This isn't news in itself, as he's been upscaling mods on Patreon for years. "I've been providing it as a service for more than 10 months, way before Starfield," argues PureDark in an interview with IGN. "I've been making new mods and keeping mods updated for months for my subscribers, is $5 too much for such a service?"
Nvidia's DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) tech has been making some real headway in the past couple of years—it uses AI to render additional frames and upscale image quality, leading to some major performance boosts for users with the right hardware.
In a review of the NVIDIA RTX 4090 Founder's Edition, PC Gamer's Dave James called the tech "black magic, it's the dark arts, and it's rather magnificent." Although Starfield does plan to add DLSS later, it didn't have on launch, making its inclusion a prime target for modders.
It might not surprise you to find out that PureDark's paid, modded version was 'cracked' in rather quickly, considering Starfield's popularity. What really has the pirating community polishing their cutlasses, though, is PureDark's plans to add traps for them in the future.
"From now on I will place hidden mines in all my mods to make it harder for these people. They might be able to find and bypass some of them, but they will never know if they have found all of them," PureDark announced, before threatening would-be pirates with mischief. "The cracked mods will sometimes work, sometimes fail … they won't even know if it's a bug or just them using the cracked version, and they will never have the support I've been always providing to my subscribers."
As you might imagine, this has caused a lot of arguments. Not long after the homebrew DRM was added, Twitter user PC_enjoyer shared a forum image of a pirate who wrote "Well, anyways, here's the crack for [the Starfield DLSS3 mod]". Although the ensuing link is censored, the post still caught a lot of traction.
While PureDark definitely has his defenders—with some commenters vouching for the quality of his work—others have pointed out the inclusion of DRM might've done him more harm than good. After all, donations are another avenue—and they're less likely to cause people to avoid paying out of sheer spite.
All of this reminds me of an incident in Final Fantasy 14 earlier this year, where it was found the popular mod GShade had installed anti-tamper code which amounted to malware—restarting your system if it wasn't being run "properly". The fallout from that killed the mod pretty much overnight.
Granted, PureDark's 'mines' might not be that extreme—but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't sceptical about this strategy, especially since there are now free alternatives, such as LukeFZ564's version on Nexus. He seems confident it's reasonable, though, saying his subscribers are "happy with what they get .. people are against the idea of an honest man making a living with his programming skill? I [find] no shame in that."