The question of what types of DRM, security software, and other restrictions games or sold under is a thorny subject. Some players have a zero-tolerance to any kind of control over how they play their games being retained by the publisher and opt to only buy DRM free games as a matter of policy. Other players have no such concerns about to what extent publishers retain control of the game code running on their system, and it doesn’t factor into purchase decisions at all.
The reality is that most people fall somewhere on the middle of this spectrum, and will be broadly tolerant of some reasonable restrictions, but will shy away from games with more severe restrictions placed on them. This has largely been the norm, where players consider what DRM or other restrictions are placed on a game at the point of sale, and make a decision for themselves whether they want to play the game enough to accept the restrictions it is sold with. Bethesda has just taken a fairly drastic action that, intentionally or otherwise, seeks to disrupt this norm.
Doom Eternal released back in March, and at the time it was sold as requiring the use of Denuvo anti-tampering, an anti-piracy technology that can also restrict mods or using technology like Proton to play Windows games on Linux systems, requiring the use of a Bethesda.net account to log in to, and requiring players agree to a standard Electronic User License Agreement. Players then had the choice to look at these restrictions, and decide for themselves whether these restrictions are acceptable or not. Some players might have decided not to play the game, some may have decided to wait for a sale, and many others proceeded to purchase the game, not finding these restrictions any more than a minor inconvenience.
Fast forward two months and Bethesda have just dropped an update for Doom Eternal, that contains this juicy gem. Under the heading of “New Features for PC”, the update says:
“Added Denuvo Anti-Cheat software required for playing BATTLEMODE on PC”
A rather ominous new feature. There are more technical details of exactly how it’s implemented on this blog post from Irdeto, the developer of Denuvo. I don’t think they’ve quite nailed the tone of delivering this news in the style of surveillance with a smile.
There are a few curious elements here. One is that at no point prior to the release of this update were any players given notice that this technology would be added to the game. One is that despite the update text saying that this Anti-Cheat software is required for the multiplayer Battlemode, Denuvo Anti-Cheat is now required to be active when playing any game mode, including offline single player. Another is that this is not a simple piece of anti-cheat software that won’t impact your system outside of this game, it uses a kernel-mode driver that makes deep changes to your operating system when used, in worst-case scenarios potentially opening you up to malware and security vulnerabilities.
The big wrinkle in all of this is that Bethesda never asked permission from users to implement this, and they never even warned people in advance. It begs the questions: Did they avoid including this anti-cheat software at launch to minimize any impact its inclusion may have had on sales? It’s likely that there are plenty of players who would have never bought a game with this kind of anti-cheat software required, but have now had a game they bought on good faith updated to include it.
It’s going to be curious if any players will be able to get a refund on the game following this update. On Steam, players can get an automatic no questions asked refund on a game if they bought it in the last two weeks, and have played it for less than two hours. If you bought it longer ago than that or played it more than that, it comes down to the discretion of Steam customer service. I’d be curious to see how far that discretion would stretch in situations like these. Particularly for players that were running this game on Linux via Proton, a Valve backed initiative, who now have no way of playing it whatsoever. There are cases where Valve has shown leniency to offer refunds outside the usual two weeks and two hours time limits, and I wonder if this will be one of them.
I guess the takeaway is that if you are picky about exactly what you install on your computer, which you probably should be, perhaps it’s better to wait a few months before buying Bethesda games in future, so you’ve got time to figure out what extensive security software might be added at a later date.
The real frustration for many players will likely be that they have little to no interest in the multiplayer mode, and they bought it for the single-player campaign. Measures to stop cheating in a multiplayer scenario are far more understandable when players of the single-player mode don’t have to suffer with them. With this decision, every single player on PC is affected, including many that have never and will never even touch the Doom Eternal multiplayer.
Bethesda made this decision without consulting with their players at large, it’s going to be interesting to see how the audience responds to this decision, and whether Bethesda sticks to their unilateral decision, or responds to player feedback at some point. It’s also going to be interesting to see if this is an isolated case, or if Bethesda will be using this type of model for other games going forward.
Did you buy Doom Eternal at launch? Might you have opted not to buy it had you known this kernel-level anti-cheat would be later added? Might you ask Steam for a refund now? Let us know how you feel about this, or if you are able to successfully get a refund