Recently, the well-received Doom Eternal has come under a lot of fire thanks to the introduction of the Denuvo anti-cheat software that has been forcefully installed into the game. This isn’t the first time that anti-cheat measures have been at the heart of backlash for a once-popular game (and we are sure it won’t be the last), but why has the game come under so much fire for implementing an anti-cheat system? How does cheating, and cheats as a whole affect modern games – and is there a place for cheats in modern gaming?
Doom Eternal Anti Cheat
Let's start with Doom Eternal, and how Denuvo has caused the game to dip so far in the gaming communities estimations. First, let's look at exactly what the anti-cheat does to the game itself.
Rolled out as part of the first update for Doom Eternal, the Denuvo download was actually unavoidable for those who wanted to keep playing Doom with the most current edition installed – which means they can access features like multiplayer and online functionality.
On the surface, you wouldn’t expect a feature like an anti-cheat to inspire so much backlash. Realistically, the pirating community might turn up their noses and look down on the anti-cheat software, and the multiplayer troll crowd might not be too happy about its inclusion – but why on earth should regular gamers be upset about their ability to cheat being taken away from them – especially if they plan on playing fair?
Its because the Denuvo software that is now required to run is so catastrophically bad, it's rendering the game ‘unplayable’ to some players. G-Sync crashes allowing for terrible screen tearing, frame rates are reduced to a juddering mess, and it has even been reported as locking certain 120hz displays at just 60hz – not good at all.
So not good in fact that Doom Eternal is currently (at the time of writing) being review bombed by angry players who aren’t enjoying their time with the game at all. Bethesda has since made a comment to the fanbase stating that it's going to be removed from the game entirely – and following an update that only just went live, Denuvo is no longer in the game at all.
This has been some brilliant news for the PC gamers running Doom Eternal on their PC. After all, Denuvo didn’t just affect the game – it also caused lockups on the windows dashboard and firewalled certain applications – leading to delayed updates, faulty antivirus scans, and all sorts of other bugs that no game should ever inflict on a PC.
The Bigger Picture Of Anti Cheat
That’s just one game though. We learned recently that whilst the Metro series, one of the first to adopt the Denuvo software into their titles, will be dropping the software in the next update of Metro Exodus. Whilst the DRM version of Denuvo was as equally unpopular as the software version found in Doom, it was for different reasons – mainly frame rate drops and endless updates.
Whilst the DRM version was present from launch, the developers claim that it was primarily there to stop piracy of the product in the first place (something that must sting with Doom Eternal, seeing as it originally shipped with a compromised source code, leading to early piracy), so whilst it looks like Metro has a valid reason for dropping Denuvo, it could always just be an excuse.
Realistically, anti-piracy measures are one of the main reasons that software and DRM products like Denuvo are placed into games, ensuring that a product sells well during the crucial first months of a games life cycle rather than just flooding torrent sites moment after its launch.
We can hardly blame developers for striving towards that goal – games are products at the end of the day, and if we want to see more from our favorite titles then we have to put money in the developers pocket. Additionally, the goal of keeping the game free of cheaters within multiplayer grounds is a decent one, one that many people would agree with and encourage.
The issue with anti-cheat software arises when, like with Denuvo, it affects the product itself negatively. Furthermore, if it starts to have wider effects on the OS you are running, you raise the question of whether the anti-cheat is doing more harm than actual good, and exactly how it differs from malware in the first place – aside from the fact it's enforced by the developers in order for the game to run, rather than being a problem to solve, like a traditional virus.
The sad fact is that once games are on the market, its only a matter of time until they are cracked, pirated, and then cheated in. Its been the way of games since they first started appearing on PC, and now there are even illegal competitions to see which pirate can crack and upload the game in a complete state in the shortest amount of time – illegal yes, but it shows just how devoted to piracy a good portion of the internet is, and how committed they are to installing anti-cheat software into games regardless of developer intent.
Bearing that in mind, we could make the argument that anti-cheat software hurts those it intends to protect more than those it actually looks to stop.
Why Do People Cheat?
Really, there is no one simple answer as to why people cheat in games. The most obvious one that comes to mind is that when it comes to multiplayer there are plenty of gamers who lack the real skill to actually compete unassisted – and in these situations, they feel it necessary to install something like an aimbot, or a wallhack, so that its much easier for them to win in game.
Obviously, this gives these specific gamers a massive advantage in multiplayer, an unfair one at that, and a lot of people will quite rightly be upset that their best efforts are nothing against the might of cheats.
Playing devil's advocate though, it could be considered quite fun to jump into a game with some of the best in the scene and play much better than any of them could dream. In fact, for the one using the cheats it could be considered harmless fun, a thrill they are experiencing without any thought for the others in the game – selfish, but understandable.
Then there are the claims that plenty of cheaters in-game are hailing from countries like China and Russia – and believe it or not, many of these claims actually have a decent basis in reality. Whether it comes down to personal enjoyment or the mindset of ‘having to win’, there are just too many reasons to count why someone might join a game and regardless of rules compete with an unfair advantage.
Realistically though, the one reason I can’t definitively give for cheating would be for a sense of progression. Whilst sure, you are going to progress through the in-game leveling system for yourself, unlocking whatever weapons or features come with the progression system, you aren’t going to feel like you have earned it.
Ever played a single-player game on god mode? It’s a lot of fun, and you feel untouchable, but once you turn it off you get the definite sense that you have no idea how to actually play the game – invulnerability has given you a sense of safety that means you never had to understand the mechanics the game designers spent hours agonizing over – and really, that’s just depriving yourself of in-game enjoyment.
The same can be applied to multiplayer. Let's say that I switch on my cheats, jump into a game of COD, and rocket to the highest level. I can’t realistically expect to turn off the cheats, enter a game and be as good as the other players in the same lobby as me. By the same token, you wouldn’t expect me to have had the same gameplay experience as someone who leveled naturally, experiencing both the highs of a hard-won match and the lows of a lost tournament.
The old adage rings true -too much of a good thing is bad for you, and for me, that rings true in multiplayer games with cheats turned on. But it isn’t always the case when it comes to changing the game.
Modding under Anti Cheat
We can’t talk about anti-cheats effect on gameplay without addressing the fact that there is one area of PC gaming that is overwhelmingly popular, yet relies heavily on accessing and altering crucial game files, often drastically, to provide a different type of gaming experience – modding.
Modding a game can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people, to some it’s a way of adding in content to a title that might otherwise be too short, improving textures, adding in additional content – or just throwing some crazy stuff into the mix for the sheer fun of it. There are all kinds of different reasons that people might want to put mods into a game, but what makes this matter complicated is that the bare-bones steps taken to mod a game are the same used in order to put game-breaking cheats into multiplayer games.
From a developers point of view, the only way to truly stop cheating technology leaking into their games is to lock down the source code and then implement DRM reliant anti-cheat tech that either disable cheats from getting into their game, or incurring penalties on the user developing or loading in the mods.
There are two real points to talk about here, the first being that mods have been a staple of the gaming community for years, and that because anti-cheat software like Denuvo doesn’t discriminate between good-hearted fun and cheating, it could have a drastic effect on the modding community in the years to come if software like Denuvo doesn’t become both more regulated, and more intuitive.
Let's say that in the future, anti-cheat software has become so invasive and controlling that installing mods into major games is no longer feasible for the common gamer. That software like Denuvo makes it all but impossible for the casual gamer to get their files into the game – the modding community itself would probably turn to the likes of piracy in order to develop the different add ons they are so used to.
And really, that’s a huge blow to the PC gaming community. Modding should be something done to increase the enjoyment of a game, and even encouraging programming and an interest in video game development. In fact, it would be fair to say that not only did a lot of people making the video games we know and love now piqued their interest in game development for the first time.
What an injunction on video game mods implemented via the backdoor of anti-cheat software would do is undoubtedly harm not just those who enjoy modding the hell out of their games – but also the sales of games that feature invasive software like Denuvo. Game boycotts are a common thing within the gaming community, and there are a whole bunch of reasons that PC gamers decide not to buy certain games – but anti-cheat software has quickly risen to a high place on that list, amongst invasive DRM and loot boxes, not good company to be in.
The second point I wanted to make about software like Denuvo is that it is changing what you are capable of achieving with a product that you have bought access to. Whilst at one stage it was frowned upon, we know see clients like Steam offering dedicated support to unlicensed game modifications – solidifying game modification as an additional feature of gaming rather than illicit asset modification that should be cracked down on.
My point is this – if you buy a game and choose to alter the files on your own PC, there should be no penalization for that specific action. Whilst software like Denuvo might be a great idea in keeping multiplayer lobbies clear of aimbots, it isn’t at all fair to lump in good-natured level modification, graphical improvements and quality of life upgrades alongside game-breaking, bad-natured multiplayer hacks – especially when this same anti-cheat software can’t disseminate single player cheats from multiplayer, and they make single-player experiences unbearable – just as they did in Doom.
A Solution On The Horizon?
Right now when I boot up my copy of the Master Chief Collection on Steam, I’m given an option. I can either run the MCC with anti cheat enabled, or disabled – which gives me the option of running modifications and playing homebrewed content. This might be the best way forward regarding many different games, especially ones where single-player and multiplayer content is equally popular, as sure – when I play the MCC and I enter into competitive arenas where points matter, I would like anti-cheat present to control the other players (disregarding how effective it is in its current state).
Conversely, when I want to goof around with my friends and play insane and outrageous situations, I’m more than happy to enjoy the presence of mods – I encourage them in fact, they can be a great way to extend the life of any game, and can often lead to interesting and engaging new game types – just look at the Mount & Blade series.
Call of Duty is currently doing something similar, yet slightly different. They are currently placing all the players suspected of running cheats in their games into lobbies with each other – meaning that the only people getting cheated are the cheaters themselves.
Whilst it remains to be seen how effective this strategy will prove (with the likes of IP switching and maybe even Gamertag changing being a challenge), there are those out there who might want the option of playing five games of regular multiplayer, only to jump into some insane fun within a modded match right after.
The question of piracy is one that I offer a bitter answer to: its not going away. Sure you can slow it down, protecting your initial sales, but really the people who are going to pirate a game are always going to pirate it, no matter if your anti-cheat DRM keeps them at bay for a month or a year. Surely removing anti cheat measures whilst leaving insecure software and locked source code is a better answer to the problem of piracy than ruining the fun for everyone with a half-baked third party Denuvo like implementation?
Really, the only way forward in the world of anti-cheat software is to not only improve the software itself, but accept that there is a community in the gaming world that do actually want to run cheats, and welcome them – whether they be in the form of actual cheats like an aimbot, or just mods that look and act like cheats, but really are only ways for people to enjoy their games to a higher degree.