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How do you know if a game is DRM-free?

Wondering if that hot new game is wrapped up with annoying DRM restrictions? Here‘s my guide to identifying DRM-free games, so you can enjoy true ownership and control over your gaming library.

What is DRM and why does it matter?

DRM stands for "digital rights management". It refers to various technological restrictions used to control access to digital media, like requiring an internet connection or limiting installations. DRM is added to games and other content by publishers to prevent piracy.

As a gamer though, DRM can be a real headache. It limits what you can do with games you rightfully purchased. DRM-free games don‘t burden players with any usage restrictions. You‘re free to play, mod and backup your games however you want.

Knowing if a game is encumbered by DRM is important. Do you want to fully own your games or rent them as a service? Let‘s dig into how to find out if a game respects your rights.

Checking the store page – looking for the DRM icons

For PC games, the easiest way is to check the store page on services like Steam, GOG, Epic Games Store etc.

Platforms like GOG proudly advertise their DRM-free catalog. If it‘s on GOG, it will be DRM-free for sure.

GOG DRM-Free Tag

On Steam, DRM-free games are tagged with a little open lock icon:

Steam DRM-free Tag

However, the majority of Steam games will be tagged with the DRM warning icon instead:

Steam DRM Warning

This means the game uses third-party DRM like Denuvo or relies on the Steam DRM. Sadly over 75% of Steam‘s top games incorporate DRM.

The Epic Games Store also displays a similar DRM notice for some games using Denuvo or other DRM schemes.

For consoles like PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch, DRM is built into the ecosystem by design. Every game is effectively DRM restricted through the mandatory platform accounts. Physically purchased games may be resold though.

Diving into forums & communities

Official game forums, subreddits and communities are handy sources of user reports detailing first-hand DRM experiences.

Search around or ask directly – "Is the new Doom DRM-free?" Gamers are eager to vent about DRM frustrations!

For example, this GOG forum thread confirms The Witcher 3‘s DRM-free status across platforms.

Reddit communities like /r/DRMFreeGaming are fantastic resources. The members actively discuss upcoming DRM-free releases and help each other avoid DRM pitfalls.

Poring through compatibility databases

Specialized compatibility databases like PCGamingWiki contain technical details on DRM usage in games.

PCGamingWiki has extensive charts listing which DRM schemes are incorporated in hundreds of games. This is incredibly helpful data for identifying DRM-free titles.

PCGamingWiki DRM Database

Screenshot of PCGamingWiki‘s extensive DRM database

Resources like this from the DRM-conscious gaming community are invaluable.

Following gaming news and announcements

When games are coming to new platforms or getting re-released, press announcements often confirm if the new version will be DRM-free or not.

Following gaming news sites and publisher feeds can clue you in early about upcoming DRM-free options:

  • "Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order coming DRM-free to GOG next month!"

  • "Doom Eternal DRM-free on Steam starting today with the XYZ update!"

Staying on top of gaming news helps spot DRM-free opportunities right away.

The state of DRM across major gaming platforms

How do the major players in PC and console gaming approach DRM? Let‘s break it down.


As the leading PC games platform with over 120 million users, Steam exerts massive influence. They provide both their own Steam DRM technology and distribute third-party DRM protected games.

Over 75% of Steam‘s top games incorporate DRM like Denuvo or the Steam DRM.

However, Steam does offer both a DRM-free tagging system and a growing category of DRM-free games. There are over 1000 to browse through.

Steam provides the DRM technology that publishers desire while also catering to DRM-free demand from informed gamers. A delicate balancing act.


GOG, short for Good Old Games, made headlines by becoming the first major digital storefront focused on DRM-free gaming. They‘ve delivered on that vision with a catalog that‘s over 90% DRM-free today.

Anyone browsing GOG will enjoy the peace of mind knowing these games won‘t shackle your usage rights. A serious alternative for DRM concerned gamers. takes a hands-off approach with no DRM requirements for the over 400,000 indie games listed. A majority of titles are DRM-free as a result. Their light curation and open ethos attract many DRM-free devs.

Epic Games Store

Epic‘s efforts to compete with Steam mean a mixed bag so far for DRM. Some exclusives like Subnautica were DRM-free on Epic but others use Denuvo. Policy seems to be up to publishers.

Consoles – PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo

As closed ecosystems, consoles are designed from the ground up for total DRM control. Games are tied to online accounts with no allowance for copying. One advantage is game discs can be resold or lent out.

Microsoft recently dropped DRM checks for Xbox One discs on Series X/S consoles. A tiny glimmer of hope?

Game streaming – GeForce Now, Stadia, xCloud

Emerging cloud game streaming locks you into total DRM dependence with no local access to title code or assets. The services boast convenience but entail significant loss of ownership rights.

Removing DRM – is it legal and how to do it?

What about actually breaking the DRM shackles off your games? Let‘s explore this thorny topic.

The legal landscape

Opinions diverge on the legality of DRM circumvention for personal use. Many tools exist but occupy a legal gray area.

According to digital rights groups like the EFF, DRM circumvention violates the DMCA and copyright law in the US. They argue for reform.

Meanwhile according to WholeMarsBlog, DRM removal for games you own should fall under fair use rights.

In many countries, just discussing DRM circumvention is banned on platforms like YouTube and Reddit. But tools and techniques quietly flourish on torrent sites.

Steam DRM removal

For Steam games, there‘s a tool called Steamless that can remove the Steam Stub DRM component. Not all games are supported but many AAA titles like Skyrim can have Steam DRM stripped.

GOG and DRM-free game backups

Having access to DRM-free game installers from services like GOG makes archiving and backing up games trivial. You‘re free to copy as you please.

Converting between platforms

GOG now provides an official tool called GOG Connect that can import Steam games you already own to add a DRM-free version. Only select titles are supported but the list grows monthly.

Cracking and emulation communities

Illicit game cracking groups and emulator devs actively work to break both game DRM protections and emulate console exclusives. Widespread but legally dubious.

Consumer perspectives on DRM

Gamers hold strong views on DRM, both for and against. Let‘s examine some common perspectives.

Anti-DRM – Ownership, flexibility, preservation

Many gamers actively avoid DRM due to wanting full ownership and control over their purchases. DRM undermines property rights.

removing DRM can enable preserving games for the long-term. DRM servers going offline has broken many titles.

DRM restrictions on copying also hamper modding communities. The vibrant mod scene around classic DRM-free games like Doom plays a key role in their longevity.

Pro-DRM – Stopping piracy, protecting developers

Supporters see DRM as vital to thwarting rampant piracy that could cripple developers, arguing copy protection enables healthier game ecosystems.

Industry surveys showlost revenue to piracy is billions per year. DRM aims to mitigate potential losses.

Some players also prioritize the convenience and features of major platforms like Steam over DRM objections. Not all mind the restrictions.

The data on piracy rates

Game piracy is certainly very widespread, but data on lost sales proves complex. Firm piracy causality links can be tenuous.

One study by the EU on piracy rates vs sales found little evidence of harm to revenues. But industry groups remain unconvinced.

Developer perspectives

Developers hold varying views on DRM efficacy. GOG claims they recoup development costs fine despite DRM-free, arguing convenience matters more.

Others like Ubisoft view DRM as crucial, reporting it slashes piracy rates by over 90% for their titles.

But some devs openly mock DRM as only harming paying users, having no effect on cracked pirated copies. No consensus emerges.

Tips for finding and playing DRM-free games

Based on all we‘ve covered, here are some tips for acquiring DRM-free games and enjoying true ownership:

  • Regularly check GOG and for new DRM-free releases. Sign up for newsletters.

  • Follow r/DRMfree on Reddit and gaming sites for DRM-free announcements.

  • Use platforms like IsThereAnyDeal to find deals on DRM-free games. Add them to your waitlist.

  • Search stores like Steam and Humble Bundle for the DRM-free icon.

  • When buying games, research whether the version for sale will be encumbered by DRM or not.

  • Backup DRM-free game installers in multiple locations so you never lose access.

  • Remove DRM cautiously from existing games if you desire but research legality.

  • For multiplayer games, research effects of removing DRM – it may block online play.

  • Emulate classic consoles and older PC games which lack DRM entirely. Enjoy guilt-free nostalgia!

  • Support DRM-free stores like GOG and DRM-free releases so developers continue catering to us.

I hope these tips help you avoid the pitfalls of DRM and build your own ideal DRM-free games collection. Game on!



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.