by Ellie Greenfield, junior PR and comms manager at Sumo Group
In recent years, the games industry has found itself at the centre of conversations about climate change. With more games industry staff working from home than ever before, in-person events resuming and more, how can the games industry play its part in creating a greener future?
Ahead of Earth Day this weekend, publisher Secret Mode and Bristol-based studio Auroch Digital discuss how the games industry can become greener and share some easy ways for studios, businesses and players to reduce their environmental impact.
ENVIRONMENTAL MESSAGING IN GAMES
A question often asked of the games industry is whether it’s enough to just allude to the current climate crisis, or whether – as an interactive medium – games should be taking it a step further.
“Green messaging in games is a fine line to walk – not every title is right for it. It’s important to remember that a lot of players turn to their consoles and PCs for escapism from the world, so how do we ensure we’re not preaching to them?” says Matthew Pellett, PR and communications manager at Secret Mode.
From a developer point of view, Jess Rutland, business development associate at Auroch Digital says there’s a balance to be found. “For the longest time, we saw a lot of education in video games about the environment which felt like documentaries gamified – we’re now starting to see games being released which have a much better balance of not just fun and education, but motivation to care about it.”
“Garden Story by Picogram and Rose City Games has found the perfect harmony. You play as a tiny plant having to work together with the community to protect the village from a pollution infection by healing, growing, and planting. The game highlights the importance of collectivism in a society where blame is often placed on individuals… imagine if we all took a collective approach to tackling climate change!” continues Rutland.
“As a developer, it’s important to include content to inspire without coming across as preaching. For example, our game Mars Horizon sends players on an adventure to Mars – but there’s a very clear link between space travel and carbon usage, so ensuring this is addressed within the game for players to find was vital to us. Similarly, a recent release of ours, Brewmaster, had to have the inclusion of the environmental impact of craft brewing throughout the flavour text of the game.”
There are also games which are able to create real-world change through their messaging, gameplay and partnerships. “Our upcoming wholesome survival game Loddlenaut, developed by Moon Lagoon, is a perfect example of this,” adds Pellett.
“Players take on the role of an interstellar custodian, cleaning up an ocean planet after it’s been polluted by a mega-corporation, and rescuing and nurturing axolotl-like ‘Loddle’ creatures along the way. Not only does the game loop convey a very stark message about our own planet’s problems, but we’ve teamed up with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to raise awareness of their wonderful work and will be announcing further collaborative initiatives closer to launch. It’s a great example of fun gameplay meets real-world impact.”
CREATING GREENER POLICIES
“For any businesses emerging in the current climate, it would be remiss of them to not try and meet the challenges of the world head-on,” says Pellett. A key development in the industry in recent years has been the shift to remote working and the environmental implications that come with it.
“We’re absolutely aware of what the environmental impact of remote working might be. A conversation we’re regularly having is how do we support our people to ensure the machines and kit they use for work are as energy efficient as possible – both for the planet, and for their individual finances. To help with this, we’ve introduced energy monitors for our team so they can measure the impact their equipment has,” says Rutland.
Despite the flexibility of remote working, the Secret Mode team also highlights that not being an in-person team could impact on people sharing their ideas.
“We have a large remote-working contingent, so as a team we all joined in with Couch to Carbon Zero programme thanks to Sumo Group participation last year, which shared bitesize ways for how everyone can make small changes in their everyday lives. These conversations challenge us to think about our everyday impact and inspire us to share ideas and suggestions for more eco-changes at home and in the office. But as a publisher we do occasionally need to all meet in-person … and when we do get together in the office, we endeavour to use public transportation where possible, and we’ve frequently combined in-office days with education sessions for our staff.”
Additionally, Rutland acknowledges that businesses have to be mindful about not only the merch and equipment they send out, but also the team members they send to events. “Practically, we’re always looking for ways to do better. Our marketing team only sends useful and sustainable merch to content creators – things they can wear, eat or use – and we ensure we’re only sending people when necessary to industry events or visits, offsetting our carbon usage from hotels and travel wherever we can.”
“Studios and businesses should be providing hybrid options for the events they run, wherever possible, as opposed to making travelling to a physical space mandatory for all,” adds Pellett. “If you have people travelling to events out of necessity, find ways to minimise the travel required: I’d love to see more fringe events and publisher/developer press days take place around the bigger landmark games industry conferences to save on doubling up on travel.”
“It’s absolutely not our job to dictate what is necessary change for individuals, but we can give players the opportunity to decide what is reasonable for their own needs,” says Rutland. “It’d be great if we could all switch off our consoles at the wall every time we’re done playing but I know for some, having their escape available at the push of a button is better for their mental health and not having to put themselves in precarious physical situations to switch off at the wall is preferable.”
“Buying sustainably is also important where you can. Try supporting studios that are making conscious environmental decisions instead of those who aren’t,” Rutland continues. “It’s great to see that the current generation of consoles are more energy efficient than ever before thanks to technological advancements allowing them to not compromise on performance. The best thing players can do is stay educated and stay up to date.”
As for Pellett, he’s been delighted to see how consoles are making an effort to give their players the option to choose. “Xbox introduced eco-mode for the Series X and Series S, which is an easy way for players to make a change. There are also lots of settings in most consoles and computers that can lessen a player’s energy usage – good for the planet, and for their wallets!”
THE WIDER INDUSTRY
“We are past the point of environmental considerations being a question” says Rutland. “We’re at a stage where it’s now vital for the games industry as a whole to be considering its environmental impact. The Ukie Green Games Guide is essential reading and I think should be mandatory for the whole industry, not just the UK. In an ideal world, there’d be legal standards globally for any company making, distributing or selling games to comply with. It’s great to see some studios pledging for carbon neutrality, and I know it’s not possible for everyone due to size and scale – but in an ideal world, we’d all be working towards it!”
“For now, I think it’s about studios coming together to make greater change, and change starts at home. Monitors, lights and power off at the end of the working day, more sustainable products in studios and more eco-friendly partners in the supply chain – from the manufacturing of parts in machines used by teams, to the way games are distributed.”
From a publisher’s perspective, Pellett raises the point of packaging in games. “Eco-friendly packaging is not yet the norm in the games industry. When Iam8bit released The Untitled Goose Game ‘Lovely Edition’ for the PS4 using innovative eco-friendly packaging and non-toxic inks, I expected to see more games following suit, but it didn’t seem to take off. I’d love to see more of it in the future and it’s something I’m keen to explore for future physical releases.”
It’s not just games and supply chains which take a toll on the environment, either. With the world opening back up again and physical events back on the table, there’s been a surge of travel from game studios globally keen to meet peers face-to-face – but how can the industry stay connected whilst considering its impact?
“I personally would love to see the continuation of more virtual events and digital conferences in the games industry,” says Rutland. “Now we’re able to be together physically, it’s so exciting to meet people in real life but I would love to see digital attendance still strongly encouraged. It’s cheaper, more accessible and better for the environment.”
“The games industry is huge, and as a collective is an absolute economic powerhouse. If we lead the charge for change, then other industries might follow suit.”