Developers Artu Maksara and Tadeusz Zielinski of Flying Wild Hog’s newly released Shadow Warrior 2 voiced their position against using digital rights management (DRM) and anti-piracy software like Denuvo in their games on account of it not “[working], nor [being] good for the players”. They have followed up on this by releasing Shadow Warrior 2 on GOG, a DRM-free alternative platform to Steam, as well as refusing to use Denuvo, a software that prevents piracy. Maksara and Zielinski’s colleague at the studio, Krzysztof Narkowicz, justified their choice further by claiming to Kotaku that they “would prefer to spend resources on making [the] game the best possible in terms of quality, rather than spending time and money on putting some protection [like DRM or Denuvo] that will not work anyway”.
Other developers like CD PROJEKT RED, most known for The Witcher series, also take this stance, offering all three Witcher games on GOG without DRM. Marcin Iwinski, a co-founder of both GOG and CD PROJEKT RED, shared his sentiments at infoShare 2016 that “[while] we don’t like when people steal our product, [we] are not going to chase them and put them in prison. But we’ll think hard [about how] to convince them…so that they’ll buy the product next time [and tell] their friends not to pirate it”.
This does not seem to be a popular stance in the AAA industry however, with the rise of Denuvo and DRM in increasingly more high-profile games like Just Cause 3, the rebooted Tomb Raider series, and DOOM. Lee Singleton of Square-Enix’s profits-and-losses team commended Denuvo for “solving one of [the industry’s] biggest problems”, citing that “piracy has been a huge problem for many, many years”. While many Denuvo games have been cracked, most notably DOOM by crack group Conspiracy (CPY), Denuvo representative Thomas Goebl stated that “[Denuvo’s] focus is to help publishers to secure the initial sales windows of their games…delaying piracy”.
Historically, it has been the case that games make most of their revenue within the first couple weeks upon release, like Fallout 4 selling 1.2 million PC units on its first day worldwide and Dark Souls III garnering about $36 million from 600,000 Steam units within the first week. Figures like these would seem to justify the use of Denuvo and DRM, if only to convert pirates to buyers for the first couple weeks of release. DOOM was not cracked for two and a half months while Rise of the Tomb Raider was not cracked for almost seven months.
So, is it more financially viable to implement DRM and anti-piracy measures or to adopt the DRM-free approach of CD PROJEKT RED and Flying Wild Hog? Looking at the numbers, DOOM sold five hundred thousand units within the first couple weeks while Rise of the Tomb Raider’s first month PC sales sold almost three times more units than the first month Xbox One release sales. Despite these successes, the revenue numbers for both of these games do not exceed the numbers of Fallout 4 and Dark Souls III; both games also did not use anti-piracy software like Denuvo (though they did use DRM). Going back to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the game sold four million copies in the first two weeks, approximating $240 million in sales, which does come close to the astronomically high numbers of Fallout 4 and Dark Souls III.
In the end, we are left with two prevailing aspects of video game sales: success of marketing and game quality. And both of these aspects are not affected by DRM or piracy as much as AAA industries like to think. While pirating games is a problem in its own right, it would appear the views of CD PROJEKT RED and Flying Wild Hogs are justified in that making a good game should hold priority for the developers while the marketing team and inherent quality of the game handle the rest.