Games Industry News

WIRED Expose on Next-Gen Gaming and the Environment

WIRED writer Cecilia D’Anastasio recently took the gaming industry to task with a solid expose on the environmental challenges of next-gen gaming, especially cloud gaming.

“Right now, US gaming platforms represent 34 terawatt-hours a year in energy usage—more than the entire state of West Virginia—with associated carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to over 5 million cars. And it’s only going to get worse. “Total emissions are going up,” says Gary Cook, global climate campaigns director for Stand.Earth, an environmental nonprofit founded to challenge corporations’ climate practices. “There’s a real reckoning that needs to happen.”

Two features define next-gen consoles: digital services and big-daddy specs. You might pick up Microsoft’s $300 all-digital Xbox Series S and, downloading games off the cloud, live a life free of disc clutter. You might forgo a console entirely and sign up for Google Stadia, Xbox’s Game Pass Ultimate, or any number of smartphone-based cloud gaming services. Even if you do opt for a specced-out PlayStation 5, you’ll likely still be downloading very big video games from data centers in northern Virginia, Las Vegas, Chicago, and beyond.”

Read the full feature for D’Anastasio’s interviews with Microsoft executives and more data on the challenges facing the future of the video game industry. Conflict minerals, fossil fuel and coal energy usage for component creation, the lack of recycling and the tremendous amount of energy used by consoles and PCs all factors into the picture. Particularly the future: cloud gaming.

“In 2018, [Evan] Mills gathered 26 gaming systems, including the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One, and gauged their wattage with a digital power meter. With that data, his team authored a groundbreaking report on gaming systems’ carbon emissions, noting that increased performance, more gamers, and more time gaming have “given rise to a perception of unavoidable trade-off between gaming user experience and energy efficiency.” Advances in technology—like lowering frames per second per watt—have helped, but “have not translated into reductions in energy use at the macro level.

What surprised Mills wasn’t that PCs and consoles were guzzling refrigerators’ worth of power, though. Mills says the more impending threat is cloud gaming.

….Cloud gaming uses more energy per hour of gameplay than local gaming, which means data centers are taxed regardless of the console people play on.

But cloud gaming is the direction the industry is headed in. And as WIRED’s expose points out, infrastructure on the back-end is key now. Otherwise, gaming is going to continue to be more of the problem contributing to growing emissions.

Seriously – read the full thing here. We wanted to highlight some of the important bits but it’s a meaningful article overall.

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