I thought that this article was an interesting reminder that the internet does not simply run on magic and porn, and puts the energy required to do something like download a game into some context.
If you’re not interested in reading the study itself, which as expected is chock full of graphs and numbers and charts, the gist of it is this:
At 1.3 GB and above (an average PS3 game being 8.8GB at the time of the study), downloading a game results in more greenhouse gas emissions than physical distribution of that same game (driving down to a store to get it). This is in contrast to music which, due to the tiny file sizes, is just about always greener to download.
It’s important to bear in mind that this is obviously a single study performed in one region (the UK) and results might vary in different parts of the planet. However it does seem to suggest that there is a threshold at which downloading burns more energy than a trip to the store, and that games are large enough to consistently cross that threshold.
As time goes on, this threshold could go up or down, depending on a variety of factors. Increased energy efficiency of all parties involved (the consumer, the IP, etc) could lower this, but if games continue to increase in size, that gain would be harder to come by.
We’re on the eve of Destiny’s launch, the most pre-ordered new IP in history. Couple in the fact that digital purchases on both the Xbox One and PS4 are allowing pre-loading (a first for the Xbox One), and this article becomes particularly relevant food for thought.