Sonic Origins, a remaster of four classic Sonic games, will be released on June 23 across all platforms, but Sega's choice to include the controversial Devuvo DRM for the PC version of the game is likely to ruffle some feathers.
For those who are unaware, Denuvo is an anti-piracy digital rights management (DRM) solution for game developers that can be integrated into PC games in order to make it more difficult to copy and then redistribute them. This isn't something that's downloaded in addition to games, but rather included within the game code itself, which makes removing it from your system almost impossible.
It's natural that game developers would want to avoid piracy, but gamers have expressed concerns over the DRM's impact on performance. A YouTuber called Overlord Gaming even has a series documenting performance benchmarks with and without Denuvo, created by taking advantage of situations where developers have willingly removed it from game files.
One such video comparing titles such as Death Stranding and the Resident Evil 2 remake notes that screen-loading times and frame rates were affected consistently. There's a lot of data to sift through, but the main menu for Death Stranding took 35 seconds with Denuvo, versus just 16 seconds when the DRM had been removed. The numbers may be low, but that's still an increase of almost 55%.
Denuvo claims that its website that the DRM has no negative impact on game performance, stating "Since only performance non-critical game functions are used in the Anti-Tamper process, Anti-Tamper has no perceptible effect on game performance nor is Anti-Tamper to blame for any game crashes of genuine executables."
Collecting rings while jumping through hoops
Still, many gamers are wary when they see the Denuvo name appearing alongside anticipated launches, and not just because of performance issues. Another issue that people have with a lot of DRM like Denuvo is that they create additional work for you to simply play the games you rightfully purchased.
Activation data is saved on your PC during installation that's based on unique data extracted from your hardware and Steam profile, which then needs to be checked before you run your game. This means you need to be able to connect to those servers to launch, so you need an active internet connection, even if you want to play an offline, single-player game.
It should be noted that Denuvo only connects to those servers periodically, so you can play offline for a duration. User reports across Steam and Reddit appear to place the timeframe of authentication at two weeks, after which the game will need to connect to activation servers again. If your system is unable to connect to the internet during this time, you'll be locked out of the game until you regain connection.
There's also the frustration that DRMs like Denuvo have a life expectancy. No game can ever fully escape piracy, with DRMs simply prolonging the inevitable. Games that don't launch with a DRM or anti-piracy protections can be cracked at launch, so despite Denuvo having varied success with how long it can prevent game files from being distributed, this is still valuable for developers who want to see as many consumers buy their game at launch as possible.
However, this does mean that DRMs quickly become irrelevant the moment that the games they're trying to protect are cracked, and it's not guaranteed that the feature will be removed post-launch when it no longer serves a purpose.
Ubisoft, for example, still has Denuvo running in the code of many of its older games and, to my knowledge, has never removed it. Given that Assassin’s Creed: Origins wasn’t cracked until 99 days after launch (which is AEONS in gaming piracy), I can see why the developer would view DRMs in such a favorable light.
Does Denuvo cause purchase delays?
There's no guarantee that Sonic: Origins will have issues caused by the controversial DRM, but fans are rightfully concerned given its history with previous launches in the Sonic franchise. Sonic Mania experienced issues with offline play during its Steam launch caused by... you guessed it, Denuvo.
Negative customer experiences with recognizable DRM service providers have resulted in some consumers avoiding games at launch entirely if anti-piracy protection is involved. I certainly fall into this camp myself, and it resulted in me not only playing games I already needed to get through in my Steam library, but also picking up games at a later date in the sale when the offending DRM has been removed.
It would be easy to paint those who oppose DRM's as pirates themselves, but with so many legitimate concerns outside of game cracking or retro preservation, this clearly isn't the case.
If that wasn't enough salt in the wounds for fans of the Sonic franchise, the Sonic Origins website shows some content will only be available through additional DLC.
To unlock everything, you’ll need to buy three expansions: the Premium Fun Pack, Classic Music Pack, and Start Dash Pack. We don't know how much these will cost individually, but the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game, which includes both expansions, costs an extra $44.99 / £36.98 – pricing the additional content around $5.
It's frustrating to see DRMs included in highly-anticipated launch titles, but I can at least understand why developers love using them. The 99 days taken to crack Assassin’s Creed: Origins likely made Ubisoft a fat stack of cash it would have otherwise lost to piracy, after all.
But I still can't forget the irritations I've experienced trying to play a single-player, offline game remotely, only to be thwarted by DRMs being unable to verify my purchase due to me being offline.
I want to feel as if I fully own the games I've purchased. Is there a better option for developers? Certainly not one that I'm aware of, but that in itself doesn't excuse how legitimate paying customers can be affected by a company's efforts to stamp out piracy for a few weeks, especially if DRMs are still included in games years after launch.
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Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.