Digital downloads are killing the planet

4 min read
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india_pollution

Yesterday Geoff told you about how buying games makes you happy. I have to agree with it, because there are few things in this world that beat the feeling of ripping off the plastic on a new game cover. But while buying new games is great for us, it’s hell for another. This big blue and green piece of rock that we live on? Yeah, it’s him.

I’ve never really stopped to think about the environmental impact videogames production has on the planet, probably because nearly everything I do during a day is killing the earth in some manner. One aspect I have thought about though is how the rise of downloadable title has probably had a positive impact on the videogame carbon footprint, although it seems I’ve been completely wrong about that too. That’s what a recent study by The Journal of Ecology (via Kotaku) has found at least.

It all comes down to measuring the impact of printing discs and distribution against the power consumption and server hosting of downloadable title. The latter is apparently a lot more harmful to the planet right notw with downloadable titlesbecoming more and more popular.

“For an average 8.80-GB game, carbon emissions varied depending on whether the game was downloaded (21.9 to 27.5 kg CO2-eq) or distributed on a BD disc game (20.8 kg CO2-eq). Gameplay accounted for the largest share of carbon emissions (19.5 kg CO2-eq) [and was equal regardless of distribution method].”

“Overall, the results indicate that the hypothesis—that downloading data will be more carbon efficient than distribution by disk—is not likely to have been correct in the case for PS3 console games sold within the EU since 2010 (except for games downloaded of less than 1.3 GB). Similar results can be expected for larger-than-average files in the United States, although by a smaller margin because carbon impacts of production and distribution of optical discs are estimated to be almost 3 times more than in the case of PS3 BDs within the EU.”

Now that last line is really important because it shows just how speculative this entire study is. There are clearly numbers to back up the findings here, but it’s clear that not every conceivable scenario has been thought out. What if I choose to ride a bicycle to my nearest store to pick up a game? Or what if buying a game isn’t the only reason I’m burning petrol to get to the mall? That surely tips the scales somewhere.

“games of 5.40 to 19 GB purchased as the sole item during a shopping trip would have carbon emissions in the same range as that for a download”

Oh well that definitely makes a little more sense. It’s also important to note that the study took place way back in 2010 (the year I finished school, just to piss Geoff off) and since then the way internet is managed has changed drastically. The study tries to take this into account, but it just invalidates their findings even further. I’m certain there’s some truth to all of this, but it’s not as clear cut as this journal wants you to believe.

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So next time Valve hosts a Steam sale, you don’t have to worry too much I think. You’re accelerating the death of the planet marginally, but what doesn’t nowadays?

Last Updated: September 5, 2014

Alessandro Barbosa

You can all call me Sandy until I figure out how to edit this thing, which is probably never. Sandy not good enough? Call me xXx_J0k3R_360degreeN0Sc0pe_xXx. Also, Geoff’s a bastard.

  • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

    The study has a point. But then again any form of electricity or energy being created is bad for the environment (Natural options like wind and hydro excluded naturally)

    This also then begs the question of hybrid cars. Are their carbon footprints going to be that much less if in full use? Won’t the need to produce the electricity to charge them be just as bad as CO2 emissions from petrol and diesel engines?

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      Hybrid batteries are also not very good for the environment if I remember correctly.

    • Anon A Mouse

      This is already an argument. What’s the use of using batteries when the electricity being used to make it comes from coal. The batteries itself is also not that green.

    • HvR

      Electricity generation is much more efficient than a combustion engine, also looking at the whole chain (oil to petrol to station versus coal to plant) energy wise electric or hybrid car is much environmentally friendly.

      Secondary effects like the mining of mineral for and making of batteries makes the comparison for murky.

      Same with alternative green energy, voltaic solar panels uses a few nasty nasty chemicals which isn’t very friendly to the mine or manufacture and also the manufacturing is very energy intensive. same with large wind generators, there manufacture shipping of the huge strucutres half way accross the world and construction is very environmentally friendly.

      • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

        pretty much boils down to the amount of humans on this planet.

    • L337J1MB0B

      Hybrid cars don’t charge, as in plug it into your wall charge.. eish.

      • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

        I should perhaps have said electric cars not hybrid. But I believe my main point was grasped by everyone… I hope

        • Sith JJ

          It has. Also, the damage a hybrid or electrical car makes to your personality is permanent. ;P

  • Hammersteyn

    Games have come a long way from being responsible for school shootings to being responsible for killing a planet.

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      They grow up so fast.

  • Sith JJ

    I just killed 9gigs worth of the planet for installing Van Helsing. My weekend pleasure.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    I’m tempted to read the full study, but I’m guessing it’ll be very dry reading. Do find it hard to believe that a digital download generates more CO2 than the entire process going into manufacturing, distributing, & buying a disk, not to mention dealing with the waste afterwards.

    • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

      Factories to create discs don’t run 24/7.

      Server environments and the amount of additional servers to power the download abilities, the intermediate networks to support the transport of said data etc all run 24/7 365 days a year

      • Alien Emperor Trevor

        No I get that, on a large scale it makes more sense. Just wonder if they included all factors that go into physical media from creation to destruction. Same could apply to disposable of equipment on both sides.

        • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

          If they didn’t they’d be idiots. But I aint gonna go read the full report. If I need a sleeping pill I’d take an actual pill

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            But we’re gamers, we don’t need no stinking pills when we can play LA Noire to sort out sleeping problems.

          • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

            Man alive that game could put me to sleep

          • Sith JJ

            LOL

          • Sith JJ

            I work a lot with everything money around importing, distributing and so on. I find it very difficult to believe that digital downloads can be worse. Just by looking at wastage that I see in the industry it’s already incredibly huge.

      • skatermike21988

        Now here’s another question, how many games are stored on one server available to download? That there would reduce emissions on a per game basis alone.

      • skatermike21988

        Now here’s another question, how many games are stored on one server available to download? That there would reduce emissions on a per game basis alone.

        • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

          Yep.

    • Sith JJ

      Me too. Especially since it needs to be monitored over time, per download. And does that include the process of making the plastic, shipping it, having it shaped, shipping it, having it printed, shipping it, having it stored in a dc and then transporting it to the stores?

    • HvR

      Depends heavily on where the study based.

      For South Africa flying in all those discs from US and EU I will highly doubt that it will have a smaller footprint than downloading.

      • Sith JJ

        UK.
        And it’s on Playstations only.

  • Kromas of City17

    Do they include stuff like leaflets? Blizzard games alone I think kill the earth faster with physical copies than digital cause you get like 6 pamphlets for trials of other blizzard games included in a copy of a game.

    • Mossel

      Each blizzard game murders at least one healthy tree!

      • Sith JJ

        And each EA game murders at least one soul.

  • Sageville

    I’m sure this is massively important to someone…. don’t think I’ve ever met that someone….or if I’d buy said someone a beer at some point.

    But I will venture this, if this person is so truly anal about his carbon footprint I would seriously doubt he would be consuming gaming media at all, in fact the idea of an electronic device that has no purpose other than entertainment would not be on a list of his eco-friendly possessions.

    Perhaps such people do exist, those that accept a PC or console as a requirement but are concerned about digital vs hardcopy carbon footprints…. I still wouldn’t buy them a beer though…

    • Sith JJ

      I like your comment more than mine.

  • Ryanza

    Don’t support DRM, you are killing the planet. DRM effects me. DRM effects you. And now DRM effects the planet. Get hyped for the planet and don’t get hyped for DRM games.

    Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart.

    By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet.
    Captain Planet, he’s a hero. He’s gonna take DRM down to zero.

    The power is yours. Don’t support DRM.

    • Sith JJ

      I don’t DRM is quite the same as digital downloads. I fully support digital downloads. It’s made my life a ton easier.

      • Ryanza

        If you trace digital downloads back to it’s roots. You will find DRM there.

        • Kromas of City17

          Actually … no. You are thinking Digital distribution. Digital downloads are rooted in the freeware,shareware domain. Those things never had DRM back in the day.

        • Sith JJ

          Digital rights management is a result of digital downloads. not the other way around. But, yes, don’t support DRM.

    • Sir Rants A Lot: On Pandora

      Wow……

    • Sageville

      Woah, wait a second. I’m picking up some very subtle hidden messaging here…

      I could be wrong though, but do you perhaps have an issue with DRM?

  • Travis

    People are too obsessed with being green, without seeing the root cause of the planets problem which is 1 word.
    Overpopulation.

    • Sith JJ

      People. People are the problem. We should start killing those things.
      On a serious note. Wastage and overpopulation. I totally agree.

      • Travis

        1 thing that always shuts someone up who is trying to show off how green they are is this. I just say I dont have children, try and beat that. They cant 🙂

        • Sith JJ

          LOOOL
          Giving up steak is going too far though. That’s just crazy talk.

          • Travis

            Oh definitely, steak is a must. Rare to save electricity though (actually for the taste and juiciness)

          • Sageville

            Bacon… I’m not living the Ultra-green-living-under-a-rock existence, because bacon.

          • Travis

            Bacon is good for everything 😉

    • HvR

      Jip, best solution will be to spend all the money on a voluntary permanent sterilization program.

      Cash for balls if you will.

      • Travis

        Seriously though what makes people think an ever increasing population is ok. Some people say technological advances are capable of the earth supporting more people, but those technologies are dangerous and making the world a worse place to live for more miserable people. All these gm foods, factory chicken plants etc. We could all have organic and free range to our hearts content, if the population was say a quarter of what it is now. My rant for today.

        • Sith JJ

          I like this rant. Rant away.
          I agree.

      • Sith JJ

        You need replacement fakes though. I hope that’s part of the deal.

  • Anon A Mouse

    Bloody PC elitists, always having to ruin everything for our console peasants.

  • PERSONA 5!!!! (Umar)

    Pretty sad pic

  • Sith JJ

    Screw that. I’m reading this paper. Something doesn’t add up.

    • Sith JJ

      Okay. So it’s focused on the UK, obviously.
      I’m about halfway through here and still no mention of what happens to games that are unsold.

      • Sageville

        They are carbon neutral as they can be used as building material for eco-houses.

        • Sith JJ

          But they’re not. BD discs go directly to landfill (as mentioned in the article). This article is also limited to Playstations, assuming that when you’re downloading something that’s it’s sole use. If you’re using a pc there’s a big chance you’ll be busy playing a game or doing something else WHILE downloading. So with that utterly scientific logic of mine PC’s are more environmentally friendly then. 😉

      • Lizzard

        Very good point. There is the potential for so much wastage that can occur here. I am of the opinion this is a terrible paper.

  • Sageville

    To make this article complete it should have a Carbon Footprint analysis of the article itself.

  • Sk3tz0

    So let me get this straight.. Digital Games cause pollution and Cow Farts causes Global warning apparently.. so the day science creates a Cow playing Video games, we are all Fucked.

  • Lizzard

    A couple of problems:

    1) Have they included the plastic and the actual disc of a game that gets thrown away eventually?
    2) Some organisations have these servers up to serve more than one purpose.
    3) The over cost (at-least for production) is less and less harmful (for download only), did they calculate the moving of all the raw materials to get the final product together, not simply distribution.

  • skatermike21988

    There is a simple solution to make carbon emissions zero for any electrical use: solar roadways, the problem, the governments for one won’t dish out the dough to install these and fuel is a big income on government taxes. Here’s a vid on solar roadways, they have more uses then just electricity. This should be the future, but it’s all about the money. The video is definately worth a watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNMFKKyFU60

  • CAE9872

    sigh

  • Ross Woofels Mason

    Personally I question if they included all the variables here, what about distributions? Ships, planes & cars all shifting stock around the globe almost 365 days a years.

    What they are saying makes perfect sense I just think there’s something they have missed there. This is also only relevant while the world is still using “unclean” energy for lack of a better term. Once clean energy becomes the norm then it’s pretty much out the window.

    But yea every morning I put deodorant on that’s killing the planet too.

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