Ecology is at the heart of all debates and if the video game industry has been away from it for a long time, this is no longer the case today. The video game industry also has a huge impact on the carbon footprint and there are practices and trends that can exacerbate it. This is particularly the case of cloud gaming, which has been attacked because of its excessive impact on the environment. It is a question of understanding what the stakes are and the effects of our video game consumption modes in order to find adapted solutions.
The turning point of cloud gaming
Video games have evolved like many industries, but remain relatively far removed from ecological considerations. At first glance, there is no particular polluting, unlike industries like aviation for example. However, it requires a lot of resources to enable all the terminals, consoles and servers required for the current use of video games. Thus, the video game industry emits an estimated 37 million tons of CO2 equivalent.
A figure lower than the largest pollution industry, but could rise in the future. In fact, everything is not fixed for the world of video games, because we are only coming to the dawn of a turning point that could determine the evolution of the carbon footprint of this industry. Two possibilities seem to be available to players. Either an evolution in favor of cloud gaming, dematerialization at all costs and the abundant consumption of games, or an evolution that will stop there and encourage gamers to keep their equipment as long as possible, in favor of local and responsible consumption. There are innovative solutions that should be used, such as using rechargeable home battery systems with solar panels to consume less electricity, at home or on the go. There are also simple dirty innovations that are being rejected to improve the situation and the environmental impact of video games.
The effect of dematerialized
Dematerialized is an evolution that seems really inevitable. Many industries went there, such as music or cinema. However, starting with an idea that may seem like an ecological advancement, in reality, being irresponsible at all costs also requires a lot of resources. However, this is a very strong trend from the point of view of the industry. Cloud gaming or cloud computing seems to be of great interest. We’ve seen projects like Stadia for Google, Shadow in France or even XCloud in Microsoft. The new way of playing through a subscription system and without all the equipment on the site is something enticing.
The goal is to change the way video games are used, by gaining access through one platform and its catalog to multiple games, because one person can use a movie or a series in a video on demand. service. In the same spirit of replacing video games with a service, the new consoles also offer subscription or pass systems to enjoy the games without directly buying them.
The carbon footprint of the industry
As one can imagine, the initiative to dematerialize products looks interesting. This reduces the production of boxes, discs, playbooks, etc. We may think that this is the direction we should be heading. Industry players were the first to teach it. There are fewer plastic, proprietary electronic components. In addition, a cloud gaming device is less powerful and therefore energy intensive than a console or a computer. The cloud was then presented to us as a service that frees itself from hardware and therefore saves material resources and even transportation.
However, this is only a blessing in disguise. In fact, many gamers are unconvinced by these speeches, because we now know that cloud technologies are particularly power -hungry. Operating data centers requires a lot of resources and the balance is not positive for the carbon footprint. A study from June 2020 also made assumptions about the carbon footprint of the video game industry according to future developments.
Thus, researchers at Lancaster University estimate that industry emissions could reach 1.5 billion tons of CO2 in the coming decade, if cloud computing remains an appropriate phenomenon. Conversely, if only a third of gamers decided to play only on their smartphones instead of a console, the number would rise by 30%. Finally, if 90% of players switch to cloud computing, the carbon footprint will increase by 112%.
Understand the source of such an effect
The problem with the video game and digital industry in general is that we probably don’t see the real impact of usage. Everything is online, somewhere on the servers, so we don’t realize our impact. However, everything is material and requires resources. Starting with streaming for example, which requires a lot of power to manage requests, especially since data values are larger at the latest resolutions such as 4k. This is exactly the same for cloud gaming services that will require more bandwidth for good quality streaming. The problem is that the electricity needed to run it mainly comes from coal.
We can also cite the very fast and massive renewal of devices, such as increasingly large screens, as the source of the high carbon footprint. The latest 4k screens are more power hungry.
What to do?
Everything is not dark and decided, we can still change our mode of consumption to reduce the environmental impact of playing video games.
For example, we should try to use our consoles or our screens for a long time, so as not to give up on change once it is available. We can also favor the purchase of physical games for consoles or PCs so as not to favor cloud gaming. You have to stay responsible without stopping playing. Switching to more renewable energy in electrical data centers or even homes should also improve the situation.