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The Sony PlayStation logo is seen on the exhibition floor during the Tokyo Game Show on September 12, 2019. Photo: AFP

Cloud gaming with PlayStation titles generates more carbon emissions than playing with physical discs and downloaded copies, study says

  • Cloud gaming lets players stream games without storing them on their consoles, computers or tablets
  • Constant streaming means cloud gaming uses a lot of energy, but it might have a smaller carbon footprint for shorter games lasting a few hours

If you need to convince someone to let you cosy up at home and play games instead of going out, tell them it’s better for the planet. But don’t stream those games from the cloud if you want to really minimise your carbon footprint.

Compared with people who use transport to go to the cinema or play sports, consumers who stay indoors and play PlayStation games produce fewer carbon emissions, according to a Sony-sponsored academic study.

Conducted at the University of Surrey and based on data in Europe, the research shows that over the course of five years, a person who only downloads games to play on a PS4 generates about the same amount of carbon emissions as three train trips between London and Glasgow.

But while gamers might have a smaller carbon footprint than habitual film-goers, the size of that footprint varies by how they play.

On average, cloud gaming emits roughly triple the carbon dioxide of downloads and 2.7 times that of playing from discs.

That’s because cloud gaming requires constant on-demand streaming from a remote data centre, whereas games downloaded to a console or bought on discs are stored locally. Using the internet, gaming servers and home routers consume more energy, the research said.

However, the study does not appear to take into account remote server usage when people play multiplayer games online. But it does account for downloading patches and updates for players using game downloads and discs. The result is that server usage for gameplay is only accounted for with people using cloud gaming.

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Between discs and downloads, the former uses slightly more energy because of the extra power it takes to spin the disc and use a laser to read it, the study said. As for cloud gamers, desktops tend to use more energy than the PS4, laptops and iPads.

While cloud gaming generally produces more carbon emissions, the study shows that it really depends on how long people play.

For games that are short enough to be played in eight hours, cloud gaming was found to have fewer carbon emissions than downloads. If data centres and networks become more efficient, cloud gaming could have an edge for up to 17.5 hours.

This might make cloud gaming an ideal way for consumers to try out a game demo for a few hours before committing to purchase a full download, the study suggested.

In its calculations, the research also accounts for the various stages in the gaming life cycle. This covers estimates on the gas and electricity consumed while a developer produced a game, factory emissions while producing PS4s and game discs, the carbon footprint during shipping and retail, as well as usage and disposal of all the hardware.


90-year-old Japanese grandma flexes fingers for video gaming

90-year-old Japanese grandma flexes fingers for video gaming

PlatyStation shared its sponsored study as part of its annual report on combating climate change. Sony is part of the UN-led “Playing For The Planet Alliance”, which brings together game companies like Microsoft and Google Stadia to make gaming greener.

PlayStation said the PS5, its recently unveiled next-generation console, will be able to suspend and resume gameplay using 72 per cent less power than the PS4.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Cloud gaming generates more emissions than using discs or downloads