Denuvo DRM cracks seem to be happening faster and faster

Denuvo is an unpopular DRM solution that's nevertheless still used by a large number of PC game publishers, including Ubisoft, Sega, Square Enix, and others. Last year, Denuvo argued that cracking and pirating games is inevitable, and its main goal "is to protect initial sales" before cracks are released. But with Bethesda's Rage 2 defanged of its DRM in less than 24 hours, that promise isn't holding up well in 2019. 

In this case, a weakness in Denuvo's security wasn't actually to blame. According to posts on the CrackWatch subreddit, while the Steam version of Rage 2 shipped with Denuvo, the .exe on the Bethesda Launcher did not contain the DRM. That strange oversight (or choice) on Bethesda's part gave crackers a way in. Access to a clean executable seemingly made it trivial to release a crack that bypassed Rage 2's online check-in at launch.

Crackers didn't even have to wade into Denuvo's code to pirate Rage 2, and it's sadly common for games that don't have strong copy protection to be cracked on release day, according to CrackWatch. But looking at other Denuvo games released this year, the DRM doesn't seem to be holding up as well as it did in the past, even without slip-ups like Bethesda's.

Of this year's Denuvo releases tracked on Crackwatch, there are a rare few that remain uncracked, like Anno 1800 (a month old). Some other uncracked games like Mortal Kombat 11 and The Division 2 will probably never be cracked, not because they can't be, but because their online connectivity renders a crack especially difficult or pointless. 

Outside games like those, Crackwatch doesn't paint a great picture for Denuvo in 2019.

  • Rage 2 cracked: Day 0 (non-Denuvo .exe uploaded)
  • Metro Exodus cracked: Day 4
  • Devil May Cry 5 cracked: Day 0 (non-Denuvo .exe uploaded)
  • Resident Evil 2 cracked: Day 6
  • Far Cry New Dawn cracked: Day 6
  • Ace Combat 7 cracked: Day 13

Scrolling down into 2018, and the crack times are generally much longer. Hitman 2 and Just Cause 2 were both cracked within a day, but Assassin's Creed: Odyssey took 36 days, FIFA 19 took 63, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider took 64. In 2018, it was common for Denuvo cracks to take weeks or months, with some big exceptions like a day zero crack for Final Fantasy 15.

In 2019, multiple Denuvo games have been available to pirate the same week they launched. Launch day may be the most important for sales, but six days is still a very narrow window for DRM to be effective.

Only about a dozen games have launched with Denuvo this year, at least according to Crackwatch, but those that have been cracked have been cracked fast. If Denuvo's main value really is in fending off piracy at launch, it might be time for publishers to reconsider whether less than a week of protection is worth it, considering how unpopular Denuvo is with PC gamers.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).