What companies are doing to prevent them from cracking their video games

The history of software, and therefore also that of the video game world, has always been linked to the inventiveness of companies to try to make users pay for their products. The problem of copies It is far from being a novelty and, in fact, some of the most original systems against practice were already found in games like ‘The Secret of Monkey Island’, already with almost 30 years behind them.

The current situation is far from pulling cardboard cutouts to avoid copies, but it continues to maintain that trend that ends up turning each new idea or anti-copy technology into a system with expiration date. So radical is this evolution that, what a little more than two years ago ventured the end of crackersNow it is a system that ends up causing more problems for those who buy the game than for those who avoid it.

Anti-copy systems over time

Those who already had contact with the world of videogames more than 30 years ago may remember some of the anti-copy inventions that little by little they were evolving. From early systems like Lenslok, a small plastic lens that was used to read a secret code through the screen, to modified floppy disks that required special reading units to be able to copy.

What companies are doing to prevent them from cracking their video games

Gone are also the codes that required the manual or information printed on the box to start the game, the CD verification that followed a similar system including unique codes in the manual, the use of servers to control the start of the game …

Only with the advent of online and the need to be continuously connected was it possible to slow down a bit the ease with which solutions to anti-copy methods sprouted like weeds. But even in that case, with games like ‘Counter Strike’ or ‘World of Warcraft’ sowing the beginning of a new era for the protection of the industry, the crackers managed to turn the situation around favoring the creation of private servers that those protections were bypassed.

However the implementation of the system Denuvo, which rose to fame back in 2014 by getting ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ to stay for a month as a copy-free game, shed some light on the industry’s fight against the practice.

Unlike other anti-copy systems, the main feature of Denuvo is that it is not an additional program that controls possible interventions in the code. We are before a system that is continuously encrypted and decrypted himself while running within the game, thereby making his detection and avoidance much more complex.

With its arrival, the idea that a game wildly awaited by the gaming community would remain “virgin” for a month was an unprecedented achievement. A couple of years later the continuous update of the system by Denuvo Software Solutions put the dots on the i’s again to the crackers hindering the copy of ‘Just Cause 3’ for more than a month. This is what a well-known cracker was saying at the time:

“Recently, many are asking about the crack of ‘Just Cause 3’, so to summarize its current state a bit, you could say that the last stage is too difficult and Jun almost threw in the towel, but last Wednesday I encouraged him to to continue.

I still believe that this game may be compromised. But in accordance with current trends in the development of encryption technology, within two years I am afraid that there will be no free video games to play in the world. “

What companies are doing to prevent them from cracking their video games

Denuvo, the system that almost killed crackers

The current situation is, however, a very different reality from that future that was painted at the beginning of 2016. The protection of ‘Devil May Cry 5’, one of the last major releases to make use of Denuvo technology, lasted less than 24 hours.

Apparently the crackers found a bug in Steam that allowed make the system believe that what was being played was a demo and not the final version, thus avoiding protection. To make matters worse, the only ones apparently limited by the system they were the players who had acquired their copy legally.

The company that provides the service insisted that Denuvo did not suppose no discernible performance cost and that, if there is a problem, it would be more typical of the game than its anti-copy system.

Complaints from players and performance comparisons of games running with and without Denuvo would soon be joined by some developers such as iD or IO Interactive. They ended up acknowledging the problem by completely removing Denuvo from games like ‘Doom’ or ‘Hitman 2’ after being cracked. The most notorious case of a developer facing the system was that of Katsuhiro Harada, director of the ‘Tekken’ saga, openly acknowledging that the frame rate problems of ‘Tekken 7’ on PC were due to said encryption program.

Although it is true that games have been seen in which the system has managed to solve the problem during almost 100 days, for example with ‘Assassin’s Creed Origins’, the invention seems to have its days numbered due to the ease with which crackers gradually get around it.

Neither the criticisms nor cases like the invasion of almost half a million pirates to Denuvo servers a couple of years ago, help the community to see the system with good eyes, although, at least for now, it seems the best option for most developers.

The present of the fight against copies

The other side plays what the industry has left when it sees that the fight has been lost for years. What, in the words of the team of CD Project, consists of relying more on the carrot than on the stick. In fact, they are the main drivers of initiatives such as FCK DRM, aimed at informing users of DRM (digital rights management) limitations such as not being able to access what you have bought if you lose your account or if there is a problem with the seller’s servers. .

The creators of the adaptation of ‘The Witcher’ are one of the companies that have chosen get rid of any hint of DRM both in its games and in much of its GOG.com store. According to the co-founder of the company “we cannot force people to buy things, we can only convince them to do so”.

“The technology that is supposed to protect games from illegality takes just a few hours to crack. That costs money and development time to implement, but it is not the worst part. (…) DRM often slows down the game by constantly checking if the copy being used is legal or not, so those who have downloaded an illegal copy end up having a fair game with better performance. (…) If you ask me how I see the future of DRM in games, well, I don’t see any future for DRM ”.

The current situation leaves companies with three options. The first is as simple as avoid using any kind of DRM, something that due to the problems caused has already become almost a promotional tool. The second and most common is to include a online control system continuously or every 24 hours, as in the case of Xbox games for PC. Finally, deal with criticism towards Denuvo as best they can.

For many, the solution in the latter case is to launch the game with Denuvo implemented and, in the case of being cracked, update it to remove that protection. It is what has been experienced in games such as those mentioned above or others such as the Spanish development ‘Rime’. Its creators recognized doing it to, according to them, “maintain the artistic quality of the proposal.”

What options does the future pose?

While for some the main solution is to make the games they put on sale essential and invite collecting, for others total control of the game is a small price to pay to avoid copies. Meanwhile, the industry continues to shift towards systems that, indirectly, can have a big impact in the limitation of copies.

There we have cases like Origin Access and Xbox Game Pass, services that offer large catalogs of games at a reduced price as a great incentive. Their real intention may be different, but it is no less true that they make great use of the phrase “kill two birds with one stone” when presenting a new business model and fighting one of the main concerns of the industry.

For his part the mobile market, another of the great victims of the copies, turned this year towards similar options with the announcement of Apple Arcade and Google Play Pass. News that also promise to coincide with the arrival of Denuvo to Android with its Mobile Game Protection.

The new system, which for now does not have examples to control its impact on terminals, promises different security functions such as root system detection or code manipulation to unlock micropayments, thus invalidating the use of a modified APK.

With such an unpromising outlook both in terms of brand image and real security – we have gone from systems that seek to prevent copying to something that only seeks to delay it – it is not surprising that companies like Ubisoft have been so open and participatory in the face of to projects of streaming like Google Stadia. Or that Microsoft promises to do something similar with its Project xCloud.

They are not only trying to open up to new markets and users, but also preventing these new business models from being compromised By opting for a stick, the one for performance and the need to be continuously connected, which is shaped suspiciously like a carrot.