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What is better for the environment? Digital download or Physical disc?


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Let’s say a game is around 60gb and you choose to download it at least twice during its life cycle due to hdd size limitations. 
 

Is it better or worse to own this game on disc?
 

Its hard to find an up to date resource, one from 2015 speaking of a 9gb PS3 game claims:

 

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But, while the estimated carbon dioxide emissions were 20.82 kg for the disc, the digital version produced as much as 27.53 kg. The culprit was the amount of energy consumed during the lengthy download.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jiec.12181

 

Now speeds are better, but sizes are larger, so is it a case that the download still outstrips the disc?

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Loads of games on disc in the last few years have had multiple massive patches so I reckon that’s somewhat out of date now. 
 

I think the major manufacturers should make a concerted effort to force publishers to reduce patch sizes. It may be easier for them to just make you download everything again, but all the negatives such as the carbon issue and hassle for the consumer  massively outweigh that. 

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Yeah, this is a complex question, but at the moment the disk copy probably only reduces your overall download by 10%. More and more you still need to download the game anyway. That and you generate landfill and waste plastic. 

 

If these kind of questions interest you I really recommend 'How bad is a banana?'. A fantastic book that looks at the carbon footprint of things. For example, a cyclist powered by asparagus produces more carbon dioxide than a humvee, mile per mile.

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If you have ADSL, then in terms of damage to the environment, they are both shit. It took nearly 10 hours to download the 45gb Cyberpunk patch yesterday , the disc refused to boot until the patch was cleared. First new release I've not been able to play on the day it arrives.

 

If it's going to be mandatory to have the latest patch before the game boots,in countries where they have data caps you might as well just fuck modern gaming off. 

 

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Whilst it’s been a long time since I’ve done it, I do believe that all games will boot offline from disc on first go but as mentioned may miss some fixes etc. 
 

Same with the consoles?  Didn’t the original patches for the Xbox and 360 firmware actually come on discs too?

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28 minutes ago, Droo said:

Now speeds are better, but sizes are larger, so is it a case that the download still outstrips the disc?

 

No, Koomey's Law would mean the digital version would use a fraction of the power than it did in 2005, while the hardware production emissions are more fixed.

 

The share of energy used by electronics peaked in the 90s, for instance.

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There's a fair bit of contradictory (and out of date) info out there.

 

For example: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/streaming-movie-less-energy-dvd-180951586/

 

(This dates to 2014, uses US data from 2011 and is about streaming video, but surely similar arguments apply)

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Video streaming cost about the same amount of energy as DVDs purchased or rented through the mail, Shehabi and colleagues calculated. Each of those methods of viewing consumed almost 8 megajoules of energy per hour of watching.

 

But DVDs rented or purchased in a store consumed a significant amount more (12 megajoules and 10.6 megajoules, respectively). In other words, getting DVDs from a store came at a higher energy cost.

 

I find it incredibly unlikely that CO2 concentrated in already-existing datacentres (and which the companies operating them are already working to make more efficient - because they cost - and have green plans for) or the tiny uplift to my household bill from the router working a little harder add up to anything like the cost of manufacturing and shipping (and then disposing) of discs, even before you add on the essential double cost of discs as you redownload the game as a patch anyway.

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Vampire Energy, its share of total home energy usage isn't insignificant.

 

https://www.saveonenergy.com/learning-center/mapping-vampire-energy/

 

On a related note, thanks to a potentially lethal virus curtailing human activity for a bit, CO2 emissions are down 7% this year.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/11/rebound-in-carbon-emissions-expected-in-2021-after-fall-caused-by-covid

 

But as we're about to remove that problem, back to destroying the planet at full speed next year.

 

 

 

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On 10/12/2020 at 09:22, Uncle Mike said:

I find it incredibly unlikely that CO2 concentrated in already-existing datacentres (and which the companies operating them are already working to make more efficient - because they cost - and have green plans for) or the tiny uplift to my household bill from the router working a little harder add up to anything like the cost of manufacturing and shipping (and then disposing) of discs, even before you add on the essential double cost of discs as you redownload the game as a patch anyway.

 

Agreed. The numbers will also tilt more and more in favour of downloads over time too, as the electricity suppliers change their energy mix, and as internet speeds get faster.

 

When I download something big like a game, I use my phone as a hotspot because the 5G is ten times faster than the ADSL. So, worst case, I'm keeping my PC and my phone powered on for 4-5 hours or so, with the PC presumably sipping power as it isn't doing much else. It's not something to worry about I don't think, particularly as all the electricity I pay for supposedly comes from renewable sources. Either way it's surely drop in the ocean compared to the impact of my dietary choices, keeping my flat heated, and any travel needs that can't be met through the use of my legs.

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Downloads could potentially one day be fully renewable driven, but manufacturing a disc, box and karting it around in a van never can be. I guess the flip side of this is the impact of the download infrastructure too, that's not going to be insignificant.

 

It's a good point about having the console on while it takes forever to download stuff, especially on slower connections at the moment though.

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On 10/12/2020 at 08:52, Droo said:

Let’s say a game is around 60gb and you choose to download it at least twice during its life cycle due to hdd size limitations. 
 

Is it better or worse to own this game on disc?
 

Its hard to find an up to date resource, one from 2015 speaking of a 9gb PS3 game claims:

 

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jiec.12181

 

Now speeds are better, but sizes are larger, so is it a case that the download still outstrips the disc?

Just looking at the data in the link it's using carbon conversion factors from 2010. 

  • 2010 Electricity carbon factor 0.541 kgCO2/kWh
  • 2020 Electricity carbon factor 0.242 kgCO2/kWh

Also once you add in the fact that computers are reasonable amount more efficient these days (W/cycle) then I think it's pretty safe to assume downloads now have a lower carbon footprint.

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13 hours ago, Liamness said:

 

Agreed. The numbers will also tilt more and more in favour of downloads over time too, as the electricity suppliers change their energy mix, and as internet speeds get faster.

 

When I download something big like a game, I use my phone as a hotspot because the 5G is ten times faster than the ADSL. So, worst case, I'm keeping my PC and my phone powered on for 4-5 hours or so, with the PC presumably sipping power as it isn't doing much else. It's not something to worry about I don't think, particularly as all the electricity I pay for supposedly comes from renewable sources. Either way it's surely drop in the ocean compared to the impact of my dietary choices, keeping my flat heated, and any travel needs that can't be met through the use of my legs.

 

Your electricity will come from the grid, so will be a mix of whatever powers the grid. In the U.K. the renewable energy producers can sell credits to the suppliers who then can claim all their energy is green. It’s nonsense, but good for marketing.

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41 minutes ago, merrychan said:

Downloads could potentially one day be fully renewable driven, but manufacturing a disc, box and karting it around in a van never can be. I guess the flip side of this is the impact of the download infrastructure too, that's not going to be insignificant.

 

It's a good point about having the console on while it takes forever to download stuff, especially on slower connections at the moment though.

 

A disk is a little bit of plastic and metal. The case is plastic. The amount of energy required to manufacture is minimal. The energy use is mainly from transporting the game, and this is where it becomes impossible to measure. If you drive specifically to a shop to buy a game then that’s a lot of carbon emissions. But if you buy a game on a whim in Asda when you’re doing a weekly shop it’s minimal. Or if you import a game, if it’s transported on a cargo plane then it would have a bigger carbon footprint than if transported as cargo on a passenger plane. How do you accurately measure that?

 

Anyhow my guess is that due to all the patches required, a physical disk would have a bigger carbon footprint than a digital download. However if all the content was on the disk then I think a game disk would be better for the environment.

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14 minutes ago, gossi the dog said:

Your electricity will come from the grid, so will be a mix of whatever powers the grid. In the U.K. the renewable energy producers can sell credits to the suppliers who then can claim all their energy is green. It’s nonsense, but good for marketing.

 

Yes, it's not literally the case that if you're on a "green" or "100% renewable" tariff, every watt of electricity that flows into your home comes directly from a wind or solar power plant.

 

But I believe that those tariffs do help indirectly, because you're doing your tiny little bit to increase the demand for electricity from renewable sources and reduce the demand for non-renewables. So with enough people doing that over a long period of time, the proportion of the country's electricity that's from renewables tends to increase.

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On 10/12/2020 at 08:52, Droo said:

Its hard to find an up to date resource, one from 2015 speaking of a 9gb PS3 game claims:

 

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jiec.12181

 

Now speeds are better, but sizes are larger, so is it a case that the download still outstrips the disc?

 

The summary of that study says "The bulk of emissions are accounted for by game play, followed by production and distribution."

 

However, although the supporting documentation PDF has a very thorough breakdown of carbon emissions in production and distribution, it only lumps gameplay use together as "Console power consumption while active gaming".

 

Which made me wonder: how much of a difference is there in a console's electricity consumption between loading a game from optical disc, versus loading from a hard disk drive? After all, mechanical components tend to be less efficient than electrical ones, and it probably takes more power to spin a disc than to spin a HDD platter - and maybe even more than to spin a CPU fan? (CPU fans are lighter, but spin faster.)

 

Is the optical drive's power use negligible compared to the consumption of the CPU and GPU?

 

This forum post has some figures for PC drives, though not exactly the most rigorous sources:

 

https://forums.tomshardware.com/threads/how-many-watts-does-a-blu-ray-drive-use.3148524/

 

 

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Idle: 1.5W - 5W (http://www.buildcomputers.net/power-consumption-of-pc-components.html)

 

Burning: 25W - 30W (http://www.buildcomputers.net/power-consumption-of-pc-components.html)

 

Average (Playing): ~18W (or 1.5A as rated in label of a similar model: http://www.ascendtech.us/hp-bh30l-10x-blu-ray-disc-rewriter-sata_i_bddvdhp50494104.aspx#)

 

 

I suppose it's possible to estimate how much power is wasted as sound from a spinning disc: if you can compare the volume in decibels of a console when it's spinning the disc versus when it's loading from the HDD, you can convert that to a figure in watts of power. But to do that properly you'd have to get into stuff like rms power, sound pressure levels, and frequency responses...

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