You would never believe Call of Duty’s Carbon Footprint

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Call of Duty Carbon Footprint

Call of Duty’s players have been consuming an estimated average of 540 MW of power since 2007

 

I’m a huge COD fan (“Call Of Duty”, for you n00b readers). I started playing Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) like a crazy person when I had just moved to the U.S. for my studies abroad. It was the perfect way for me to keep in touch with my Dutch friends back home: we VOIPed as we built out our skills in the game.

When Black Ops 2 came out, I was one of the grown-ups waiting in line, in between the 15 year olds that were accompanied by their dads. One of the cool things about this game was that the main menu showed little orange dots on a world map where people were currently online and playing. Over the first few weeks you saw it going from a dark world to an orange glowing planet – Black Ops 2 became the fastest sold computer game ever, it took the record from another COD title: Modern Warfare 3.. That title outperformed ANY of Hollywood’s movie sales. EVER.

After receiving the electric bill for the month in which I prestiged four times, I started thinking about my setup’s power consumption. I have a plasma tv screen that measures 42 inches, which I know is not the most energy efficient (I figured ~300 Watts) plus the PS3 itself (I thought ~100 Watts)… Total of 400 Watts – that’s a lot.. Multiply that with the number of hours played (which was roughly 200), that got me to 80 kWh. This more than doubled our regular bill in the spring.

Coned Bill by month

My Conedison bill’s sudden increase after Black Ops 2 was released (Nov 13th)…

As an environmental engineer in the solar industry, I was wondering how much electricity ALL online COD gamers consume. It is the start of a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for a computer game like COD. Here is the methodology and results.

Running the Numbers

I started with a simple number that Activision (the company that made COD) published: 100,000,000,000 hours. Yes, since the first COD came out in 2007, gamers around the world have played a total of 100 Billion hours of COD! That means that on average during those 7 years, roughly 1.6 Million people were playing COD – that’s the equivalent population of the city of Amsterdam. Call of Duty has literally been played more hours than humanity has existed.

So that’s 100 billion hours of gaming, split over different types of consoles and TV screens. I made a comparison of power consumption for gaming consoles such as the Playstation and Xbox. PC and TV screens are included as well.

Equipment Power (Watts)
PS3 150
PS4 115
Xbox 360 170
Xbox One 112
PC tower 100
PC monitor 50
TV screen 40 inch 250

 

With the COD sales by platform (PC vs Xbox vs Playstation), the following average power consumption can be derived:

Platform Power (MegaWatts)
PS3 163.1
PS4 59.5
Xbox 360 137.0
Xbox One 118.1
PC 61.2
Total average Power 538.8

The collective power consumption by Call of Duty players is roughly equal to the power output of a medium-sized coal fired power plant!

Now that we know the estimated average power consumption, we can calculate the energy consumption as well. If you’re not quite clear yet on the difference between power and energy, check out the explanation here. With an average of 539 MW consumed over 7 years, the total energy consumption of this computer game series becomes 33,040 GWh, or 4,720 GWh per year.

Lets compare this to an average household’s electricity consumption: a household uses on average 10,837 kWh of electricity per year (EIA), so all COD gamers together are basically using the equivalent of 435,000 households!!

Solar and Wind capacity

Now that we know the annual energy consumption, lets make the comparison for how many solar panels or wind turbines we would need to offset this. Here it is important to take into account that a solar panel of for example 100 Watts, doesn’t always produce 100 Watts (the Sun doesn’t always shine!), and the same is true for wind. To more easily describe the energy output of a solar power plant or wind farm based on its power capacity in Watts (or MegaWatts), the so called “Capacity Factor” (CF) was invented. The CF basically says how much power on average a generator produces over a year, and it’s described in a percentage of the maximum power capacity of the source.

Solar for example has a Capacity Factor of roughly 15%, and it depends a lot on how sunny the location is where the solar panels are installed. This means that a 1,000 Watt solar panel would on average throughout the year generate 150 Watts.

Wind has a higher CF, and for this study we assume it is roughly 29%. Again, this means a 3 MW wind turbine would output on average 0.87 MW of power.

Solar

The amount of solar power capacity needed to make COD eco-green would be roughly 3.6 GW. That is 14.4 million average sized solar panels (250 Watt a piece). When installed, these would cover roughly 21,770 football fields, or 1.25 times the entire island of Manhattan!

A solar array 1.25 times the size of Manhattan is needed to generate Call of Duty players’ energy consumption

 

manhattan solar

A solar array 1.25 times the size of Manhattan would be needed to offset electricity consumption of Call of Duty gamers!

 

 Wind

An average sized wind turbine produces around 3 MW at its maximum output. With a 29% Capacity Factor, you produce little less than 1 MW on average. So in order to offset the 539 MW of electricity used to play the game, we need roughly 619 wind turbines…

Carbon Footprint

In the United States, one kWh emits roughly 690 grams of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – See EIA. This allows us to calculate the carbon footprint, using the estimated 4,720 GWh per year:

To play Call of Duty, gamers’ devices collectively emit 3,256 Million metric tons of CO2, every year. This is more than the CO2 emissions of the country Namibia.

 

Discussion

Of course, a lot of assumptions are made here. Here’s a list of questions that came to mind while making this study:

  • what would all these kids be doing if they weren’t playing this computer game?
  • what is the Call of Duty servers’ energy consumption?
  • Total number of players now is likely higher than the first couple of years -> average number of players now likely exceeds 1.6 million.

Question for you:

I made assumptions above on what equipment people use to play the game. I’m curious to hear what setup you guys use to play COD, leave a comment and I’ll update the numbers! For example, I use:

Platform: PS3 (slim), TV: Plasma, 42inch

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  • Bob Bobson

    Rob, I may be mistaken on your methodology, so correct me if Im wrong. But I get 100,000,000,000[hop]/(7[yr]*365[day/yr]*24[hr/day]) = 16 million not(hours of play/hour) 1.6 million, meaning that on average over the past 7 years 16 million people are playing COD at any given time. So just saying that your estimates may be an order of magnitude lower than originally thought. But of course, I likely am missing an obvious assumption.

  • http://divvygreen.com/ Divvy

    Hey Dr. (!!) Bobson,
    You’re not missing any assumptions, but your exact calculation of “100,000,000,000[hop]/(7[yr]*365[day/yr]*24[hr/day])” results in 1.6 million.

    1E11 / 6.1E4 = 1.6E6 (not E7!!!)

  • Bob Bobson

    Ahh, yes. The google calculator and all those zeros, should have used scientific. Nice article, will you tone down your gaming for the environment.