According to a December 2018 report, the video games industry was set to generate around $135 billion last year.
It’s undoubtedly a huge market, and a growing one too. The 2018 forecasts outperform 2017’s figures by almost 11%.
Of the three major sectors – mobile, PC, and console – the latter enjoyed the largest growth, with revenues increasing around 15% on the previous year. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, the latter is the least affected by piracy, with most major consoles relatively secure against pirate players.
The same cannot be said about PC titles, however. This sector accounts for 25% of the global market, according to market analysts Newzoo, but still managed growth in 2018, increasing revenues by 3.2% to $33.4 billion. Nevertheless, PC games piracy is widespread, largely due to the relatively open nature of its native platform.
To combat this issue, games companies often deploy (to a greater or lesser extent) some kind of Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution. These software-based systems are designed to defeat attempts to ‘crack’ gaming titles, but evidence shows that effectiveness can vary greatly.
One of the most formidable and notorious systems is Denuvo. Countless articles have been written about the DRM solution, with many arguing it harms the gaming experience and only has a negative effect on genuine buyers.
Many publishers, however, see it as the last line of defense against pirates determined to download free games whenever they can. The big question, of course, is whether it achieves that goal.
While Denuvo is undoubtedly fiendish and impossible for Joe Public to defeat, dedicated cracking teams see it as a mountain to be climbed and time and again they’ve shown that it can be scaled – quickly too. On the other hand, Denuvo claims that AAA games not using its technology face huge losses.
Interestingly, anti-piracy company MUSO published a piece today that suggests that there may be a more consumer-friendly alternative to DRM.
Titled “DRM, The Cracks Are Starting to Show” and written by Adam Hitchen, Technical Services Executive at MUSO, the piece questions whether DRM is the right approach to PC game piracy, especially given both the apparent ease it’s now being cracked and the restrictions it places on genuine players – such as having to remain online for a game to play.
Highlighting the leak of what would’ve been a Denuvo-protected Devil May Cry 5 recently, which fell to pirates on the very first day of its release (while revealing a performance advantage without the protection), Hitchen asks:
“With this precedent set, combined with the frustration it induces in players, is DRM really worth it?
“Games studios and distributors need to protect their content online, and take a stand against piracy, but the chosen strategy should not undermine the core product or hijack the conversation around a release,” Hitchen adds.
“Gaming creates huge and passionate fan bases which need to be nurtured; fans should not be left feeling as though their gameplay is being hindered.”
Given that Denuvo is arguably the most successful DRM around today, the fact that it’s regularly being cracked close to ‘Day One’ for major AAA gaming titles must be a concern for those who believe that DRM is the only way to protect their investment. MUSO, however, believes there is another way.
“With immediate availability of cracks to work-around DRM, and hackers choosing to proactively target releases using DRM, it’s time to change the conversation,” the company says.
“Content protection strategies should be non-invasive and data-driven. Rather than embedding mechanisms within the games themselves, studios can effectively remove illegal content as it appears by crawling for copies.
“Taking this approach keeps fans onboard, doesn’t impact gameplay and still ensures that piracy is stamped out – the things that really matter,”
There’s no doubt that this is a highly controversial topic that has no simple solutions or indeed any perfect ones. One way or another it appears that PC content is going to be pirated. But MUSO’s piece definitely raises some good points.
If DRM, like Denuvo, is going to regularly fall very close to a game’s release date moving forward, it becomes somewhat useless. While some titles will remain protected, it currently seems like the cracking groups are the ones with the power.
They increasingly appear to be the arbiters of whether time gets put into cracking games – or not. This is not the balance of power games publishers relish when investing millions into their new creation.
However, will they be prepared to take MUSO’s advice by releasing DRM-free content into the market to keep paying customers happy, in the hope of rendering pirate copies inaccessible with takedowns?
MUSO clearly hopes so – but then it would because this is one of the company’s areas of expertise. The company is right that this problem for the gaming industry perhaps needs a fresh set of eyes but in the meantime, many eyes will be turning to Google’s Stadia.
This cloud-based gaming system seems to have the potential – one day in the distant future – to deal with the piracy problem once and for all. Until then it’s takedowns or DRM or both – and pirates don’t like either of them.