for years.

I buy games from GOG that probably haven’t been on a retail shelf in 20 years. But they don’t care about that because they’re not in it to make something of lasting value that will continue to bring in revenue. They’re already over-budget and want to cash out quick.

That’s more likely part of the answer, they’re afraid that people will see that it’s no good.

What’s funny about that is that the dynamic even still exists. Everyone knows that on day one, games will still have breaking bugs and really won’t work until after the first few patches. And if there’s any online component at all, the servers will be overwhelmed for the first week or so, so it won’t work. Given how many disastrous launches there’ve been, I don’t know how they keep people falling for it over and over. But if DRM is aimed at the gullible, I suppose that makes sense; no one will ever go broke selling something shady to the gullible.


DRM is aimed at the publishers, not the people who buy the game. It’s been a profitable racket since before I got my first computer in 1982. I learned to program just to get rid of DRM on stuff our family bought. At least consumer software almost never came with crap like a dongle, so at least there is that.


I can find enough interesting games on GOG and HumbleBundle to keep me entertained more or less forever.

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Steam is usually well run to the point where it’s merely a pain in the ass. It also provides some benefits to the user (i.e., I can re-download games), but that has nothing to do with DRM (i.e., I can re-download GOG games).

My concern with Steam is that if the quality of their service starts to go down hill then it could be a real impediment to enjoying the games I’ve already purchased. For instance, if they stolen steam accounts, arbitrary deletion of games from accounts, server downtime, long-term denial of service attacks and any number of other scenarios become a problem, I’m not sure they’d handle it well. Their customer service is already terrible.

And of course they could just go out of business.


:joy: I will need to steal this for further occasional use…

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Sure, but there’s a limited window where people will pay $60 for a game, at which point they then tend to go “oh, I’ll wait for it to drop to $5 at the next Steam sale”.


I dunno, check the repo. It ain’t about how many bugs are found, but who and how many fixes them.

Compared to closed-source software with DRM on it, where security researchers routinely get sued for showing defects in the software? There is a massive advantage.

How many vulnerabilities were found in comparable* closed-source software? How many back doors were put in there on purpose? And how many of those defects were abused but not published? Or just flat-out denied by the creators of the code?

*I can’t really think of closed-source software that is comparable, maybe it exists but the popularity of open-source variants of critical encryption software tells you a lot about the confidence of the market in open vs closed-source solutions.

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Apparently digital sales, And steam in particular, have actually exasperated or brought back that dynamic more recently. It’s the sale situation. Apparently developers have little say in how much discount and when it’s discounted. Which can reduce margins for publishers and developers. Which puts more impetus on high volume early sales. It’s not about stocks neccisarily it’s about making sure a bulk of sales happen at the highest price.

But that’s basically feeding into the same marketing system already established. It’s behind the timed drm. The pre orders. The press embargoes. Strikes me that it’s largely created by a publication model that’s too reliant on marketing hype, shipping unfinished product, or not very good games. Then nickel and diming people on drm, micro transactions, And multi-player/social systems borrowed from mobile. Which are curiously often the sorce of bugs and poor reviews.

And amid all that it’s not clear that piracy is as much of a factor as all that nonsense. Like I said multiple publishers or developers. Especially Indy or newer groups. Have stated that they haven’t found the rigmarole to be worth monetary and pr costs. And have shown great success with not forcing pre orders, restricting press, shipping broken products and leaving them broken, And loading them down with microtransactions and horse armor.

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