Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV was recently in the news for having its DRM completely broken a full day before the game’s release. Due to some strange decisions by Square, the game was allowed to be pre-loaded in an unencrypted format for EA Origin account owners, and this meant that cracking groups could get to work on attacking the game’s protections to see if the DRM could be removed. As it turns out, it was much simpler than that – the game’s executable found in the demo version is fully compatible with the final release, and very few other tricks are required to work around the inclusion of Denuvo. This discovery means that FFXV is the first game that anyone can test the impact of DRM on, and PC Gamer did just that.
PC modder Peter “Durante” Thoman tested the game with and without the DRM protection, and found that in some cases, the final version of the game was slightly faster in tested scenes than the one without DRM. CPU usage was measured with the game accessing up to six cores/threads and with the processor underclocked, and consistently the numbers would show little variation between the game with and without DRM, even with a low amount of CPU resources. Once the game had access to more than two cores, variances tended to be much smaller, although Durante notes that the tested scenes weren’t exactly reproduced due to the open-world nature of the game.
One area where there was a consistent advantage to the DRM-less version of FFXV was in loading times, shaving off several seconds when loading the second tested scene. Even though there is an advantage, it’s a small one due to the game being run on a modern platform with a solid state drive as storage. It’s likely that using a hard drive would result in a greater delta between the DRM version and the DRM-less version of the game.
I think there’s also a need for the game to be tested on hardware that isn’t so new. While Durante tested the game on an Intel Coffee Lake CPU, testing the game with Skylake and older processors or AMD Bulldozer processors would give us a more realistic view of how the DRM might impact CPU performance. Users on cracking-related subreddits and forums have reported better performance without the DRM for their systems running at higher resolutions and with maxed graphics settings, and PC Gamer’s tests do not examine GPU or memory performance.
While Durante notes that the game wasn’t tested in an exact fashion, and also notes that the results show a small variance between versions, there’s still more tests to be done on other aspects of the impact of DRM, and Denuvo’s claims that they don’t impact game performance noticeably with their protection schemes seems to hold water.