Is Cyberpunk 2077 on Steam DRM Free? A Deep Dive Analysis

As an avid gamer and streaming enthusiast, one of my most anticipated releases in 2020 was CD Projekt Red‘s Cyberpunk 2077. And as someone passionate about consumer rights, one key question I researched was whether the Steam release would include extra DRM beyond Steam‘s own platform authentication.

After digging into the details and testing the game myself, I‘m happy to report that the Steam version of Cyberpunk 2077 is completely DRM-free besides relying on Steam itself. In this post, I‘ll share everything I learned about DRM in Cyberpunk 2077 for my fellow gamers and anyone curious about DRM-free gaming.

Defining Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Before getting into Cyberpunk 2077 specifically, let‘s make sure we‘re all on the same page about what DRM is. DRM stands for "digital rights management" – it refers to various technological measures used by publishers to control access to and usage of digital content like games, movies, books, and software.

The goal of DRM is to prevent piracy by placing restrictions on how players can access games they‘ve purchased. DRM aims to verify you actually own the game and limit the ability to distribute illegal copies.

Some of the most common DRM methods include:

  • Product keys – Requiring a CD key or activation code to install and play games.

  • Account-based authentication – Linking games to online user accounts to verify ownership.

  • Persistent online connectivity – Needing a constant internet connection to play, even singleplayer.

  • Install limits – Restricting the number of systems you can have the game installed on.

  • Encryption – Scrambling data so it only works with authentication.

  • Rootkits – Installing drivers that monitor system behavior for illegal activity.

  • Always-online DRM – Servers must validate a game every time you play.

As you can probably imagine, these types of restrictions are controversial among gamers. Publishers argue DRM is essential to protect sales. But critics point out that DRM mainly serves to inconvenience and alienate paying customers.

Personally, I fall into the latter camp. As a fan of game preservation and consumer rights, I believe responsible buyers should be able to enjoy their purchases without annoying technological hurdles placed in the way.

Is the Steam Client a form of DRM?

To understand Cyberpunk 2077‘s DRM situation, there‘s another key concept we need to cover – whether Steam itself functions as a form of DRM.

The Steam client is required to download and launch games purchased on Steam. At a basic level, this makes Steam a form of DRM. Requiring the Steam client adds an authentication layer and ties games to your Steam account rather than your PC.

However, Steam is generally considered one of the least intrusive DRM platforms. After authenticating once during install, most games can be played in offline mode indefinitely. The Steam DRM servers going down doesn‘t lock you out of your whole library. And there are no arbitrary restrictions on installs or hardware changes.

So when evaluating DRM-free games on Steam, we‘re really looking at whether any additional DRM is layered on top of the baseline Steam client authentication. Steam DRM alone is reasonable – it‘s all the extra account restrictions, online requirements, launchers, etc. piled on that become truly aggravating.

Cyberpunk 2077 Utilizes Only Steam‘s Base DRM

Keeping in mind that Steam itself provides a base level of DRM, the big question is whether Cyberpunk 2077 adds any additional DRM beyond that.

According to CD Projekt Red, the developers of the game, the answer is no. Cyberpunk 2077 relies solely on Steam for authentication and auto-updates. No other DRM mechanisms or restrictions have been implemented on top of Steam‘s core DRM.

This means Cyberpunk 2077 enjoys the same flexible usage experience as DRM-free games once it‘s activated on Steam. Let‘s look at some key facts about the game‘s DRM setup:

  • No additional DRM – CD Projekt Red explicitly stated no extra DRM beyond Steam would be added.

  • No 3rd party software – There are no secondary launchers, background services, or DRM tools.

  • Unlimited installations – You can install Cyberpunk 2077 on as many PCs as you want.

  • Offline support – Cyberpunk 2077 can be played offline indefinitely once activated on Steam.

  • No recurrent online checks – You won‘t ever be locked out due to authentication failures after the initial activation.

  • Performance optimized – No useless DRM processes wasting CPU cycles in the background while you play.

This lack of additional restrictions provides some great advantages over heavily DRM‘d games:

  • Install across all your devices without arbitrary limits.
  • Enjoy offline play without worrying about connectivity.
  • Avoid performance issues caused by heavy-handed DRM code.
  • Prevent authentication server failures locking you out.
  • Easily back up and re-download the game anytime.

Essentially, buying Cyberpunk 2077 on Steam offers the same flexible usage as a DRM-free game. The only compromise is the one-time online check during installation/first launch by the Steam client.

Most Steam Games Include Added DRM Layers

While Cyberpunk 2077 delivered a DRM-free experience beyond Steam authentication, this is an exception rather than the norm. Most major games sold on Steam opt to pile on additional DRM systems that add restrictions well beyond Steam‘s baseline DRM.

These extra DRM layers are implemented through Steamworks, a set of DRM and anti-cheat tools provided by Valve to developers on Steam. Instead of relying solely on Steam for ownership validation, publishers add redundant DRM systems like:

  • Launchers – External apps required to launch games, like Rockstar Social Club.

  • Recurrent authentication – Periodic online checks to re-verify ownership.

  • Install limits – Restricting the number of systems you can install the game on.

  • Persistent online connectivity – Requiring a constant internet connection to play singleplayer.

  • rootkit Anti-cheat – Kernel-level drivers that monitor system processes.

This added DRM causes all kinds of headaches for legitimate buyers:

  • Launch issues – 3rd party apps can go down and prevent play.

  • Lockouts – Getting locked out if a recurring authentication check fails.

  • Forced updates – Auto-updates breaking mods or changing game behavior.

  • Multiplayer-only restrictions – Can‘t play singleplayer offline if DRM pings fail.

  • Performance overhead – DRM services consume RAM, CPU, disk usage, and network bandwidth.

As you can see, excessive DRM really serves no purpose other than frustrating consumers. DRM‘s ineffectiveness at preventing piracy means these drawbacks just punish paying players.

Does DRM Successfully Prevent Piracy?

Publishers often defend restrictive DRM schemes by arguing they are necessary to fight piracy. But does DRM actually succeed in preventing piracy? Looking at the historical relationship between DRM and crack release times paints a very clear picture:

Game DRM Crack Release
Anno 1800 Denuvo + Uplay 4 days
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Denuvo + Origin 4 days
Resident Evil Village Denuvo + Steam 5 days
Far Cry 6 Denuvo + Uplay 1 day
Deathloop Denuvo + Steam 1 day
Guardians of the Galaxy Denuvo + Steam 4 days
FIFA 22 Denuvo + Origin 2 days

As you can see, even AAA games protected by heavy DRM see cracks released within days at most. Legitimate buyers deal with restrictions for months or years after the DRM has been broken.

The reality is that dedicated pirates will always find ways to crack game protection – because there are massive communities constantly working to break DRM. No scheme stays effective for long.

But the average player suffers from rushed, buggy DRM code that serves no purpose beyond the first few days. With cracked DRM-free versions circulating quickly, the only net effect is harming legitimate buyers.

CD Projekt Red‘s Stance Against DRM

While many studios continue relying on excessive DRM, Polish developer CD Projekt Red has consistently spoken out against imposing restrictions on paying customers. They cultivate goodwill by treating players fairly and avoiding DRM.

CD Projekt Red‘s stance against DRM is evident looking at their releases:

  • The Witcher 2 – Had strict DRM initially but later removed in a patch.

  • GOG – Their DRM-free games platform provides an alternative to DRM-laden stores.

  • Thronebreaker – This spin-off game had no DRM from launch.

  • GWENT – Their popular card game is completely DRM-free.

  • Cyberpunk 2077 – Their biggest title avoided DRM beyond Steam.

This consistent commitment to providing a DRM-free experience shows CD Projekt Red respects players and understands DRM‘s ineffectiveness. Cyberpunk 2077 specifically demonstrates that avoiding DRM does not preclude developing massive AAA blockbusters.

With piracy rampant even on the most DRM-laden titles, I hope more studios follow CD Projekt Red‘s lead in focusing on pleasing customers rather than wasting resources fighting a futile war against piracy.

Can You Strip DRM from Steam Games?

Given most Steam games include added DRM, some players have tried using tools that claim the ability to remove DRM after purchase. This would allow converting a Steam game into a fully portable DRM-free executable.

The most popular utility for this is known as Steamless or GreenLuma Reborn. It aims to remove various forms of DRM added through SteamWorks to produce a cleaner DRM-free version.

However, there are a few potential issues with this approach:

  • Legality – Bypassing DRM likely violates the DMCA anti-circumvention clause. Publishers could issue takedown notices.

  • TOS violations – Steam‘s Terms of Service forbid DRM cracking. Your account could be banned.

  • Feature loss – Steamworks features may no longer work properly without DRM hooks.

  • Updates -New patches may re-implement DRM unless the game is cracked again.

Because of the legal gray area and likelihood of breaking Steam‘s Terms of Service, I can‘t recommend trying to actively strip DRM from Steam games yourself.

While some technically-skilled users may succeed in carefully removing DRM with such tools, it is not trivial for the average player. And the legal risks mean it is best avoided altogether.

The only way to reliably enjoy a game free of DRM is to purchase a version marketed and distributed as DRM-free to begin with.

Cyberpunk 2077 on GOG vs Steam

If you‘ve decided to purchase Cyberpunk 2077 based on its lack of DRM, there is a choice between buying it DRM-free on GOG or relying on the Steam version. Let‘s quickly compare the pros and cons:

GOG Cyberpunk 2077 Advantages

  • Completely DRM-free experience with no required clients.
  • Fully standalone executable – install and run with no dependencies.
  • Provides more direct support to CD Projekt Red as the publisher.
  • Occasional deeper discounts not matched by Steam.

Steam Cyberpunk 2077 Advantages

  • Existing Steam library integrates easily.
  • Steamworks provides achievements, screenshots, etc.
  • Large active userbase for finding multiplayer matches.
  • Regional pricing means lower cost in some countries.

For most players, Steam or GOG will provide largely the same experience. But users looking for that completely standalone DRM-free version may prefer grabbing it directly from GOG. Either works great though.

Closing Thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077‘s DRM Stance

DRM certainly didn‘t hinder adoption of Cyberpunk 2077 – over 30 million copies were sold in the first 2 years across all platforms. For me, Cyberpunk 2077 perfectly demonstrates that avoiding DRM does not preclude developing groundbreaking AAA games.

Hopefully other studios are paying attention and realize that respecting customers with a DRM-free experience is more important than ineffective anti-piracy measures. DRM causes real harm to performance, ownership rights, and reliability of purchased games.

Cyberpunk 2077‘s massive success shows that there is still huge demand for games that respect players by avoiding restrictive DRM schemes. The gaming landscape as a whole would benefit from more developers following CD Projekt Red‘s lead in this area.

As games shift more and more to digital purchases rather than physical discs and cartridges, consumer rights are under threat. But releases like Cyberpunk 2077 give me hope that consumer-friendly DRM-free experiences can still thrive.

So for anyone still wondering – yes, Cyberpunk 2077 on Steam is definitively DRM-free besides the Steam client itself. You get the full flexible usage experience of DRM-free games. That‘s a major win for players in my book.

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