Initiatives aiming to make the games industry greener have accelerated over the past few years.
The best known might be the Playing for the Planet Alliance, the UN-backed organisation which was created in 2019. But prior to this, very few game companies were actively engaging with initiatives tackling the current climate crisis.
Some companies such as Football Manager developer Sports Interactive did make interesting forays before that, for example calling for an end to plastic packaging. But since then, initiatives have really flourished.
The Playing for the Planet Alliance launched its Green Games Summit, trade body UKIE released its Green Games Guide, Ustwo planted over a million trees with its Alba charity initiative, PlayStation followed suit with its own tree planting initiative as part of the release of Horizon: Forbidden West, and several companies have pledged to become carbon neutral -- with a couple such as Space Ape and Gamigo having already succeeded.
It seems like the games industry is having its very own green awakening.
In the same vein, over 40 Nordic games companies gathered to create Play Create Green (PCG), with the organisation now starting to raise its profile.
"The rapid decline of our climate [is] the most important issue that needed addressing within the video game industry"
"​​Play Create Green was the result of the Bornholm Game Days 2019, an invite-only industry event where game industry leaders come together to discuss the challenges and future of the industry," Sofie Filt Læntver, VP of value creation at Nordisk Games and part of the PCG steering group, tells GamesIndustry.biz.
"At the end of the two-day summit, more than 40 Nordic game companies unanimously decided that the rapid decline of our climate was the most important issue that needed addressing within the video game industry. Representatives from Avalanche, BetaDwarf, Embracer Group, Landfall Games, Massive Entertainment, Nordisk Games, Sybo, Reto Moto and the Bornholm Game Days community discussed several climate issues and soon realised that many others, like themselves, wanted to act but simply don't know where to start."
The organisation officially launched in October 2020, with many of the Bornholm Game Days attendees contributing funds to help with its creation.
Since then, PCG has actively worked towards reaching out new members, growing the movement, and putting together its very own green guide to help game companies make their first steps towards being more sustainable.
"We're a new community, so right now, our main focus is on building out the 'Green Handbook' that we want Play Create Green to become. We do this through articles about green action in the games industry. The more stories we can tell, the better. It's inspiring for everybody and gives actual options for every studio to get started.
"Besides that, our focus is on getting as many people to join as possible. The more we get people to sign up [the faster] we can develop the community, and start building momentum to see tangible, quantifiable results."
PCG's ultimate goal is an ambitious one, Filt Læntver shares: "To reverse as much damage as possible to the climate and ensure that the planet our grandchildren and future generations inherit is as wonderful and biologically diverse as it's been in the past."
But to reach that point, PCG is aware that there are a lot of smaller steps to follow. So the organisation is starting by raising awareness within game companies, educating them about their carbon footprint and teaching them how they can minimise their environmental impact.
"It's a daunting task, to say the least," Filt Læntver admits. "So for now, we're focussing on taking it one step at a time. It's really about building a lasting green movement within the games industry, by inspiring people to take initiative and change their working practices.
"We believe that it starts with shared knowledge and strong teamwork so we can learn what others in the industry are doing and where possible, find ways to add to that work. At the heart of our mission is the belief that small changes can add up to make a big difference in the long run."
Filt Læntver agrees that the last few years have been a turning point in terms of companies acknowledging the need to do better. But knowing what to do and where to start is another story.
"Weighing up your impact on the climate against your company's bottom line is a constant battle," she says. "With over 10,000 games released on Steam each and every year, and increasing, the gaming industry is a crowded and competitive marketplace. So many in the industry can be left with small profit margins, so it can be really difficult to take action.
"As industries continue to take more initiative, it's only going to put more pressure on governments at the legislative level, the quickest way we'll see lasting, effective change"
"As individuals, companies and industries continue to make changes, take more initiative and call for change, it's only going to put more pressure on governments at the legislative level. Which is the quickest way we'll see lasting, effective change."
As far as Filt Læntver is concerned, the strategy seems to be to lead by example, with Nordisk Games (and its parent company Nordisk Film) having put in place a series of measures to be more planet-friendly, and ambitioning to become carbon neutral within a few years.
Again, Filt Læntver emphasises how "doing the little things well" is the crux of stirring change in the industry.
"When it's done by the wider collective, it all adds up," she says. "We're making a lot of changes across the supply and value chains of the companies we work with. Like switching paper suppliers for book and magazine publishers, ensuring film productions are sustainable, to fine-tuning e-commerce transportation and logistics networks to cut down on emissions. We've also contributed funds to help build a new solar energy facility here in Denmark, and we hope more will follow.
"When it comes to specific green practices, the necessities of COVID have reshaped our collective understanding of what can be achieved remotely. We travel when necessary, when the same result can't be achieved virtually, and only take the essential staff. But a lot of meetings will continue to be online in the future. Generally, we try to do the simple things well, like switching to a greener energy supplier, and while travelling, we always opt for green hotels and vegetarian food, and put a lot of emphasis on recycling. We also talk to our portfolio studios about the green agenda, ask new targets about their initiatives and host and sponsor green agenda initiatives."
Events and their impact, from the environmental cost of putting them together to participants flying abroad to attend, are at the core of making the games industry greener. Filt Læntver says that events will always be part of the industry, arguing that real human interactions will always be a vital part of the business, but they're evolving.
"Companies just need to be more aware, and plan their event calendar accordingly," she adds. "Do they really need to take the entire team, and will they benefit from attending that event in the first place?
"What we'll likely see is the scaled-back, semi-virtual trends brought on by the necessities of COVID, stay for good. Alternatively, what we know as events today could manifest as something else entirely in the future."
One aspect that's more difficult to assess and tackle is the impact coming from players themselves. The industry has long since shifted to a focus on online games, with servers and constant internet connections ramping up energy consumption.
"When it comes to specific green practices, the necessities of COVID have reshaped our collective understanding of what can be achieved remotely"
"Whether or not we'd like to move away from online play, the consumer is the real driving force in the industry, so it's up to them," Filt Læntver says. "It's also hard to reverse ideas and trends that have become so ingrained in gaming culture, particularly in the wake of COVID, so we believe online play will be here to stay.
"The real issue comes down to how these processes are powered. Systems run off a local grid, and their carbon impact is determined by the type of energy that powers them -- which can differ greatly between countries or regions.
"The impact of servers and data centres will likely continue to decrease as companies across the ecosystem make their processes more energy-efficient and add more sources of renewable energy into their power grids. Compared to something like E-waste, which has become a major ecological issue."
Filt Læntver says it's "incredibly difficult" to accurately measure players' energy and data usage, with very little science to measure it in a uniform, controlled way. The challenge is also due to the wide variety of possible gaming setups, from players' choice of hardware to use of the cloud.
"It even goes down to your chosen broadband provider and wifi speed at home," she continues. "So there are just too many variables to create effective, sweeping policies.
"The real power to make change is in the players' hands. So from the industry's perspective, first and foremost, it should be about education. Players need to be made aware of their platform's energy demands to be able to make an informed decision themselves. There's a huge discrepancy between platforms. A PC uses many times the power of the same game played on a Switch.
"On the other hand, a lot of change relies on governments and their voters. Like other technologies, gaming relies on energy grids, and how these grids are powered determines their footprint. Countries going greener by using more renewables and improving data centre efficiency will all have a bearing, so we need to influence a lot of different stakeholders across the ecosystem to see real change.
"With billions of players around the world, the gaming industry is in a really unique position to do some good. Being able to reach so many people means games have an incredible potential to spread the green message and get them to take the initiative themselves. Things as simple as integrating green messaging into games can make a big impact."