The gaming industry has been slow to recognize the environmental impact of developing and playing video games, despite the instant fun they provide. However, a researcher named Dr. Benjamin Abraham is shedding light on the industry’s carbon footprint. In his annual report called ‘Net Zero Snapshot 2023’, Dr. Abraham evaluates how the gaming industry is tackling climate change. His findings reveal that the gaming industry’s carbon footprint in 2022 amounted to over 81 million tonnes of emissions.
Dr. Abraham estimates that the energy consumption and carbon emissions of the $180+ billion video game industry are comparable to those of the global film industry. While his estimates do not specifically break down emissions from video gaming alone, they do show that the gaming industry and big tech companies emitted more than many small countries. The report includes data from over 35 global games and tech companies, with revenues totaling around $1.2 trillion in 2022. The majority of emissions come from companies such as Tencent, Microsoft, Apple, Sony, and Google. Excluding these five companies, the remaining companies reported emissions of over 7 million tonnes in 2022. Taking into account the minimum emissions of companies that did not disclose data, the researcher estimates that video game companies alone were responsible for approximately 14 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. This amount is equivalent to the emissions of the country of Estonia in 2021.
The analysis does not even consider other sources of emissions, such as manufacturing consoles and computer hardware, powering servers, and travel for meetings and conferences. These emissions fall under Scope 3 emissions, which are activities outside the control of video game companies or developers. Despite the significant carbon emissions, only three out of the 34 largest game companies were able to reduce their carbon footprint in 2022. Tencent reduced its emissions by 13.73%, Apple by 11%, and Nintendo by 2.95%.
One of the most concerning findings in Dr. Abraham’s report is that most companies are not transparent about their Scope 3 emissions. These emissions include the energy consumed by gaming devices such as Xbox or PlayStation, as well as computers and smartphones. Gamers themselves generate a significant portion of Scope 3 emissions, accounting for 10-90% of the total. For example, Ubisoft, one of the world’s largest game studios, only attributes 10% of its annual CO2 emissions to its direct operations. The remaining emissions are distributed among game distribution, game device production, and gamers themselves. Microsoft estimates that the average gamer using a high-performance gaming device emits 72 kilograms of CO2 per year. In the United States alone, gamers emit 24 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
While some companies, like Ubisoft, disclose their Scope 3 emissions, it is not mandatory for all companies to do so. This lack of transparency hinders efforts to address the industry’s environmental impact. However, there has been a significant shift in the industry’s approach to the climate crisis in recent years. Indie game developers, in particular, are taking the lead in accounting for their carbon footprint and advocating for more sustainable game development. Hannah Nicklin of Die Gute Fabrik studio is one such developer who actively considers the environmental impact of her games. By doing so, she is providing the gaming community with ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Major companies like Microsoft and Apple are also investing in carbon removal and offsetting strategies to counterbalance their emissions. Microsoft has developed the Xbox Developer Sustainability Toolkit, which helps developers optimize game performance and identify areas for energy savings. Other companies, such as Nintendo and Sony, have expressed their intent to reduce their carbon emissions but have yet to provide specific strategies for addressing video game-related emissions. Despite the gaming industry’s significant carbon emissions, these initiatives by independent developers and major companies signal a promising shift towards more sustainable practices. However, greater transparency and concerted action are still needed to address the industry’s environmental impact.