Downloaded Games Have A Larger Carbon Footprint Than Blu-Ray Discs

Illustration for article titled Downloaded Games Have A Larger Carbon Footprint Than Blu-Ray Discs

So, you want that just-released videogame and, if you're like me, you forgot to reserve a copy and you download it. But, a new study that looks at the energy costs of game distribution suggests we'd do the planet a favor if, instead, we waited until the game was back in stock and drove somewhere to buy it on disc.

The research paper, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, estimates the total carbon-equivalent emissions for an average 8.8 gigabyte game for the Playstation 3 in the UK. The researchers fully expected that games on Blu-ray discs would have a larger carbon footprint based upon their lifecycle: manufacturing, driving motor vehicles for distribution and purchasing, using game packaging that wouldn't be recycled and, finally, disposal. Meanwhile, digital versions of games were expected to be more energy efficient, especially since consumers typically turn off their televisions during the download.

But, while the estimated carbon dioxide emissions were 20.82 kg for the disc, the digital version produced as much as 27.53 kg. The culprit was the amount of energy consumed during the lengthy download.


Looking ahead, the researchers speculate on different scenarios that could increase or decrease the carbon emissions of game distribution:

Overall, practical and financial factors mean that consumers still purchase the overwhelming majority of larger headline title games on Blu-ray, perhaps to avoid waiting for download and to be able to sell their games secondhand after use. …. But, because PS4 can be used to play games as they start to download, downloading may become more popular in the future. In parallel, as Internet efficiency and speeds increase, the carbon emissions of downloading versus Blu-ray may indeed fall. This must, however, be considered against the trend for increasing game file sizes on next generation consoles.

Consumer behavior can have a significant impact….If consumers leave their consoles on especially to download games rather than use the "background download" feature (downloading while already watching a movie or playing a game), use public transport to purchase games from stores, or purchase games during shopping trips for other additional items, then the carbon emissions for Blue-ray would fair even better compared to downloading.

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I'm pretty skeptical of this. There's an awful lot of driving associated with making that disc and getting it into a user's hands. The electricity used for the download should be relatively minimal compared to that. They're probably making a fundamental mistake somewhere.