Denuvo Unreal Engine Protection and Integrity Verification may put an end to game modding
During the opening night of Gamescom 2023, Irdeto announced that it is bringing Denuvo Unreal Engine Protection and Integrity Verification. While blogs have been raving about the games that were announced during the event, I don't think I have seen any article about the new DRM, so let's talk.
Denuvo has existed in Unreal Engine games before, what is this hoopla about. Simply put, we are looking at a second-level of DRM in games. The current protection methods that the company offers are Denuvo Anti Tamper, and Anticheat. There are 2 new methods that game developers may opt to use.
What is Denuvo's Unreal Engine Protection? How will it affect modding?
Denuvo's Unreal Engine Protection, which the company touts as an Enhanced Gaming Security feature, can be integrated in games on a binary level (in the executable). Irdeto claims that it will prevent data mining attempts and protects the game against cheat creators, pirates and fraudsters. It also prevents the Unreal Engine game data files against decryption, even to the level of blocking the use of in-game debug consoles. The announcement explicitly states that Denuvo's Unreal Engine Protection "conceals entry points to deter game modification".
So you may not be able to mod games. Even if someone does manage to bypass the restrictions, the next bit of news could prove to be another hurdle. Denuvo's Integrity Verification feature will offer game developers to protect their game code from static and dynamic tampering. This verification will block attackers (read modders) from altering the game code before startup or during gameplay. On paper, a game may refuse to run if it finds that its files have been modified. This honestly sounds like a nightmare for the modding scene.
Anticheat for multiplayer games makes sense, but these new security features seem to be anti-modding. Why take the freedom away from singleplayer games? Mods aren't just about customizing characters, textures, or inject scripts to introduce new/unlock features. Many modders actually fix bugs that are present in the game, and improve the performance drastically by patching stutter issues. And most modders provide their work for free. We may now have to rely on NVIDIA DLSS or AMD FSR to improve the performance of games.
That's just great, isn't it. It wasn't bad enough that many Unreal Engine games aren't optimized poorly by developers, though you may argue that these are mostly due to caching, asset loading issues, etc., that the developers didn't optimize. But when you add a second DRM on top of the executable's anti-tamper protection, I don't think that is going to make things better for gamers, especially those with weak/mid-range CPUs. Irdeto recently said that it wants to publish benchmarks to disprove the theory that its DRM affects performance in games. As an avid gamer, I strongly disagree.
Studios, or to be precise, publishers don't care enough about the quality of games these days, we have seen a disturbing rise of release-now-patch-it-later syndrome in the past few years. That is not okay. The state of the final product seems to matter little to publishers, they just want to ship the games to storefronts as soon as possible and cash in on it. This often means that developers would have little time to polish the performance of their games, so the games could include bugs, glitches, crashes, etc. Many companies release a day one patch to fix these problems, but often it takes several days, or even a couple of weeks or months to get the issues sorted.
However, these studios don't hesitate to include DRMs like Denuvo in their games, even if it costs them extra money out of their pocket. They think of it as an investment, that prevents piracy of their games. They believe that this will force people to buy the games, which in turn could bring them more revenue. That's rubbish really, if someone wasn't going to pay for the game, you can't convince them to do so with a DRM.
Very few publishers remove Denuvo from their games in the long run. Square Enix has been a notable exception to this, and steadily removes the hindrance from its titles after a period of 1 year or above, depending on their contract with Irdeto. It makes sense, you are probably going to see the majority of sales/revenue during the first year or so. On the other hand, publishers like Ubisoft and Sega are notorious for sticking with Denuvo in decade-old games.
Hopefully, we will see more studios/publishers follow Square Enix's example instead.