When we founded Metaboli in 2001, we believed that the digital distribution of computer games would inevitably improve the ecological footprint, along with many other advantages digital distribution may have to offer. We believed that the ecological footprint of games would be reduced simply because no CDs/DVDs would have to be produced and transported. As it turned out, this assumption was naive in terms of environmental factors.
Over the years, it has become clear that the issue is more complex. Digital distribution does not necessarily equate to an economical environmental footprint. Rather, the environmental impact depends on the size of the game and the energy performance of the internet network1.
At the end of 2020, Joshua Aslan showed in his dissertation entitled "Climate change implications of gaming products and services" (University of Surrey, Feb. 2020) that the environmental impact (measured by one hour of playtime on the PlayStation 4) is 15% lower in digital distribution than in physical distribution, provided it's a download. However, if digital distribution is switched to cloud gaming, the environmental impact of physical distribution is lower.
A study carried out in 2022 by ADEME (Agence de la transition écologique, France) and ARCEP (Networks as common good) on the ecological footprint of the digital sector in France (Paris, March 2023) emphasised that the production of hardware is the main source of environmental impact for the three digital building blocks of devices, networks and data centres. This is particularly due to the high consumption of fossil fuels required for the production and extraction of materials and metals. The impact of hardware utilisation (electricity consumption) varies considerably. In countries with a low-carbon-power energy mix, the use of the hardware accounts for around 21% of the CO2 footprint. In countries with a high proportion of carbon-power electricity (e.g. China or the USA), on the other hand, greenhouse gas emissions are more significant, thus increasing the footprint even more.
In the course of working on the entire topic and exchanging ideas with other players in the industry, we came to a decision: We want to improve Gamesplanet.com. Our platform should contribute to changing the games industry from a sustainability perspective, and it became clear that we needed a roadmap for this. We would like to describe the process of developing this roadmap and our first steps towards our goal as honestly as possible.
We hope that this and the following pages will inspire and inform. Publishers, hardware manufacturers and also gamers can participate or give feedback: [email protected].