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Exploring the Environmental Impact of Cloud Gaming

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The global video gaming industry has undergone significant changes in the last decade or so. Gone are the power-guzzling consoles and devices that were designed to be disposable in the minds of consumers when it was time for a new launch to come along. In their place are hardy, PC-quality consoles that are intended for multi-year use.

Gone too, for the most part, are video game cartridges now that trends in the industry have moved towards digital technology and innovation.  

These changes have had an impact on the carbon footprint generated by the gaming industry. What was once an activity that was incredibly unfriendly to the environment, and racked up a significant e-waste cost on top, has become much more streamlined as digital consoles, mobile devices, and game streaming services have gained a stronghold.  

With manufacturing processes in the industry now lower than what they were during the console era of video gaming, it could be assumed that gaming in 2021 is more sustainable and eco-friendly in comparison. However, is this actually the case? In this article, we’ll be exploring the all-new gaming industry and evaluating the true environmental impact of innovations like cloud gaming.   

The Gaming Landscape has Shifted 

Today, the gaming landscape is defined by advanced technology. Audio and video streaming services popularised throughout other sectors of the home entertainment industry, combined with the increase of on-demand services, have shifted how much gaming content is consumed.  

Gaming is making its way onto the cloud, with services like NVIDIA GeForce NOW and Google Stadia leading the way. Cloud gaming, along with VR and augmented reality is regarded throughout the industry as the future of gaming. We’re already starting to see leading companies across the gaming market invest considerable resources into innovation and development in the sector. 

It’s now easier than ever to access and consume video games, but along with this universal accessibility comes a hidden cost that’s tied directly to the carbon footprint of the gaming industry’s infrastructure.  

The Environmental Cost of Gaming 

Delivering gaming in the 21st century requires hardware costs, engineering costs, and the energy needed to power networks and data centers. According to industry research, currently, the gaming industry utilises 7% of the globe’s total network demand – 95% of which is related to downloading content. So, on one hand, gaming’s carbon footprint is still relatively low. 

Research papers investigating gaming’s energy consumption have uncovered statistics that could prove otherwise. According to the New Scientist, video gaming in the state of California alone consumes more electricity than entire countries like Sri Lanka or Senegal. 

This statistic, when compared with further findings which concluded that US gaming platforms use 34 terawatt-hours per year in energy, “with associated carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to over 5 million cars”, has sent alarm bells ringing through the industry.  

Could cloud gaming, surely the sustainable future of gaming entertainment, really cause such a drain on the planet’s resources? 

Whilst on the surface these findings look bad when you factor in real-world problems such as countries like Sri Lanka being reliant on deficient power systems it becomes clear that there’s a massive divide in energy consumption and availability in developed countries compared to third-world territories. Yes, gamers in California may be using more energy to power their Fortnite battles, but residents in Senegal and Sri Lanka have significantly limited access to energy resources in the first place. The two really can’t be compared unless it’s for sensationalist value.

The truth is, all human leisure activities and hobbies have an impact on the environment, even green or sustainable activities such as hiking. More energy is consumed by a vehicle taking a 3-hour round trip to a beauty spot – even and especially in an electric vehicle – than a PC or PlayStation 5. But again, you can’t really compare the two when looking for quantifiable data.  

How Gaming Addresses its Environmental Impact 

Millions of people around the globe love playing games and they’re unlikely to stop anytime soon. Gaming is big business, but it also generates an entire ecosystem of organisations and individuals, including those who are harnessing the power of gaming to affect real and meaningful societal change.  

As with any industry, there are no doubt those unscrupulous businesses that aren’t making contributions to creating a sustainable future for gaming. But for every outlier in the fight against climate change, there are brands and organisations in the gaming industry that are playing their part.  

SONY, for example, has implemented a new low-power mode in its latest next-gen console, PlayStation 5. According to CEO Jim Ryan, for every million gamers that enable the feature, it would save the equivalent of 1000 US homes’ average electricity use.   Not to be left out, Microsoft has added a “connected standby” mode to the Xbox Series S and X that reduces power when the console is not actively in use.

Alexia Hope

Alexia is the author at Research Snipers covering all technology news including Google, Apple, Android, Xiaomi, Huawei, Samsung News, and More.

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