Central to Microsoft’s software strategy is the Microsoft Store, where they sell applications built on the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) as well as the Universal Web App (UWA) platforms, protected by several layers of Microsoft’s DRM schemes built into Windows 10. Some of that protection just got stripped by CODEX, a cracking protection group that has been working on breaking content protection schemes such as Denuvo and Steam DRM, who successfully cracked and removed the copy protection for Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Collection, and more games will soon be targeted.
CrackWatch’s entry for Zoo Tycoon Ultimate Animal Edition notes that several different layers of DRM had to be overcome to get the crack to work. There were existing workarounds to the UWP protection, but those can be patched out if you stay current with updates to Windows 10. That is how previous Microsoft titles like Minecraft for Windows 10, Forza Horizon 3, ReCore, and Gears of War were pirated – UWP and the rest of the DRM still ran in the background, but the operating system couldn’t hand over control back to the Windows Store app.
For Zoo Tycoon, CODEX had to crack protections from the Microsoft Store, the UWP protection in Windows 10 that prevents games from being copied or having their files altered, the EAPPX file format that prevented files to be bundled in the installer that made it easier to automate the installation, and the Arxan DRM protection. The interesting bit here is Arxan, because it functions just like Denuvo’s DRM offering by running applications in virtual machines that are sandboxed, preventing them from making any changes to the operating system or being accessed by external third-party software.
Once cracked, according to the game’s release notes, the application resides in the proper appx installation location on Windows 10, but cannot be launched through the Windows Store, the Xbox app, or via a desktop shortcut. Instead, the game’s shortcut is only available on the Start menu.
Given my own personal experience trying to use the Windows Store for large application installs, I’d be extremely interested in running cracked copies of UWP games that I already own. There are a lot of bugs with how the Store app keeps track of what licenses I own and what I have installed, and one of the old tricks to fix the license issue for Forza Motorsport 7 was to install another application. There’s also a Powershell workaround for this, in case the Windows Store derps out and won’t allow you to install more applications. To be honest, I’d rather just run a cracked copy of the game to not have to deal with Microsoft’s issues.
Rare’s Sea of Thieves launches 28 days from now, with a pending open beta. Cracking groups typically don’t comment on future projects or the progress they’re making on any particular game, but CODEX’s work here might help them to crack Sea of Thieves well before launch day.