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How big is the games industry's carbon footprint? Ben Abraham aims to find out

Sydney Based Researcher Dr Ben Abraham is conducting a survey as part of a larger project to investigate the carbon footprint of the games development industry.
February 24, 2020 3:00 PM
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A Sydney-based researcher is undertaking an international survey as part of a larger project to discover how energy intensive the games development industry is.

Dr Ben Abraham. Image: UTS Profile

Communications lecturer Dr Ben Abraham, from the University of Technology in Sydney, has been conducting a survey as a part of his book-length manuscript to be titled: Digital Games After Climate Change.

To clarify on the title, Abraham explained: “... once they start to take [climate change] seriously, that’s what I mean by ‘after climate change,’ not after it’s happened and it’s all over and done.”

He said it’s hoped the project, which the survey is a part of, will provide a clear sense of how energy intensive games development can be, from using computers in the workplace, to the manufacturing and shipping of consoles.

Abraham’s survey looks specifically at the level of concern amongst game devs with regard to climate change and their carbon footprint. Early results have shown many respondents are very concerned about climate change, but are less concerned about their own carbon footprint.

“They’ve put themselves as a four or five out-of-five in terms of their concern for the threat of climate change, and typically they put their co-workers and colleagues not far behind them,” Abraham said.

Part results Dr Abraham's survey

He said he hoped his research will lead to working with the International Game Developers Association, a non-profit members association that works with game developers, to create a set of recommendations that could then be picked up by other industry bodies and used as a form of ‘best practice’ to take action on carbon emissions.

 “As far as I know, I don’t think anyone has a very clear picture of whether games are more or less intensive than any other kind of industry,” Abraham said.

And herein lies a problem, because according to Abraham, companies that aren’t concerned about their carbon footprint are less likely to provide detailed feedback.

Where there have been critics such as Marijam Didžgalvytė, who had recently criticised the #gamedevsforfireys efforts for reasons relating to carbon emissions, there are also others including an anonymous respondent to the survey, who believe that the footprint generated by the games industry is insignificant, compared to other industries.

Abraham added that whether insignificant or not, there is reason for concern, referencing projections from 2015 conducted by a researcher from Huawei into energy use in the communications sector.

“They say that in 2030… the amount of energy or the amount of carbon that will be emitted as part of the energy used by that industry could be as much as 23 per cent of the world’s carbon budget,” Abraham said.

 Dr Abraham explained that affordable options to reduce carbon emissions are available and can be as easy as a residential homeowner switching power company.

“Wargaming.net actually buys 100 per cent carbon offset power, which is really exciting and there’s a couple of other [studios] too that do similar things,” he said.

World of Tanks is a game developed by Wargaming.net. Image: Wargaming.net

Abraham was told by Senior Executive of Wargaming.net Simon Hayes that switching to a new energy provider with a carbon offset plan was the easiest of their green initiatives to implement and ended up saving them money in the long run.

“If it’s actually really easy, then I think more people could definitely do it in terms of the cost,” Abraham said.

One London-based studio Space Ape Games said they had started thinking about their carbon footprint a few years ago and were aiming to go beyond, and become carbon negative.

“I think that’s really encouraging, I thought that was a really encouraging piece of data,” said Abraham.

Abraham said he is in the process of getting his early data together and plans to release the first round results soon.

With the manuscript estimated for an early 2021 release date, Abraham said he hoped to include more data from International studios before publishing the next round of results.

“I feel like I’ve got a reasonably good sample of Australian developers, but internationally… it’s a much bigger field,” he said. And while consumers might have some interesting thoughts to add to the topic, Dr Abraham has expressed he will not be looking to include this to this survey.

To participate in Dr Abraham's survey, click here or head to his Twitter page.