June 7, 2023

Tor Go Devil

No game no life

Fans ask a PC game to drop Denuvo—and dev agrees, blames “performance impact” [Updated]

Enlarge / The Humankind hand slams down on Denuvo in this week’s latest story of...

Enlarge / The Humankind hand slams down on Denuvo in this week’s latest story of DRM woe.

For years, PC gamers have wondered out loud whether antipiracy solutions like Denuvo get in the way of game performance, since the solutions tend to operate in the background in search of piracy-related flags. Denuvo-related game tests in the wild have ranged from inconclusive to damning.

This week, that debate gets worse for the makers of Denuvo: a video game developer has made the rare move of abandoning the DRM platform for its upcoming game’s PC version—and it squarely blames Denuvo-related performance issues for the decision.

Amplitude Studios, a French studio known for PC-exclusive 4X strategy games, had previously announced that its next game, Humankind, would ship with a Denuvo implementation in August 2021. This prompted a post titled “The day Amplitude broke my heart” on Amplitude’s official forum, with a fan declaring their love of prior Amplitude strategy games and then expressing their disappointment that Humankind had a Denuvo tag on its Steam page.

After pointing to their disagreement with Denuvo’s practices, including the block of offline-only gameplay, the fan offered a reasonably levelheaded plea: “To be fair, I totally understand why Denuvo was chosen (probably by [Amplitude studio owner] Sega). I understand how important it is for sales to protect the game around release, but PLEASE Amplitude, PLEASE consider to remove Denuvo after some months!” This request lines up with other game publishers’ decisions to remove Denuvo protections after a PC game’s launch window has passed.

“We are taking it out”

Amplitude co-founder and CCO Romain de Waubert de Genlis replied to the thread on Thursday, July 15, with a surprising announcement: the fan wouldn’t have to wait “some months” to see Denuvo removed. Instead, Humankind will launch on August 17 with no Denuvo implementation to speak of.

On his company’s forum, de Genlis admits that business considerations played into Amplitude’s original decision: “We’ve been one of the most wishlisted games on Steam this year, so we know we’re going to be targeted by pirates, more so than any of our previous games,” he writes. “If Denuvo can hold off a cracked version, even just for a few days, that can already really help us to protect our launch.” (This is precisely Denuvo’s sales pitch to game publishers, even in a marketplace where its cracks have lasted as little as one day, let alone negative amounts of time.)

But ultimately, his teammates felt they couldn’t justify its inclusion after running into issues. While de Genlis admits that there’s a chance his team could have added Denuvo to the game without impacting PC performance, tests during the game’s June closed beta showed the performance hit was too great—and that it’s “not something we can fix before release. So, we are taking it out.”

In other words: when left with the choice between delaying the game to optimize a Denuvo implementation and to launch the game without Denuvo at all, Amplitude opted for the latter.

Humankind gameplay demonstration, March 2021.

“Our priority is always the best possible experience for the players who buy our games and support us,” de Genlis writes. “Denuvo should never impact player performance, and we don’t want to sacrifice quality for you guys.” After this, the topic’s creator edited the thread title to read, “The day Amplitude broke my heart (and how they reassembled it).”

Interestingly, this post went live one day after Capcom acknowledged that its May 2021 game Resident Evil: Village performed worse on PC with antipiracy protections enabled—which combines a mix of Denuvo and Capcom’s own proprietary DRM system. While Capcom didn’t initially respond to our July 12 report on the matter, which included a hard confirmation of the performance gulf between retail and cracked versions of RE:V on PC, the developer eventually fessed up once Digital Foundry’s video analysis of the matter went live.

[Update, July 22: On Thursday, a Denuvo representative replied to Ars Technica’s questions, but the response did not include any answers. Instead, the representative CC’ed two outside parties—one from Amplitude Studios and one from Sega—writing, “There seems to have been a misunderstanding on what was said” and suggesting the CC’ed parties should “clarify” their position. The Denuvo representative did not acknowledge that the original Amplitude announcement included an allegation that directly tied Denuvo’s DRM system to Humankind‘s in-game performance.]

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