Cloud gaming and environmental impact

Cloud gaming and environmental impact
The times when we could only dream of a cloud gaming service are not far off. Being able to play anywhere and anytime, without having the appropriate hardware was pure utopia. Nowadays, however, many companies with their respective services have shown not only that this is achievable, but that it could even become a very popular solution in the future. Sony has used this technology as far back as 2014 with Playstation Now, while Nvidia was preparing for the debut of GeForce Now. In the past twelve months, many other competitors have entered the industry by force. We witnessed the launch of Google Stadia, the integration of Project xCloud into the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service and finally Amazon announcing the arrival of Luna. With all of these tech giants ready to invest billions of dollars in cloud platforms, we certainly can't downplay their importance for the future of gaming. In the following article, however, we want to analyze another aspect of this new technology, considering a genuinely fashionable factor in the last period. We are talking about the environmental impact, due to energy consumption related to the gaming world. By moving all the computing power to huge server establishments, what will be the climate feedback? Cloud gaming undoubtedly consumes more electricity than a console, because in addition to having to play a video game, it must also manage its transmission in real time. At the same time, however, there are already millions of consoles around the world and each of them consumes energy. So what is the most eco-sustainable solution?

The consumption of cloud gaming

Often to explain how cloud gaming works, we refer to another very popular service such as Netflix. In fact, it too is considered a streaming service, which then transmits data from a server to the end customer's device. The only difference is that Netflix transmits the video signal of a TV series or movie, while cloud gaming services send the signal of a video game. Similarly, just as we manage to interact with Netflix by selecting a content to play, with cloud gaming we can interact with the software to give commands within the title played. However, there are substantial differences between the services, mainly related to the computing power and consequently to the energy consumption.

The servers in which these services are hosted mainly require two elements to function: the computing power and the power of the network infrastructure. Each service based on the operation between client and server generates consumption linked to each of these two dissipated powers. For example, a Google search uses a lot of computing power to process our request, but having to transmit mainly text, it consumes little power of the network infrastructure. Conversely, a service like Netflix uses little computing power, because the videos are already processed and uploaded to servers, but it uses a lot of the power of the network infrastructure to constantly transmit data to customers. As previously mentioned, cloud gaming can be compared to a service like Netflix, in fact it uses about the same power as the network infrastructure to transmit the video signal. Otherwise, however, cloud gaming servers must also exploit a lot of computing power to process the video game software and manage the interaction with the user. This results in a rather high energy consumption and consequently in continuous emissions for our environment.

Three scenarios for the future

We are only at the beginning of cloud gaming: today today these services do not present an environmental problem at all. Cloud gaming uses 7% of the global network infrastructure and consumes a lot of power, according to Lancaster University researchers. However, 95% of this is dissipated by the video game download and not by the streaming game. The scenario could change in the future and a recent study has analyzed three possible evolutions of the spread of cloud gaming by 2030. If these services were to remain only a niche in the next few years, the impact on the environment would be minimal towards other consumers. derived from the same sector. If only 30% of gamers started using cloud gaming, however, an increase in CO2 emissions of 29.9% would be recorded.

On the other hand, arriving at a considerable diffusion of these services (equal to about 90%), emissions would increase up to 112% compared to those of the gaming sector recorded at this time. This data is also quite conservative, as the researchers used 720p streaming on mobile devices and 1080p on PC and TV as a model. With 4K streaming, the climate impact would clearly be worse, having to consume both more computing power and network infrastructure power. The latter scenario is rather difficult to achieve in the coming years, simply because many gamers will not have a sufficiently powerful and stable internet connection to be able to enjoy cloud gaming on their devices. However, this problem will undoubtedly be resolved in the future. In addition to a strengthening of fixed lines, we will also see the arrival of 5G, which will allow many people to play from anywhere simply by owning a smartphone. A similar study showed how cloud gaming could raise energy consumption by 40 to 60% recorded by desktop computers, by 120 to 300% for laptops, by 30 to 200% for consoles and by 130 to 260% for streaming devices such as smartphones. The data always varies depending on the computing power used and the power of the network infrastructure and therefore on how efficient the servers can be and how far the video signal must travel.

A solution “Green”

Cloud gaming as we know it today could therefore have a significant environmental impact. However, many companies in the technology sector are moving towards a zero-carbon future. This could considerably change the cards on the table, especially when it comes to the energy consumption of the huge factories where the servers of these multinationals reside. In fact, it is easier to generate and distribute clean energy for these centers than for every single inhabitant of our planet. In the next decade we will hardly be able to power every single console in the world with clean energy. On the contrary, companies are aiming to use 100% renewable energy in the short term. For example, Microsoft has set itself the goal of zeroing its CO2 emissions by 2030, while by 2025 it wants to power its servers with 100% renewable energy. Google in the same way since 2017 has been balancing its energy consumption, producing the same amount of renewable energy and has set itself the same goal as Microsoft for zero emissions by 2030. Sony instead has declared that it wants to become "carbon free" by 2050, also through its entire production and assembly line of products.

This could reduce or even eliminate the environmental impact due to cloud gaming, giving the possibility to millions of players to enjoy our favorite media without consequences for the climate. Before reaching this ambitious goal, companies will try to optimize current consumption due to cloud gaming to reduce the environmental impact caused by these services on a daily basis. For example, having all the machines concentrated in a single establishment allows the rapid download and updating of video games, which instead entails a significant energy consumption to reach the homes of millions of players. We must therefore rely on these companies and their optimization of energy consumption combined with the adoption of renewable energy sources. In this way the future of cloud gaming could be truly green.

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