According to UK research by the Journal of Industrial Ecology, buying games digitally could carry a larger carbon footprint than digitally downloading, at least in the UK. Using the PlayStation 3 as the basis of it’s research, the comparisons between an average sized (8.8GB) Blu-Ray game vs it’s download counterpart were taken into consideration. Games weighing in at 1.3GB or less were more carbon efficient to be downloaded over the physical media version of the game.
The report does call out a number of caveats to consider before applying this information broadly including the life cycle of used games which cannot be tracked, so the study is limited to individual users. It also doesn’t account for energy sources of non-UK nations as a number of Nations still rely on fossil fuels to power their economy and Internet, with the increase in renewable resources these figures are likely to swing back into the favour of digital distribution. We assume more research will be done on this subject in the future to make these kinds of comparisons.
The UK’s supply of Blu-Ray games for the PlayStation 3 are printed in Austria and then shipped to Sony’s distribution warehouse in Northampton before being re-distributed to retailers, all via lorries (and ferries of course to get from mainland Europe to England). This manufacturing and distribution method is accounted for vs the carbon cost of running the Internet and console (this can all be applied to PC and Mac too).
To read the report in full, check out The Carbon Footprint of Games Distribution
What the report doesn’t account for includes; Background downloading (where a console is in sleep mode and downloads to completion before turning off), the carbon footprint impact of employees of data centres and Blu-Ray manufacturing factories, the cost of getting petrol/diesel to the petrol station for the distribution to occur and more importantly the increased effort, and therefore carbon emissions, of standing up to change discs rather than flicking between your digital games with a flick of the thumb.
Will this report change the way you buy games? Do you already stick with disc versions of your games and resist the convenience of digital downloads? Let us know in the comments.