Environmental footprints: unique aspects of the games industry

The games industry is characterised by constant, rapid change. Few other industries are as dynamic, develop at as rapid a pace, or generate innovative products and ideas at such a high rate. There are currently 749 companies in Germany that develop and market games. The games industry’s larger labour market, which includes service providers, retailers, educational establishments, the media and the public sector, employs approximately 27,000 people.

But all sectors of the games industry – developers and publishers, educational establishments and esports event organisers alike – can reduce their own carbon emissions. Areas to work on include: 

  • Technologies used, such as those used in game development
  • Raw materials and chemicals used in the production of discs, packaging, consoles, peripherals, etc.
  • Operating data centres and servers, which may host game data, cloud gaming, multiplayer services, etc.
  • Distribution of physical products by aircraft, lorry, ship freight, etc.
  • Recycling and disposing of used products
  • Company office space
  • Organising events, festivals or conventions, particularly with a view to the waste produced

These are just a few examples of the many different levels at which the games industry can reduce its harmful emissions.

After all, these examples do not even address how video game players themselves can improve their carbon footprint. Sony, for instance, gives players tips on the best playing methods in terms of reducing their carbon emissions per hour of play.[1] Using a PlayStation 4 console as an example, this applies to the following areas, among others:

Digital or physical

Downloads result in lower carbon emissions than discs or streaming. The PlayStation 4 generates an average of 0.05 kg of CO2 per hour of play. By way of comparison, a PC generates 0.09 kg.[2]

Playing time

Playing time also impacts the player’s carbon footprint. Sony estimates that playing a game for a total of five hours as a stream generates lower carbon emissions than a game that has been downloaded. For much longer playing time – over 200 hours, for example – games on discs or in download format are the better choice and have comparable effects on the player’s carbon footprint.[3]

Game size

The size of the game file has an impact similar to playing time, although the size and playing time of a game tend to be closely linked. For smaller games of up to 5 GB, Sony estimates that the CO2 emitted for a download is lower than for streaming or discs. For larger games, the company estimates that streaming generates the lowest levels of carbon emissions if the player only plays for a few hours in total, whereas downloads generate the lowest emissions if the player plays for longer periods of time.[4]

Consequently, games companies and players alike have the opportunity to contribute to reducing or even eliminating carbon emissions in the games industry. However, as in every industry, the first question that needs to be asked is: how high are our own emissions?