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The Pirated Version of Final Fantasy XV is Much Faster Than the Legal Game

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Square Enix’s port of Final Fantasy XV has received strong reviews and overall acclaim from multiple publications. Eurogamer declared the PC version “unlocks the game’s full visual potential,” and other sites have given the game similar accolades. They’ve also taken notice of how much hardware firepower you need to really push the game at its highest visual settings. A new investigation suggests some of those requirements may be artificially higher than they should be, thanks to the game’s DRM implementation.

DSO Gaming put both versions of the game through equivalent tests and the results aren’t even particularly close. Not only does the pirated version launch much more quickly, saved games also load faster at 58 seconds for the pirated version versus 100 seconds for the legal copy. A video of the load time differences is embedded below:

While 720p tests favored the Steam version of the game, at 1080p the situation changed. In all cases, the pirated version of the game was faster, by 5 percent to a whopping 33 percent, depending on the scene. DSO Gaming also reported the frame rate on the pirated version has a tendency to drop after 10-15 minutes, while the frame rate doesn’t drop on the pirated version. The site logged a 60fps frame rate after 10 minutes on the Steam version and a 75fps frame rate on the pirated copy after the same amount of time. None of these issues have been fixed in the latest game patch. Finally, they found the Steam version stutters more, thanks to constant hard drive accesses that hit the game’s overall smoothness and presentation.

The implications of these findings are straightforward: The piracy protections baked into the game are hitting overall performance, causing a significant set of issues. Companies regularly deny it happens, but tests like this punch holes in such claims. The impact of Denuvo (which FFXV uses) and other DRM schemes appears to vary depending on the game. Other potential factors include which version of Denuvo is used, how it’s implemented, and the presence of other DRM methods. In Doom, removing Denuvo had a 4-6 percent impact on performance at 1080p. The FFXV impact, in contrast, is significantly larger.

You’ll need to click on the image and zoom in, but you can see how the Denuvo version of the game is at 60 FPS while the pirated version hits 73 FPS. Images by DSO Gaming.

Be advised, however, this trend can run both ways. ExtremeTech does not endorse or condone piracy, but as a matter of technical commentary, the version of a game you can find at sites like the Pirate Bay is often the launch-day flavor. In cases where later updates are available, they still may not correspond with the final title. This increases the likelihood that bugs or other issues will themselves lead to a negative overall experience.

At the same time, however, issues like this make it genuinely tough to recommend a middle road on DRM. Most gamers are willing to tolerate DRM if it’s acceptably permissive, and storefronts like Steam strike a balance between allowing gamers to share titles or install them to multiple machines and the need to protect the publisher’s IP. But it’s one thing to put a limit on account sharing or simultaneous installations. It’s another to ask players to accept significantly lower performance. Final Fantasy XV may be best experienced on PC, but Denuvo is doing the game no favors.

Our own rule of thumb for whether a game’s DRM implementation hits performance too hard would be this:  If DRM impact rises above 5-6 percent in any metric — frame times, frame rates, UI responsiveness, etc — then the impact is too high and the implementation needs to be fine-tuned or changed. A 5-6 percent performance loss is generally below the threshold humans can reliably detect; the difference between a steady 60fps and a steady 57fps isn’t very noticeable. Once you start hitting 10 percent, you’re in the range people will regularly detect.

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