Green Gaming: Energy Efficiency without Performance Compromise

Green Gaming: Energy Efficiency without Performance Compromise

Evan Mills, Norm Bourassa, Leo Rainer, Jimmy Mai, and Arman Shehabi

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Nathaniel Mills

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Two-thirds of Americans play computer games. Although among the most complex and energy-intensive plug loads, gaming has been largely overlooked in energy R&D and policy. This project characterizes gaming technologies and markets, energy demand and savings scenarios, and policy strategies for improving energy efficiency.

Systems used for computer gaming in California consumed 4.1 TWh/year in 2016 or $700 million in energy bills, with emissions of 1.5 million tons CO2-equivalent allocated 66% to consoles, 31% to desktop PCs, 3% to laptops, and less than 1% to emerging media streaming devices. Among other key findings:

  • Aggregate energy demand places gaming among the top plug loads in California. Gaming represents one-fifth of the state’s total miscellaneous residential energy use.
  • Changes in market structure can have huge impacts on statewide energy use. Demand could rise by 114% by 2021 under intensified desktop gaming, or fall by 24% given a major shift towards consoles coupled with energy efficiency gains.
  • Unit energy consumption is remarkably varied across gaming platform types. Across 26 systems tested, client-side electricity use ranged from 5 to over 1,200 kWh per year, reflecting equipment choice and usage patterns.
  • Some emerging technologies and activities are driving energy demand higher. Processor overclocking, cloud-based gaming, higher-resolution connected displays, and virtual reality gaming can each have this effect.
  • User behavior has a stronger influence on gaming energy use than technology choice. Duty cycle and game choice are particularly strong drivers of demand.
  • Energy efficiency opportunities are substantial, about 50% on a per-system basis for PCs and 40% for consoles if past rates of improvement continue.

While simultaneously quantifying efficiency and gaming performance is highly problematic, evidence suggests that efficiency can be improved while maintaining or improving user experience. Familiar energy policy strategies can help manage gaming energy demand, although mandatory system-level standards are not promising (component-level measures may be) due to the dominance of user behavior, the unavailability of adequate energy-performance metrics, and that the market and underlying technologies are changing faster than the standard-setting policy process can adapt.