Denuvo's DRM for Nintendo Switch games is designed to block emulation on PC

Aug 24, 2023

Yesterday, we reported about how Denuvo's Unreal Engine Protection and Integrity Verification could spell the end of game modding. Now, Irdeto, the company behind the anti-piracy technology, has revealed that Denuvo has been registered as authorised Nintendo Switch middleware. Here we go again.

Denuvo's DRM for Nintendo Switch games will prevent emulation on PC

Denuvo becomes the first security partner for Nintendo, and its game protection technologies are available via the Nintendo Developer Portal (NDP). Denuvo's DRM for Switch games has been designed to prevent emulation of games on PC.  Irdeto says that Denuvo will integrate seamlessly into the build toolchain, and that its DRM has no impact on the gaming experience. This will allow the DRM insertion of checks into the code, to block the game from being accessed on emulators.

I suppose this was inevitable, given how laughably easy it is to emulate Switch games on the PC using programs like Yuzu or Ryujinx. The Switch piracy scene is undeniably popular. As long as you have a computer that has a capable CPU and GPU, it can provide you a means to play the entire catalog of games without breaking a sweat. And the latest games and patches are available the day they are released, you can see why this is a haven for pirates.

Nintendo obviously hates that, which is not surprising. The video game company has had an anti-modding stance since forever, and is infamous for issuing DMCAs to take down several fan-made projects, mods, etc. It is exactly the sort of company that would fit Denuvo's anti-piracy profile.

Roms for Nintendo's latest blockbuster, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, were leaked a couple of weeks before the game's official release. This allowed PC gamers to play and complete the game before it even hit the markets.  Despite that setback, TOTK went on to become the best-selling game in many Countries. You see, this is the perfect example that proves piracy did not affect the sales of the game. Of course, Nintendo will paint a different picture about it.

But piracy is not all what emulation is about, like these companies would have you believe. If you own a game, you can dump the contents using special tools, and then use the files to emulate it on a PC. Whether this is actually legal is sort of a gray area, but I would argue that if you paid for the game, you should be able to play it however you want to. Once a developer/publisher has taken your money, they have no business telling you what device to play it on, i.e. via an emulator on a PC.

Emulation allows an improved gameplay experience with higher frame rates, upscaled resolution, and various mods, which would have otherwise been impossible on a console. Besides, emulation serves as an important method for preserving games, and allows people to play them decades after the original console was discontinued. Denuvo's DRM could be a massive problem for game preservation. I don't expect games to carry the protection forever, oh wait, I'm forgetting about Ubisoft and Sega, aren't I ?

Denuvo has once again claimed that the performance of games is not being affected by its DRM. Yeah, right. As someone who has noticed severe performance issues in numerous games on Steam, Ubisoft Connect, I beg to differ. Legitimate Nintendo Switch users are furious about the news, as they should be. The DRM could hurt game performance on the Nintendo Switch if it is not embedded properly, and the games are not optimized, which is possible as we have seen on PC games. Switch users have already started joking about how games could become PowerPoint slides, and calling the middleware as "malware". It's tragically funny. They're right, the Switch is not a very powerful device, and if there is a chance that a DRM could cause lower frame rates per second (fps), higher CPU usage, shorter battery life, etc., it is not going to be fun.

This is speculation, of course, we don't know how much of an impact this DRM could actually cause. It will depend on how publishers could adopt the technology. The good thing is the DRM will be optional, since it is a paid service, so we will still see DRM-free games on the Switch. The current lineup of Nintendo Switch games are unlikely to be affected. I suppose it is safe to assume that first-party games from Nintendo will be protected by Denuvo.

Blah blah blah, we don't care about all this, do we? All we want is money, is probably what these companies are thinking. Slapping an anti-piracy DRM will help improve your sales is what their marketing ploy is, and unfortunately publishers will resort to these methods to fill their coffers.

They never stop to think that DRM can hurt game sales, and being DRM-Free doesn't mean a game cannot be a commercial success. Look at Baldur's Gate 3, a DRM-free game that is sitting on top of the charts on Steam, GOG. It has reportedly sold over 5 Million copies. I wouldn't be surprised if DRMs have adverse effects like driving Switch users to other handheld consoles like the Steam Deck or ASUS ROG Ally that allow you to play whatever you want on them, and offer more modding capabilities.

DRM = no buy for me. I have no problem buying DRM-free games on day one, providing they have good reviews, but that's a different story.

Denuvo's DRM for Nintendo Switch games is designed to block emulation on PC
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Denuvo's DRM for Nintendo Switch games is designed to block emulation on PC
Denuvo introduces its DRM for Nintendo Switch games. The protection technology will prevent emulation of games on PC.
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