Activision Forces Online Check DRM Into New Game, Which Gets Cracked In One Day

By now it should be clear that DRM is essentially an arms race that will never be won by producers and publishers of content. While the fall of even the most vaunted DRM platforms has shown how useless those platforms are, the more consequential outcomes of DRM tend to be the way it bricks the products people bought or else limits the use of those products once the DRM is no longer supported. In sum total, it’s very clear that DRM is very much anti-consumer, while failing completely at being anti-pirate.

It’s a lesson that some in the video game industry insist on re-learning over and over again. Activision recently re-released Crash Bandicoot 4 for the new generation of consoles… and a long-awaited debut on PC. Despite the game having no online gaming components in it, Activision decided to put an online DRM requirement in the game, forcing it to check in with the app for it to work. To be clear, there was no reason to include the DRM beyond it being a piracy check. And to be equally clear, even that reason was silly. Why? Well…

By midday Saturday, one day after the game’s launch, cracking-group Empress claimed first dibs on stripping Crash 4’s PC version of its online check-in system. Their crack replaces one file in an otherwise vanilla install, and the group’s release notes don’t clarify what the crack does, other than describing the game’s defeated DRM as “ + online only.” (We thus believe this isn’t a case of someone defeating Denuvo, even though a joke in Empress’ release notes mocks the much-maligned DRM provider.)

As of press time, Crash 4 has zero online content, in spite of a couch co-op mode (designed to let a parent and child take turns with the single-player campaign) and a simple four-player versus mode dubbed Bandicoot Battle. Thus, the handshake appears to revolve entirely around DRM, as opposed to checking for add-on content like new levels or even score leaderboards.

It’s all so pointless. I have no idea how much time and effort it took for Activision to build this online-check into the PC release of the game. And it really doesn’t matter, because literally every second of time and energy spent on it was completely wasted. The game was cracked in a day. Previous PC releases of Activision titles didn’t include this DRM, though some will like to argue that any title released on Steam technically has DRM saddled into it. Still, as a new effort, this was all pointless.

Which is why it’s so frustrating that game publishers keep going down this futile road. Instead, developers and publishers should be focusing on creating great gaming experiences for the public, building a bond with that public by treating them well, and not hampering their efforts with stupid online-checks that are defeated on the order of hours.

Is that really so hard?