More and more of us are beginning to realise how important the environment is and are taking conscious steps to reduce our impact on it. At a personal level, this might mean walking instead of driving more often, cutting down on the number of disposable products we buy, using renewable energy, and swapping to energy-saving products at home.
Businesses also have a big role to play in protecting the environment, from multinational manufacturers down to your local baker. For some industries, it is obvious which activities contribute to their environmental impact. Oil companies pump fossil fuels out of the ground for us to burn as fuel, while the agricultural industry has millions of methane-emitting animals and has to ship tons of food around the world.
For other industries, the impact may not be as obvious but the reality is that every company has a carbon footprint and affects the environment in some way or another. That’s why most businesses are taking steps to reduce their impact.
One of these is the gaming industry, which helps billions of people enjoy interactive forms of entertainment each year. Here are ways in which it impacts the environment and the steps that many gaming companies are taking to reduce that effect.
Online Games and Digital Distribution
Traditionally, developers got their titles to gamers by shipping container loads of physical discs and cartridges around the world. They were often housed inside plastic containers, wrapped in plastic wrapping, and sometimes contained plastic cards with scratch-off codes that could unlock exclusive digital content.
Today, digital distribution reduces the need for the production of this plastic waste and its associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Today, digital distribution reduces the need for the production of this plastic waste and its associated greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of having to travel to a store to buy a game (often by car) or have it delivered in the mail (often by plane and truck), gamers just go online and have the data piped through their phone line onto their computer or console.
The same applies to the iGaming industry. Leading companies that offer popular online casino games have reduced the need for their customers to travel as they can play popular options like slots, blackjack, and roulette from the comfort of their own homes. This also means there's less need for the production of physical playing cards or plastic chips as they're all dealt with digitally.
Digital distribution and online games require servers to run. These servers are housed in large data centres, which are essentially high-tech warehouses packed from floor to ceiling with powerful computers.
This in itself requires a lot of energy with millions of silicon chips crunching billions of numbers every second. But a byproduct of this is heat, which data centres need to carry away as quickly as possible to prevent damage to the servers. That’s why around 20% of a data centre’s energy consumption is for cooling systems.
Microsoft has developed a novel way of dealing with this. The tech giant sunk a data centre in the sea off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland in 2018. The company hypothesised that underwater data centres would use less energy and be more reliable as there’d be no oxygen, humidity, or extreme temperature fluctuations to damage the components.
In 2020, Microsoft discovered that it was right. Not only did it use less energy than a land-based data centre, but the hardware was eight times more reliable.
It’s not just the software that can have an impact either, the hardware that we use to play games has an environmental impact. You may not realise it, but your computer or games console contains around 40 different minerals and metals, including gold, zinc, copper, tin, and silicon. That’s in addition to the plastic case and the packing material it was sold to you in.
Manufacturers are committing to ethically and sustainably sourcing these materials and regulations in many countries require companies to provide facilities for customers to recycle their old hardware.
However, there are some recent innovations that may help cut down on the need for new hardware. One of these is Google Stadia, a game streaming platform that puts all the complicated number crunching that’s usually done by a console or PC in the cloud.
This means that gamers can enjoy AAA titles on old and underpowered hardware, including their smartphone, laptop, or TV. While Google’s servers still need to contain a lot of hardware and use a lot of energy, they are shared by millions of gamers, helping to cut the number of silicon chips actually needed.