But a presentation – even at one of the largest gatherings of game creators in the world – was still only a small part of the plan.
At the end of August, Abraham launched AfterClimate, a company intended to help small game developers on their decarbonization journey by doing the work to figure out how to reduce emissions for them. Why video games, however, when industries like transportation and energy are (literally) polluting a storm? Because at this point – with UN reports bearing grim news and extreme weather submerging a third of Pakistan in flood waters, driving millions from their homes – every gesture counts.
“I watch the floods in Pakistan and I would like them to be a surprise,” Abraham said in an interview with The Washington Post. “But that’s exactly what scientists have been saying for decades, and it’s going to happen to more people. … The game developers I’ve spoken to are some of the most socially responsible people I know. I think they’re starting to say, ‘Okay, what should we do?’ ”
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AfterClimate offers different levels of service depending on the desire of ambitious developers to achieve their decarbonization efforts. To start, the company will collect data on a studio’s electricity bills, power sources, and work/workplace conversations to determine overall emissions and compare them to companies in similar sized video games. If emissions are high, then AfterClimate will offer suggestions, such as reducing a studio’s reliance on specific energy sources or switching to renewables in places.
If a developer or studio is particularly committed, AfterClimate also offers a full audit of all upstream and downstream emissions, including the purchase of new equipment – the manufacture and delivery of which produces emissions – and access of players to a game, which involves both drawing power from players’ and potentially taxing data centers.
“We can look at this and say, ‘What’s the full scope of this? How can we best reduce these emissions?'” Abraham said. “Is it by making the material last longer? Is it by changing something in the functioning of the game? Is it moving more and more computing power to the cloud? It could be streaming games, or it could be the other way around. It depends on where the people are in the world, where the players are; the world has different levels of emissions intensity for the electricity we receive.
Despite a firm belief that climate change became a “everyone’s problem” decades ago, Abraham picks his battles. As in other industries, the bigger hitters – the Microsofts and the Sonys, in this case – almost certainly spew more CO2 than the smaller ones. But many of these companies are already working (slowly) towards net-zero emissions goals, and according to recent GDC surveys, small teams collectively make up a large part of the industry. The result of this, on a large scale, borders on the jaw-dropping: thousands of new games release every month on PC and mobile platforms, the majority of which come from teams smaller than Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Tencent or n any number of others. last names.
“Indie gaming won’t have the same footprint as Triple-A gaming, but it will still have a footprint,” Abraham said. “And the sheer number of people making games in the world these days is daunting. I don’t know what the answer is for those people other than to have some kind of service that they can use to help them reduce emissions.
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The rest of the equation, for Abraham, is simple: big business has resources to invest in this problem; small teams don’t. This is where AfterClimate comes in.
“Game developers don’t have a lot of free time,” Abraham said of an industry in which overwork remains a pervasive problem at studios big and small. “So rather than asking every indie developer in the world to spend a few months figuring out what they need to do to reduce their emissions, I’d be more than happy to do it for them.”
Since the project is just getting started, AfterClimate is currently working with just one client: a Melbourne-based studio called Paper House, which itself is making a game about climate change called “Wood & Weather.” This has been a challenge as Paper House staff often work from home, which can make it difficult to accurately measure development-related emissions. But in an industry that’s increasingly embracing work-from-home and hybrid models, that’s exactly the kind of data creators need.
“We’re trying to find a way to use smart power meters to measure the devices they’re working on — to get a sense of the footprint of game development working remotely,” Abraham said. “Because at the moment we really only have a few estimates.”
This is not to say that Abraham exclusively aims at the independent end of the pond; he just believes battling the biggest fish in the video game industry is a different task. He thinks companies like Unity — which has hired renowned sustainability expert Marina Psaros to head sustainability — are making good faith efforts to improve.
But if companies like Microsoft and Sony fail to meet negative carbon targets by 2030 and 2050, respectively, or back off on converting power-hungry, energy-intensive cloud gaming data centers to renewable energy, Abraham believes that only an effort collective would force them back on track.
“We can hold them to account,” he said. “If they don’t hit their targets, we’ll nail them to the wall.”
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Abraham also hopes to use AfterClimate as a way to advocate for bigger, more systemic changes in the video game industry and beyond. With such a big issue, greening individual businesses — even at what Abraham hopes will eventually become large scale — will only get you so far.
“We’re trying to cobble together something from what we can do when we really should have overarching frameworks that allow us to take more structured interventions,” he said, pointing to California’s Title 20 regulations, which limits the amount of power games and computer systems, among other devices, can use in any given year, for example. “I think regulation is going to be one of the main ways we [solve this problem]. We will not be able to govern everyone otherwise. People don’t just voluntarily change their way of life.
One thing the video game industry can’t afford to do, however, is wait any longer. Abraham has spent years watching well-meaning developers make climate change games without practicing what they preach. The time for this sort of thing, he says, “was 20 years ago.”
“There’s a long history of wanting to use games to persuade players, to change their minds,” he said. “We could be wasting a lot of time doing these things when we really need to reduce the millions of tons of CO2 that games produce every year, rather than trying to spend time getting gamers to live greener – whatever that means. We can do both, but we have limited time and effort.