Why People Are Upset Over Denuvo in Sonic Mania (Spoilers: It's Not Just Piracy)

Sonic Mania's had a hard time on Steam, and it's pretty much SEGA's fault.

DRM and its effectiveness are always a hotly-debated topic among the PC gaming community. The debate over whether it actually does what it's intended is one that started well before this generation and will continue into far into the future.

Sonic Mania's inclusion of the DRM Denuvo is the latest dramafest over DRM, but the community's outrage over it isn't solely based on what the peanut gallery says is the PC community (yet again) having a fit because they can't pirate the game. It's a little more complicated than that, and it has to do with:

SEGA's lack of transparency

This is a three-pronged issue overall, but this is the one prong that needs to be brought to light first.

The PC release of Sonic Mania saw a two-week delay, which was announced a mere four days before it was set to release on PC alongside its PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch counterparts. Many speculated it was because SEGA decided to add DRM to the PC version, but SEGA themselves did not make an announcement one way or the other.

In fact, SEGA did not reveal that Sonic Mania would contain any DRM at any point in time leading up to the PC release, and the Steam store page for the game didn't even mention Denuvo until several hours after release. The people who bought it certainly noticed, though -- many who had bought the game on the first day could not play it due to "connection issues".

SEGA ironed out the authentication issue and "enabled" offline play (enabling offline play for a singleplayer game is ridiculous in itself) yesterday, but the fact remains there was a clear lack of transparency on the inclusion of Denuvo. Sonic Mania is certainly SEGA's property -- but when requesting money for a product, the publisher should have the responsibility of keeping the consumer informed of changes.

You may be thinking to yourself that those who purchased the game could just get a refund and be done with it if Denuvo rustled their jimmies so much, but there's a catch to that, too.

Some pre-order holders could/can not get a refund

This is where things get sketchy. All of the above is generally enough to send a number of PC gamers into nuclear meltdown, but this specific part of the problem continues to be one of the biggest agitators to this whole fiasco.

To make up for the PC delay, SEGA granted Steam pre-order holders a free copy of Sonic 1 to be played in the Sega Mega Drive & Genesis Classics Collection. This was granted exactly two weeks before Sonic Mania released on Steam.

If you're familiar with Steam's refund system, you're probably aware of the two big criteria for refunding a game:

  1. You have to have played the game for less than two hours
  2. You have to have owned the game for less than two weeks

Those who pre-ordered Sonic Mania on Steam well in advance got their copy of Sonic 1 exactly two weeks before Mania was to be released. This normally wouldn't be an issue (I've certainly never heard of this being an issue), but it seems Steam is mistaking Sonic 1 and Sonic Mania when processing refunds, which is locking the aforementioned early pre-order holders from refunding the game.

This problem in particular is likely unintentional, but it's only fueled the hate-fire over the past few days, as many unhappy with the addition of Denuvo are unable to refund the game.

If you are one of these people and still would like a refund, it's worth noting that some Steam users have had success going into Steam support and choosing the "I have a question about this product" option and inputting your grievance in the optional box. It's not perfect, but it's worth a shot.

Denuvo's servers aren't going to last forever

Whether Denuvo is actually harmful or not is a topic still up for discussion. The most passed-around link on the anti-consumer nature of the controversial DRM is heavily out of date, and most of the complaints surrounding these days have to do with its limited lifespan, online checks, and unreliability. When was the last time a game with Denuvo didn't get cracked? It's been a while.

The biggest issue the community faces with Denuvo isn't one of the now, but of the future. No server lasts forever, and in time Denuvo will fade from relevance and take all the games its meant to "protect" with it.

Because Denuvo requires online checks to allow a user to launch and continue to run a game it is attached to, any games using Denuvo will no longer be able to run once the servers are taken down. This won't happen this year or next year, but it will happen. And a lot of games are going to fall with it.

There have certainly been examples of games that have had their restrictive DRM torn from them once it's known their DRM servers will be going down, but those examples are not indicative of the norm. Plenty of titles have fallen and been lost in the wind due to their DRM's eventual folding -- and the same will happen to Denuvo, just as it did with its predecessors.

The Sonic Mania DRM fiasco is a failing on SEGA's part, primarily due to their lack of transparency on what exactly buyers would be installing onto their computers. Is it really worth this, when the game is going to get cracked in two weeks time despite the implementation of Denuvo? Sonic Mania has become yet another example of DRM causing legitimate consumers more hassle than their non-paying counterparts.

It's a shame, since the game is undoubtedly one of the best Sonic games to come out in the past decade, if not longer.

Published Aug. 31st 2017

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