Things got very heated this week. Quite literally.
The heatwave that has swept parts of the world, particularly the UK and Europe, saw governments issuing warnings for people to stay home, avoid travelling unless necessary and generally escape the sun as much as possible.
STAT | 40.3C – Highest recorded temperature in the UK on Tuesday, a new record.
According to the BBC, this week was the first time temperature in the UK ever passed 40C, and it rose just as high in parts of Europe.
Nintendo and Valve both issued warnings about their handhelds if temperatures rise above 35C, with the Steam Deck programmed to “throttle performance” to protect itself and the Switch even designed to go into sleep mode to prevent damage to its components. Google suffered outages as data centres had to temporarily shut down after cooling systems failed.
This week, any argument that concerns over global warming are overblown melted faster than a half-finished 99 Flake in the hands of a distracted child (it’s been a very emotional time in my household).
Some have scoffed, saying that this is just a particularly hot summer, but even before the temperature really ramped up, experts were warning the heat predicted for this week was a “wake-up call for climate change.”
QUOTE | “We are going to see these worsening hot summers but we can stop it getting really, really bad if we do something now. This cannot be reversed. We are locked into climate change and we need to work out what we are going to do about it” – University of Reading’s Professor Hannah Cloke speaking to The Telegraph
That includes the video games industry.
It’s easy to point to larger, more pollutive industries — especially in the face of some incredibly tone-deaf tweets this week — but there’s no denying this hobby has an impact on the environment.
For one thing, there’s the packaging. While consoles, computers and smart devices may come in recyclable boxes, retail titles still come encased in plastic; Nintendo Switch cases, in particular, are many times bigger than their diminutive cartridges (which are also plastic). Granted, boxed copies are no longer the dominant way games are distributed now thanks to the rise of digital, but millions upon millions of packaged video games are sold every year around the world. Plus, of course, the energy and emissions that go into manufacturing them and shipping them to the destinations.
There are alternatives. In 2019, Miles Jacobson of Sports Interactive announced the Football Manager studio was ditching plastic cases for 100% recyclable products, right down to the vegetable or water-based ink.
STAT | 30p – additional cost of Sports Interactive’s fully recyclable packaging
STAT | 55g – amount of plastic saved with each copy
While admirable, this effort is a drop in the ocean given how few of Football Manager’s sales are from physical products. But Jacobson urged the rest of the industry to follow Sports Interactive’s example, calling for an end to the use of plastic packaging.
QUOTE | “We’d be stupid not to do it, and if anyone from other games or entertainment companies is reading this, you’d be stupid not to do it too” – Jacobson talking to GamesIndustry.biz about the packaging back in 2019. You don’t want to be stupid, do you?
Microsoft certainly doesn’t want to be stupid. Earlier this year, the company promised that as part of its aim to be carbon negative by 2030, all Xbox products, accessories and packaging will be 100% recyclable within the next eight years. Sony has also introduced 100% recylcable packaging for PlayStation 5 consoles.
Microsoft also switched the default power settings for Xbox Series X|S to Energy Saver — just over a year after the US Natural Resources Defense Council warned that the standby modes of both Xbox and PlayStation consoles, allowing players to download games and updates in the background, were too energy intensive.
QUOTE | “Based on modelling NRDC performed through 2025, [making Xbox’s Instant-On setting the default] could result in the equivalent of one large (500 MW) coal-burning power plant’s worth of annual electricity generation and cost new US Xbox owners roughly $500 million on their electricity bills” — NRDC senior scientist Noah Horowitz.
This brings us onto downloads — just because games are digital and don’t physically exist, doesn’t mean they’re not contributing to technology’s impact on the environment. Eurogamer did some extensive reporting around this last year; with game sizes getting larger, and therefore downloads taking longer, the amount of energy consoles and PCs use is increasing.
The rise of subscription services that enable players to download a game, try it, then delete and install another at no additional cost will also be taking its toll, increasing the number of downloads and the energy consumed.
The industry’s ongoing expansion into cloud gaming may also have an impact. In its 2020 report on how it plans to reduce carbon emissions, PlayStation claimed that cloud streaming actually has a larger carbon footprint than either physical or download games.
And let’s not forget the environmental impact from crypto farming and so on.
We even need to consider the impact the industry has when travelling to events, shipping thousands of people and tonnes of equipment to the conventions and trade shows that, as the pandemic restrictions lift, seem to be returning to their almost weekly cadence. It’s why Gamescom is attempting to create a ‘climate friendly’ games event by offsetting the carbon it produces with reforestation projects and encouraging exhibitors to do the same.
Again, all of this may pale in comparison to the environmental impact seen by other industries but in the face of dangerously hot summers, every effort to reduce that impact is necessary.
It’s encouraging to see so many games companies getting involved in these efforts. Over 40 — including giants like Microsoft, Sony and Ubisoft — have signed up to the United Nations’ Playing For The Planet Alliance and are working to find ways to offset or reduce gaming’s effect on the climate crisis. The UN also continues to explore ways to reach gamers and raise awareness with the help of developers through initiatives like the Green Game Jam.
We’ve already mentioned Microsoft’s carbon negative goals, and more games companies are attempting the same. Sony even brought its environmental goals forward by ten years, aiming to be carbon neutral by 2040 and reliant only on 100% renewable energy by 2030. Ubisoft successfully reduced its carbon footprint between 2020 and 2021, although warned this may not be long-lasting.
So what can you and your company do?
Well, there’s plenty of advice out there. Trade body UKIE published the Green Games Guide last year, and you can find a fairly crucial extract — How to measure and address your carbon footprint — on this very site.
We’ve also been exploring the topic of climate change and environmental impact around our Best Places To Work Awards over the years, with a great collection of this advice here.
This past week has really emphasised the importance of looking after our planet and reducing the damage we are doing to it. The games industry, like all industries, needs to get behind that and continue doing even more to address this urgent issue.
The rest of the week in review
QUOTE | “Games companies and platforms need to do more to ensure that controls and age-restrictions are applied so that players are protected from the risk of gambling harms” – Nadine Dorries, the UK’s Culture Secretary, urging the industry to self-regulate after the government stopped short of introducing legislation over loot boxes
QUOTE | “It’s a chance, possibly the last chance, for the games industry to take its responsibility seriously” – Our own Christopher Dring reminding you that just because the UK government didn’t introduce legislation this time, doesn’t mean it won’t if no progress is made
STAT | 76.1 million – Number of games sold across Europe in the first six months of this year, up 13.5% compared to H1 2021. And yes, Elden Ring was the biggest seller.
QUOTE | “My word choice was crude. I am sorry. I am listening and I will do better” – Unity CEO John Riccitiello apologised after being criticised for calling developers who don’t prioritise monetisation “pure, brilliant… but also some of the biggest fucking idiots.”
STAT | 20 – Number of Blizzard Albany workers pushing for unionisation. Following the Raven Software QA team’s successful creation and recognition of Game Workers Alliance, the former Vicarious Visions devs are setting up Game Workers Alliance – Albany
QUOTE | “If a company chooses to create NFTs, that’s one thing. That’s an entirely different situation to a third party creating an NFT marketplace on top of your game” – Rob Fahey on Minecraft, after Mojang announced it was shunning blockchain and NFTs to ensure the game remains a “safe and exclusive experience”
STAT | €67,000 – Difference between a junior and lead game developer’s salaries according to InnoGames’ first transparency support
QUOTE | “Pipeworks has a great team and a great business plan. We’re here to sponsor that. We’re not going to change what they’re doing” – Jagex CEO Phil Mansell tells us why the Oregon-based developer was his company’s first acquisition
QUOTE | “We were always right on the edge of being reliable, but always one game away from failure” – Zachtronics’ founder Zach Barth shares the full story of why the beloved indie studio is shutting down for good this time
STAT | 9 – Years since we had a new Splinter Cell game, likely to be longer now Ubisoft announced (alongside its most recent financials) the upcoming VR title has been cancelled. Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora also got delayed out of this year into Q1 2023 and that’s probably the bigger deal, but not to me dammit!
QUOTE | “It has to be inclusive and equitable and collaborative full of big-hearted people that want to grow both professionally and personally” – Uncharted and The Last of Us director Bruce Straley on his new studio Wildflower Interactive, marking his return to games development
QUOTE | “You get a choice every 20 second on average, so you can’t lean back and watch the game” – Interior Night’s Caroline Marchal tells us how her team made debate-provoking choices in their debut release As Dusk Falls
QUOTE | “[An] important and urgent task” – How Rostelecom, Russia’s state telecommunications provider, described the idea of creating a national game engine after so many games companies cut the country off due to its invasion of Ukraine
STAT | 3% – Reduction in Google’s service fees for developers that use the new option to process payments through alternative methods. Oh, and that’s only an option for non-gaming apps
QUOTE | “Twitter comes and goes. TikTok is going to come and go. The forums will always be there and they are indexed by Google” – Failbetter’s Hannah Flynn on the benefits of forums during a talk at Develop:Brighton last week. This week, Borderlands studio Gearbox was the latest to shut its forums down in favour of a Discord server
QUOTE | “There is no one size fits all. Disability and impairments are a spectrum and what helps one player may hinder another” – Rebellion’s Cari Watterton offered a beginner’s guide to making your game accessible
STAT | $4m – Amount poured into 31 indie games by Screen Australia
QUOTE | “Whether in the halls of Rare or on group calls, you’d always hear [his laugh] and it’d always make you smile” – The Sea of Thieves team pay tribute to their colleague Robert Ashby
QUOTE | “You’re old” – Indie developer Rami Ismail’s kind words in our 20th anniversary celebration video