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The environmental sustainability of the game industry is one which has largely been ignored. The power required to run the next-gen consoles is staggering and the waste produced from the games themselves is disgusting. A solution needs to be found.

This will be the first of three articles examining what effects gaming has on the environment and what can be done about it.  It this first article, the carbon footprint of the gaming industry will be examined and brought to light.  In the next article, the current gaming industry will be compared to that of OnLive to show that there are alternatives, and that they need to be taken.  Finally, the third article will consist of closing thoughts and suggestions, not only for the industry leaders, but for the individual gamers who drive them.

The purpose of these articles will not be to argue why the game industry has lagged behind in green policies.  Rather, it will be show that gamers finally have a green choice to choose from.  As it stands, OnLive is a much more environmentally feasible option to gamers than the competing services of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.

In order to accurately demonstrate the environmental sustainability of OnLive to that of other gaming services, there needs to be a proper analysis of the negative environmental effects of the gaming industry.

To calculate the carbon footprint of the gaming industry, the average power output of the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 will be determined and then used to calculate the C02 emissions.  Additionally the C02 emissions from creating and transporting hardcopies of these games will also be taken into account.

Looking at the power usage of all three consoles can be quite the eye opener.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) the Wii uses an average of 16 watts, the Xbox 360 uses an average of 119 watts, and the PS3 uses an average of 150 watts.  To put these numbers into perspective, the NRDC’s study “found that [consoles in the US] consumed an estimated 16 billion kilowatt-hours per year – roughly equal to the annual electricity use of the city of San Diego.”


As enormous as these numbers may seem, the report does seem to inflate the numbers by making “the assumption that half of all users leave their consoles on all the time.” This assumption appears to be fairly unfounded.  It’s no secret that some gamers leave their consoles on for extended periods of time but it is highly doubtful that half of console owners leave them on all the time.

It is from this NRDC number padding, that this article will rework the total kilowatt hours (kW.h) per year on the assumption that gamers generally run their consoles for two hours a day.  The actual figure may be something completely different, but taking into account all casual and hardcore gamers who own consoles, a 2 hour per day runtime is fairly agreeable.

That being said, in 2007, there were 9.7 million Xbox 360’s, 3.2 million Playstation 3’s, and 7.4 million Wii’s in the United States using 832 million kW.h, 350 million kW.h, and 84 million kW.h of power respectively.

All of the next-gen consoles combined, outputted approximately 1.3 billion kW.h of power in the United States.  This is a drastic decrease compared to the NDRC estimate of 16 billion kW.h per year based on the assumption that half of console owners leave their console on all the time.

Of course, these numbers mean very little without any context, and must be converted into the C02 emissions produced.  The trouble which arises from this, is the difficulty in determining the precise carbon footprint of each console because of the different number of energy sources being used through out the United States.  For example, according to the EPA, hydro electric power produces 11 grams of C02 per kW.h while dirty coal produces around 980 grams of C02 per kW.h.

It is estimated that 40% of America’s energy comes from petroleum, 23% from coal, 23% from natural gas, 8.4% from nuclear power, and 6.8% from renewable energy such as wind power.  Meaning that on average the U.S produces 735 grams of C02 per kW.h, which translates into 955 million kilograms of C02 emissions from next gen console use alone.


What is even more astounding than the emission produced by the next-gen consoles are the emissions produces by physically creating and transporting the games.  According to Breed Media, the production and transportation of the standard DVD disc, produces on average 13.76kg of C02 per disk.

It is very difficult to make up a best case scenario for this figure.  Halo 3 sold around 1.8 million copies on its first day, which means that on its first day alone, Halo 3 produced 25 million Kg of C02 emissions.  Multiply this figure by all the games produced in a year, and the number you get is jaw dropping.

What has been shown above is how damaging the game industry is to the environment in terms of emissions produced.  The world is at a point were changes need to be made on how we treat our planet.  Obviously the game industry is not the sole villain in this area.  There is not a country, industry, or citizen on this planet which has not contributed to this problem.  No matter what, there will always be pollution and there will always be waste, it’s the nature of the system we live in.

The acceptance of pollution is not the acceptance of defeat.  Acknowledging the harmful effects of pollution allows us to find ways to manage it down to sustainable levels.  We do not have to produce 955 million kilograms of C02 per year because of console power requirements, just as we do not have to produce 13.76kg of C02 per game made.  There are always solutions to be found.

The next article on this topic will focus on how OnLive is the first step to this solution.  Though gamers may cringe at not being able to physically own their own games, the steaming of video games may be the only solution to limit power consumption, and the waste produced all in the while preserving the industry.   Stop by next week.

Sources: NRDC, Breed Media, EPA, US Department of Energy

  1. Fantastic article Andrew, I honestly never thought about it like that.

  2. Haha I remember before the PS3 came out my friends and I would joke that it would steal power from your other appliances and become sentient.

  3. avatar Doug

    Should be interesting to see if Onlive can come up with enough funds to make their system work. It may end up costing them more then they think. Doug – Onlive Forum

  4. I don’t agree with the entire premise that our environment is being endangered by human activity, so I naturally don’t see a problem with the environmental sustainability of the games industry. I believe political and economical factors are a MUCH greater threat to the gaming industry, and the entertainment industry in general, than environmental factors (which, again, I consider to be nonexistent). I’ll leave it at that though.

  5. avatar Curtis Takaichi

    I knew Playstation and Xbox were bad for our planet.

  6. avatar spookyjon

    Your thesis is based on the unlikely premise that OnLive actually works. It seems to ignore the reality that is downloadable gaming on the PS3 and XBox 360, focusing only on what is, at the moment, vaporware.

  7. This is a series of three articles. The next will be focusing on onLive, and in particular, the issue you have raised. My thesis is based on the premise that as it stands, Onlive is a more environmentally sustainable service than other competitors. Not only because of the lack of games physically created but also because there is a large difference between downloadable gaming and the gaming Onlive offers. Downloadable gaming on the ps3 and xbox still uses the large power requirments of those consoles, while streaming from Onlive uses little more power than the original playstation.

  8. avatar Jesup Brooks

    I was wondering if you ever got around to the other two articles. I can’t seem to find them. If so, would you mind posting links?

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    • avatar Fahmi

      ev1lauron says:May 2, 2011 at 4:43 pm360 of course will have bteter looking games if microsoft make the same sony has doing with ps3. Its not about one be stronger them another, its just, two architetures too diferent, thats no way you make a multiplat game that max de use of one or another.I think is too late for the 360 tough, soon we have a new gen and the actual will meet the dust. Your post doesn’t make whole lot of sense tbh. Most multiplats are generally done on middleware engines such as ue3 which are designed around 360 s gpu, and then ported over to ps3, and it’s the ps3 losing out in this respect . They’ve started to work on ps3 first then port to 360 as it’s easier to work that way and with no real cost to 360 version . Most multiplat games running on 360 have slight advantage due to the engine being used still.There’s been various 360 exclusives like halo reach, gears of war and Alan wake that whilst impressive , just dont match ps3 exclusives in terms of overall technically( although there’s definitely aspects of these games that probably couldn’t be replicated identically on ps3 either). So it’s not like there hasn’t been 360 exclusives already to take advantage of the hardware; Epic got Microsoft to change it’s hardware to make full use of the ue3 engine , so they could make gears of war.Generally the 360 s biggest strength is it’s ease in achieving good results ; the architectural layout, the tools built into gpu, etc etc all make it much easier than ps3 to achieve most results. Thus they save time and have more time refine engine. Whereas on ps3 they have to work harder to achieve same results , if working on multiplatform games. Hence the early shoddy multiplatform games on ps3. At best I see minor refinements on 360( and on ps3) in future now, even on exclusives, and that will be simply cause they will be under less time/financial constraints being funded by Microsoft , but even then, like I said, most engines are built to 360 strengths and 360 easier to achieve results on anyway. Unless they decided to build an engine from scratch, but that makes no sense as it would take a few years anyway and cost fortune, and probably wouldn’t achieve much that others haven’t done anyway.VN:R_U [1.9.12_1141](from 0 votes)

  10. avatar Sarah

    well if cadana is the name, then cheap is the game. cadana doesn’t care about the older games becuz maybe cadana doesn’t live in the u.s. times are hard for us, we have a recession going on, and we are a sneeze away from a depression. yes we like our older games(me personaly, i feel that i can get a lot of money for older games that are no longer in existence, and yes i sold my atari 2600 for 800 bucks, and my coliko for 1000) don’t worry i’m too old to worry about grammar mistakes. I think that it does suck, that you wouldn’t be able to play all of the ps2 games on ps3. I mean why in the heck am i going to spend darn near $500 for a game(and trust me, i don’t keep up with the jones’, and i sure as heck wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth) gas prices are already high enough as it is, and there is no way to know if things are going to get better. That’s over three months of groceries. i would just wait til the prices go down even more, but the xbox 360 is sitting at a mere $200 new now. Call how you want it. I would rather eat and be full, than play a game and be hungry. sorry I can’t see myself losing money like that.

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