Very energy intensive, the video game also wants to get sober

From design to production, several parameters must be taken into account to measure the carbon footprint of video games. Concrete actions or pure communication? The studios are trying to act.

While the challenge of the moment is getting sober, the gaming world is trying to do its part. American researcher Ben Abraham explains in his book Digital games after climate change (Editions Palgrave Macmillan) how the gaming industry can reduce its carbon footprint. He notes that studios are taking action, but the scale of the task is immense.

Included in technical Art, Ben Abraham believes that “a global mobilization across the industry will be necessary.” Each year, the electricity consumption of the gaming devices themselves is estimated at 34 terawatt hours of energy, or the CO2 equivalent of 5 million cars.

Evaluate your carbon footprint, a first step

For Frédéric Bordages, founder of Green IT, it is technically feasible for a study to assess its carbon footprint, even indirect. To do this, “the study must carry out an analysis of the life cycle through four main indicators: the depletion of resources (metals and then fossil fuels), the impact on ionizing radiation and its contribution to global warming,” he explains. explains at Tech&Co. These indicators were included in a study on the environmental impacts of digital, carried out by Green IT for Ademe and Arcep.

Like our phones, video game consoles require the mining of rare materials, with a disastrous carbon footprint. For example, Ben Abraham points out that the PlayStation 4 chip that runs almost all of the console’s computing functions is made up of 17 different elements, including cadmium, which is especially toxic.

The other ecological impact that companies can assess is the travel of employees of video game companies. The most urgent thing would be to simply reduce or eliminate employee travel, according to Ben Abraham. The cancellation of physical events like E3 this year and their partial replacement with virtual events brings its share of changes.

Real actions or greenwashing?

The big game companies are trying to fix it. The PS5 is less polluting than the PlayStation 4. In standby mode, the PS5 would 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 is committed to saving 29 tons of CO2 by 2030 by focusing on less energy-intensive technologies.

For its part, Microsoft uses 100% renewable energy, and is committed to offsetting or recovering all the greenhouse gases it emits. “Major publishers like Ubisoft and Nintendo also get most of their energy from renewable sources,” says Ars Technica. But for Frédéric Bordages, the studios do not provide sufficient means “despite the fact that they have become aware of the ecological issue”.

At the beginning of September, more than 90 studios and people who work in video games signed a column published on the specialized environmental news site, good friend. They warn of the ecological impact of the metaverse and promise not to invest in it. As far as possible, they intend to privilege “reasoned” projects.

Concrete actions

Very specifically, the studios can activate three levers: reduce their impact as an organization, choose the most appropriate distribution medium (physical or download), adapt to the players’ equipment to prevent them from changing consoles every two or three years because the games require increasingly powerful equipment.

The Space Ape Games studio collects data from players to estimate carbon emissions in the number of hours of play in order to offset them within the company itself. In 2018, globally, the company had to offset 181 tons of CO2, roughly the total annual emissions of a dozen average Americans.

In France, the distributor Metaboli, the parent company of Gamesplanet.com, offers PC games for download. The company is currently working on implementing solutions both to inform players and to offer suitable games. “Games require the right hardware, and choosing a game based on the computer you have is essential,” explains Pierre Forest, the founder of Metaboli, interviewed by Tech&Co. Specifically, Metaboli will offer for each of its games, a tool that allows the player to know the most suitable type of equipment. From this, Metaboli will be able to estimate the environmental impact of the use of the games in its catalogue.

To calculate this estimate several criteria are taken into account: RAM, CPU, GPU, disk, screen and internet box. At the exit, regarding electronic devices, the games will obtain a score between A and E.

The second goal is to encourage game studios to take action. In its catalog, Metaboli has 500 games that contain content directly or indirectly related to the environment. The idea is to develop a certain “ecological softpower through video games”, defends Pierre Forest.

play green

Frédéric Bordages highlights the fact that the use of games represents the largest part shows. Player behavior, usage patterns, and different console settings can all have an impact.

Favoring mobile games seems like a false good idea. “Mobile games do not replace but rather add hours of play to those spent on console”, explains the founder of Green IT. It’s the same mechanic when it comes to cloud gaming. Above all, the data is not reported in large enough quantities to conduct a study on this topic.

If players start factoring carbon emissions into their decisions, Ben Abraham believes they will focus more on corporate ESG values, such as current green policies.

To do this, the studios join initiatives such as Playing for the Planet, which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of this industry.

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