Game Changers | Elina Tyynelä, Neogames Finland
We learn more about how the Finnish trade body is helping studios calculate and offset their carbon footprint
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The games industry is slowly developing a green consciousness, with environmental-friendly initiatives multiplying in recent years, from the UN-backed Playing for the Planet Alliance to GamesForest.Club, Play Create Green, and more.
One topic that is still in its infancy within the industry is the impact of game studios when it comes to carbon emissions. While a number of companies from Sumo to Tencent have committed over the years to lower their CO2 footprint or reach carbon neutrality, it is often seen as a long-term objective that is difficult to achieve, if companies consider it at all.
Facilitating that objective has been the goal of Elina Tyynelä as part of Neogames Finland, the trade body for the Finnish games industry.
As coordinator at Neogames, Tyynelä has overseen the creation of a model for game studios to calculate their CO2 emissions, a project achieved in collaboration with its sister company Suomen Pelinkehittäjät ry (the Finnish game dev association).
The model is free to use and share, and takes into account a wide variety of factors to estimate a studio's carbon footprint as accurately as possible, from offices' electricity consumption to emissions from players and waste management. The CO2 emission calculation model can be found on this page.
Tyynelä has been at Neogames for four years, joining straight after her degree in environmental sciences. She says she chose this degree because of the climate crisis, adding that "climate change has been a topic in the news basically all [her] life," making it an obvious thing to be caring and committing about.
"I understand completely why in many industries [they leave the end user out of CO2 calculations] but in some cases, that is kind of misleading"
"One thing that gave us a hint to start working on this topic was the fact that the Finnish Government wrote in their policy programme that Finland aims to be carbon neutral by 2035," Tyynelä tells GamesIndustry.biz.
But Neogames was also inspired by the work already achieved by big Finnish game companies such as Rovio and Supercell, which Tyynelä describes as "two shoulders to stand on."
She names Tommi Lappalainen and Laura Rokkanen from Rovio Entertainment as well as Pietari Päivänen from Supercell as people she's very thankful for, for supporting the creation of the calculation model.
"Rovio and Supercell have started their carbon footprint calculations I think in 2019 or 2020, [maybe] earlier. They had already started to do the calculation before we started to think about 'Should we have some kind of model here in the Finnish games industry?'
"I think that was also [an] example for other companies, because there were other companies saying that [they] were interested in learning [their] own footprint but were still trying to figure out how to do it. And that was kind of a key point there, about how to do it."
Tyynelä says it was about trying to figure out whether big companies like Rovio and Supercell would be willing to share their findings so some sort of model could be built in order to help indie studios, which don't have the same human and monetary resources and have to focus on keeping afloat.
Building a model for the Finnish games industry to calculate carbon emissions was also a pledge Neogames made when joining the Playing for the Planet Alliance in 2020, Tyynelä adds.
Since the model came out, it's also been adapted by the European Games Developer Federation, with Tyynelä hoping that "in the future there will be more game industry calculations of carbon dioxide emissions from different parts of Europe."
Other industries have established carbon emissions calculation models, but she points out that some of them lack a very crucial element.
"When thinking about carbon footprint calculations, usually they tend to keep the end user out of the picture," she explains. "I understand completely why in many industries, but in some cases, that is kind of misleading, to leave the end user out.
"Luckily, Rovio and Supercell had already taken into account the players. They are very important, we can't forget them from our calculations."
Tyynelä highlights that in the absence of widely available green energy for the general public, companies need to account for the players themselves.
"We have to kind of support the players, and the players' carbon dioxide [emissions] essentially, putting them on our calculations so we can offset them before they are [able] to access green energy and so on," she continues.
Carbon emissions calculation models also often miss remote working as a factor, Tyynelä continues, which has become "such a big deal" since COVID.
"There are game companies that are doing a lot. And also game companies that haven't thought about this issue that much yet"
"We think that it might continue to be a big thing, and so working from home calculations is good to have as part of the company's own emissions," she explains.
We ask Tyynelä about what companies can do about players' energy consumption.
"Finland has game developers for different platforms of course, but the biggest players at the moment are mostly on the mobile side. And when thinking about the mobile side, there has been a lot of discussion about energy efficient coding. But at the moment, there aren't that [many] good tools to actually measure whether the code is energy efficient or not. So that's unfortunate. But of course, you can try to make a code that runs [without] taking unnecessary energy."
She also mentions the simple idea that game developers should include more green themes in their games, to raise awareness of environmental-friendly practices, for instance by featuring electric cars or buildings running thanks to solar panels. Interestingly enough, the Playing for the Planet Alliance released a survey just last week, gauging player sentiment about environmental game content.
A lot of games companies are talking the talk at the moment when it comes to environmental sustainability, but whether or not they're actually making the sacrifices necessary to be greener remains to be seen. Tyynelä acknowledges resource issues for smaller studios, and appreciates the efforts already made across the industry. But more can always be done.
"There are game companies that are doing a lot. And also game companies that haven't thought about this issue that much yet. So I think there are companies that could at some point do more. This comes down, again, to resources, if they could have somewhere on the road some more resources to put into environmental topics. But of course I also understand, for smaller game developers, it must be hard to get the resources when you have to get a game out there and get the business running and so on.
"I think that it's the same overall when thinking about climate issues – there has been a lot of talks and we are seeing that there's more work towards [it] and, for example, Playing for the Planet Alliance has [had] new members joining last year, and also the years before that. So there's definitely interest in learning what more we could do as game companies or game trade associations, and there are more and more game companies joining this idea that we should walk the walk."
"There's definitely interest in learning what more we could do, and there are more and more game companies joining this idea that we should walk the walk"
Tyynelä hopes that as many companies as possible will use Neogames' method to calculate their impact and says that doing so is the best way to support her work at the moment.
"Neogames is very interested to hear about how our model is working. So companies who have the resources to try the model, we are very happy about [hearing from them]," she says, explaining that feedback is crucial to continuously adapt the model so it stays relevant.
The trade body is also working on a simplified online calculator, again with the aim to help out the smaller companies that might not have as much time and resources.
Tyynelä credits David Rabineau and Amélie Perret from Homo Ludens for helping her bring the model to Google Sheets in the first place, which made it easier to access, but hopes that the online calculator will make it even more accessible and less time consuming. She's hoping to be able to release it this year.
"We are still working things out with the idea to simplify it [but] not too simplified that the numbers are totally wrong. Simplified but accurate. And when the calculator is out, we want to tell companies to try it out and be like 'Oh, this is our impact', start to figure out what they could do with their emissions, and of course contacting us if they figure out something we haven't [included] for example. If they have some ideas that could [help] other companies, we are very happy to hear them because of course we want to share these ideas with others."
Tyynelä's goal is to build a roadmap for the Finnish games industry, based on data shared by the companies using the CO2 footprint calculation model.
"It's great if there's more companies calculating [their impact] and if there's more companies that we can actually ask for data so we could have some industry-level [system] for the Finnish games industry CO2 emissions, including players worldwide, to see if there's something we could do to reduce it at some levels there."
As mentioned earlier, access to green energy would be "the key point here," Tyynelä adds, but she's determined to act at her level as part of Neogames.
Concluding our chat, we ask her whether she ever gets discouraged when she sees trends popping up that are notoriously bad for the environment – Rest Mode on consoles, blockchain of course, but also things that are now a staple of the games industry, like live streaming.
But Tyynelä is an optimist, and she instead points out all the encouraging signs that people care more and more.
"There are people wanting to do things better, so seeing that encouragement there is good, to balance things out with these not-so-encouraging moments"
"I think I am discouraged every now and then about the political discourse going on worldwide and that idea that they're just talking to talk and not walking the walk. Of course there are these not-that-great [trends] – not great at all – when thinking about energy consumption, but then I try to see the good things happening. For example, that there are companies that have started to cover their emissions or check what they could do to reduce [them]. And [that] the emissions they can't reduce, they are trying to offset them.
"Earlier today, I had discussions about Pelimetsä – in English, the 'Game Forest Project' we have in Finland here. It's a games industry community for protecting Finnish forests. Those kinds of initiatives [show] that we are actually doing some good things here to keep biodiversity alive and protect our old forests that are being cut off."
She mentions Jani Kahrama from Secret Exit as a huge support, both with Neogames' online calculator and with Pelimetsä, and notes that "climate change and loss of biodiversity are both huge threats, and they are two sides of the same coin."
"Seeing all this good stuff, and thinking about the progress happening... Of course there are also all that not-so-encouraging stuff, but at some point I hope and believe that this kind of environmental thinking will kind of hit them too, so that way they start to figure out the things that should change, so that [they're] more energy efficient or climate-friendly.
"It might be also because I have been with the Playing for the Planet Alliance in meetings and also discussing the model a lot with Rovio, Supercell and other game developers that were eager to figure these things out… So I can see that there are people, there are companies, wanting to do things better, so I think seeing that encouragement there is good, to balance things out with these not-so-encouraging moments."
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