From design to production, there are several parameters to consider in order to measure the carbon footprint of video games. Concrete actions or pure communication? The studios are trying to act.
While the challenge at the moment is to sober up, the world of video games is trying to do its part. American researcher Ben Abraham explains in his book Digital Games After Climate Change (Palgrave Macmillan editions) how the gaming industry can reduce its carbon footprint. He notices that studio action is being taken, but the scale of the task is enormous.
Ben Abraham, made at Ars Technica, believes that “this will require global industry-wide mobilization.” The annual electricity consumption of the gaming devices themselves is estimated at 34 terawatt-hours of energy, or the CO2 equivalent of 5 million cars.
Assessing your carbon footprint is the first step
According to Frederic Bordage, founder of Green IT, it is technically possible for a studio to estimate its carbon footprint, even indirectly. To do this, “the studio must conduct a life cycle analysis on four main indicators: resource depletion (metals, then fossil fuels), exposure to ionizing radiation and its contribution to global warming,” he explains at Tech & Co. These metrics were included in Green IT’s environmental impact study for Ademe and Arcep.
Like our phones, game consoles require the extraction of rare materials with catastrophic carbon dioxide emissions. For example, Ben Abraham points out that the PlayStation 4 chip, which controls almost all of the console’s computer functions, is made up of 17 different elements, including cadmium, which is particularly toxic.
Another environmental impact that companies can assess is the travel of employees of video game companies. According to Ben Abraham, the most urgent thing would be to simply reduce or eliminate employee travel. The cancellation of physical events like E3 this year and their partial replacement with virtual events is bringing its fair share of changes.
Real action or greenwashing?
Major gaming companies are trying to negotiate. The PS5 is less polluting than the PlayStation 4. In standby mode, the PS5 will not consume more than 0.5 watts as required by the European Commission, compared to 8.5 watts for the PS4. In addition, the company aims to reduce CO2 emissions by 29 tons by 2030 by focusing on less energy-intensive technologies.
For its part, Microsoft uses 100% renewable energy and aims to offset or restore all greenhouse gas emissions. “Big publishers like Ubisoft and Nintendo also get most of their energy from renewable sources,” says Ars Technica. But for Frédéric Bordage, the studios are not investing enough, “even though they have realized the environmental problem.”
In early September, more than 90 video game studios and people subscribed to a column published by environmental news site Bon Pote. They warn of the environmental impact of the metaverse and pledge not to invest in it. As far as possible, they intend to give preference to “reasoned” projects.
More specifically, studios can use three levers: reduce their influence as an organization, choose the most appropriate distribution medium (physical or downloadable), adapt to gamers’ hardware so that they don’t change consoles for two or three years because games require more and more powerful equipment.
Space Ape Games is collecting player data to estimate the carbon footprint of hours of play to offset it internally. Globally, the company had 181 tons of CO2 to offset in 2018, about the same as the total annual emissions of a dozen average Americans.
In France, distributor Metaboli, the parent company of Gamesplanet.com, offers PC games for download. The company is currently working on implementing solutions to both inform players and offer suitable games. “Games require the right hardware, and choosing a game based on the computer you own is fundamental,” explains Pierre Forest, founder of Metaboli, in an interview with Tech&Co. In particular, Metaboli will offer for each of its games a tool that will allow the player to find out the most suitable type of equipment. From this, Metaboli will be able to evaluate the environmental impact of the games in its catalog.
To calculate this score, several criteria are taken into account: RAM, CPU, GPU, disk, screen, and internet box. At the output, as far as electronic devices are concerned, the games will be rated from A to E.
The second goal is to galvanize game studios into action. In its catalog, Metaboli has 500 games that contain content that is directly or indirectly related to the environment. The idea is to develop some kind of “ecological soft power through video games”, defends Pierre Forest.
Frédéric Bordage highlights the fact that game use represents the largest share of emissions. This may be affected by player behavior, usage patterns, and various console settings.
Preferring mobile gaming seems like a false good idea. “Mobile games do not replace, but add hours of play in addition to the hours spent on the console,” explains the founder of Green IT. It’s the same mechanic when it comes to cloud gaming. First of all, the data are not reported in sufficient quantities to conduct a study on this issue.
Ben Abraham believes that if players start to factor carbon into their decisions, they will pay more attention to ESG corporate values, such as environmental policy.
To do this, the studios are joining forces with initiatives such as Playing for the Planet, which aim to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.