Days before Hitman 2 was scheduled to be released, it seems someone managed to crack the DRM used to “protect” the game.
DRM (Digital Rights Management) has been probably the longest running joke for the file-sharing community and members of The Scene. It’s built to thwart unauthorized access of copyrighted material, but it has almost never lived up to this standard. It is also blamed for ruining the experience of people who legally pay for content as well. As such, some would go so far as to call it modern day snake oil.
For more than a decade, the life of DRM follows a pretty routine pattern. Company announced a new copy protection. Sometimes they (or the DRM vendor) call the protection unbreakable. A copy of the material is received by those who crack DRM long before the street date or date of release. The material gets worked on. A cracked copy eventually surfaces. People download the material with the DRM either neutered or even stripped out. Said work finally hits the “shelves”. People pay for the content anyway. Company and DRM vendor is embarrassed that they failed to protect the material and negative publicity ensues.
The question some may have is whether or not this continues to this day. The answer, to very few people’s surprise, is yes. This pattern (though there are variances) continues to this day. It seems Hitman 2 is no exception. From Ars Technica:
But Denuvo protection wasn’t even able to provide a few hours of security for this week’s official launch of Hitman 2, which has seen its DRM cracked days before the official release.
The early crack, released on November 10, was made possible by publisher Warner Bros.’s decision to make Hitman 2 available on November 9 to those who preordered the game—four days before the official street date of November 13. The quick crack also comes despite Hitman 2’s use of a brand-new “version 5.3” variant of Denuvo, the latest in a long line of changes intended to thwart the cracking community.
Hitman 2’s DRM situation mirrors that of Final Fantasy XV’s March release on PC. In that case, the preloading of unencrypted game executable via Origin let crackers remove Denuvo protection four days before the game’s launch date.
The quick cracking of Hitman 2 comes shortly after the Denuvo protection for both Soul Calibur 6 and Football Manager 2019 were publicly cracked four days after their respective releases. Prior to those games, recent versions of Denuvo had generally provided a longer window between release and cracking. Mega Man 11 and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey were both available for over a month before being cracked, for instance, while both Jurassic World Evolution and Puyo Puyo Tetris enjoyed three months of Denuvo-protected sales after their releases earlier this year.
Of course, one could write a full encyclopedia of all the DRM that has been cracked over the years. The thing is, what sometimes gets lost in this debate is the negative impact DRM has on legally purchased material. One of the most famous example’s is the famous Assassin’s Creed 2 DRM scandal.
In 2010, Ubisoft announced their unbreakable DRM of “always on” DRM. If the game doesn’t access the legal servers, the game stops functioning. This concept was supposed to bring in a new era of fully protected games that would defeat piracy once and for all. As it turns out, that “unbreakable” DRM turned out to be very breakable. Days before the release of the game, a cracked version surfaced.
No doubt, Ubisoft, in retrospect, would’ve hoped that this would be the end of the story. Instead, problems continued to get worse for the company regarding the games DRM. Days after the official launch, Ubisoft’s servers went down. That made the situation far more embarrassing for the company because the only people that could play the game are people who have the cracked version.
Ultimately, the situation proved to be too much for the company because Ubisoft wound up backing off of the controversial DRM and moved the game to Steam. By 2011, Ubisoft also released a patch that removed the hugely controversial “always on” DRM.
With the situation of Hitman 2, some people are wondering if they are seeing shades of Assassin’s Creed 2 playing out all over again. It’s probably the end result won’t get to that extreme scenario, but the observation wouldn’t be completely invalid either. After all, it is supposedly a brand new DRM variant that was quickly defeated by crackers prior to the release date.
Still, this latest incident just continues to add fuel to the argument that DRM is a waste of time and money. Also, it helps fuel the argument that DRM also only serves to ruin the experience of those who pay for content legally.
With such a long history of DRM being defeated, this will definitely not be the last time we see “unbeatable” DRM get defeated.