Okay, dramatic title, let me explain. I recently met up with my co-blog-writer for a few beers and a chat about life, football and obviously gaming. Amongst all the talk about how gaming can be saved from the big-bad that is microtransactions and what episode of Simpsons is the greatest ever (maybe more to come on this), I wondered just how long each year the UK spends on gaming per year. The reason this came up is that neither of us recently have had much time to play anything at all really and it seems to be getting harder to play anything, what with more commitments and the constant need to update games when you haven’t played them for three days. The thought also come to mind that how much money could the UK earn from using this time working instead (please don’t get any ideas future government), and also just how much does our gaming habit hurt our environment.
So with that said, let’s start with the first building block: just how long does the UK spend gaming each year?
The UK time spent gaming
Newzoo’s consumer insight shows that the UK’s overall gaming market consists of 32.4M gamers, making us the fifth largest gaming market in the world with a revenue of $4.2 Billion (good job guys, I guess?), or about 16 Neymar’s if that’s your currency of preference.
This data is parallel to data found the Internet Advertising Bureau which found a total of 33.5 million players between the ages of 8-74. It is worth noting at this stage that the accuracy of this data is questionable, with research from GameTrack showing 20.6 million people between the ages of 6-64 playing games. The age ranges vary slightly, and research by Ipsos Mori suggests that the face of gaming is changing, and older markets may be making up a significantly larger market share. However, I find it hard to believe that those between the ages of 64-74 make up 10 million gamers, especially with only 18% of the UK population above 65 (roughly 12 million people). So with that out the way, and the clear picture that this is to be just a back of the envelope calculation, let’s progress!
I will be progressing with the data from Gametrack as this data also contains a full set of data including times and gaming medium type as well as comparisons with other European countries which may make for interesting comparisons.
So, with this data set considered there are said to be 20.6 million gamers between ages 6-64. From this range, we can assume that most 6-15-year-olds aren’t economically productive (are any of us?), this leaves us with 16.27 million gamers.
The average time in this study is assumed based on the gaming times of 11-64-year-olds. As 11-15-year-olds are discounted from this initial analysis, I wish I could take them out of this calculation but from the data in front of me, I don’t think this is possible, if there is a richer data set than this, than I would like to add this analysis! The number anyway is 9.5 hours per week. I imagine this is higher amongst that 11-15 age group and that may slightly skew this number.
This leads to total weekly hours spent on gaming figure of 154.6 million hours. Assuming an average UK salary of £27,600 and an average working week of around 40 hours gives an average hourly salary of around £13.30. So, the missed earning potential (with all these MASSIVE assumptions) is around £2 Billion a week or £104 Billion per year. This sounds a lot, but the UK’s GDP is around £2.5 Trillion, so really about 4% more.
In terms of time spent on gaming, the UK sit top – champions of Europe. The UK has the second highest GDP also out of these countries, so it seems like gaming isn’t responsible for being less productive than Germany (not that anyone thought it was). Research from UKIE suggests that the UK gaming industry brings in around £4.3 Billion in consumer spending so not all is lost in the pursuit of fun.
The ‘other’ costs
It’s easy to think of gaming as a one of purchase. You buy the game, you buy the console, you play the game on the TV and that’s that. There’s more than one reason for this not being the case. The first is microtransactions and DLC’s adding extra costs to the consumer, but this figure is accounted for in the above £4.3 Billion figure. The other figure comes from the energy used to actually power these devices. Yes, energy costs money and this is an area of interest to me so let’s see just how much of an impact this has.
As calculated earlier the UK spends around 154.6 million hours gaming. But different mediums for gaming have different power requirements. The above chart shows a rough breakdown of the types of mediums people use. For each of these, we will require a representative power requirement as for example the PS4, Xbox One and Wii U all consume vastly different amounts of power (89W, 72W and 32W respectively). So for consoles, we will assume a power of 60W because this is just back of the envelope stuff. Computers we’ll assume 110W, handhelds we will assume around 2W. For smartphones, it was found that for a full charge they consume around 1kWh per year, since we are just interested in the time spent gaming this gives a ‘wattage’ of around 6W. The final device, a tablet, we will assume 6W and for ease assume it’s used purely for gaming.
So now to convert these to kWh I’ll need the time they are used for. Since we know the total gaming time and proportions of use (the pie chart above) this can be worked out fairly easily. And with the magic of excel, I get a number, and that number is about 7 Million kWh, OR 7 TWh. So, let’s quickly sanity check this number: The average UK household used 3,800 kWh of electricity in 2016, there are 27.1 million households in the UK in 2016 so a rough estimate of total household electricity consumption gives us 103 TWh of electricity usage. Our gaming energy use figure would make up around 6.8% of this, so probably about right considering that electric heating is uncommon and lighting is quite efficient. This entire demand from gaming could be met entirely by renewable energy since the UK produces 82.8 TWh of clean electricity.
Just a quick point, I have not included TV’s energy use in this even though they would have to be on with consoles, the reason for this is they’d probably be on anyway if the console wasn’t – and also I forgot.
So, at a glance how much is does 7 TWh’s cost? Using an average cost per kWh of 14.37p we find a value of £1 million. Yup, that’s right, £1 million pounds to power the UK’s gaming habit. Energy is cheap. But something that is not cheap is the environment so what is the cost there?
Greenhouse gas emissions
Despite my earlier comment that the UK’s gaming habit could be energised purely through the use of renewables, this is not how an energy grid works. Instead, we have a mixture of energy production methods in our arsenal. This arsenal is changing over time, particularly as we head towards a low carbon future as put into legislation through the Climate Change Act.
Within 2016 the UK’s fuel mix looked this:
From the above pie chart (we have used a lot of pie charts, also I might have pie) you can see that fossil fuels still make up just over 50% of electricity production. With renewables growing from 2009 levels to 24.5% making progress to the 2020 target of 31%. So with this data, we can get a handle of the emissions associated with that 7 TWh of electricity. For the purpose of keeping this simple, I’m just going to assume that other fuels is biofuel and discount it from this analysis by assuming the carbon it captures is equal to the amount used when burnt. I am also going to discount nuclear energy as it has no carbon emissions directly associated with its production process and so to renewables. But whilst I have your attention it is worth mentioning that both the building of nuclear power stations and wind farms have a large amount of embodied carbon due to the use of concrete and steel.
Most gas-to-electricity conversion is done through combined cycle gas turbines which has a footprint of around 488 gCO2eq/kWh. This is a slightly high estimate based on the source, but it’ll do. Also to quickly explain that ugly unit, it stands for ‘grams of CO2 equivalent per kilowatt hour’, where CO2 equivalent is used to basically equalise the impact of all greenhouse gases (GHG’s), so releasing 1g of methane into the atmosphere would have the same impact as releasing 25g of CO2 so is said to be 25 gCO2eq. For coal, we will again take a high estimate of the value (think of this as making up for ignoring embodied carbon), this value is 990 gCO2eq/kWh.
So, using these figures we get 1.4 Billion gCO2eq for gas and 621 Million gCO2eq for coal. In more manageable units this is 1430 tonnes of CO2eq for gas and around 622 tonnes of CO2eq for coal. To put these abstract numbers into some context the UK total emissions for 2015 was 496 MtCO2eq or 496,000,000 tonnes of CO2eq. Our total figure is 2052 tCO2eq, which makes up around just 0.0004% of the UK emissions.
Well, I think we can conclude that gaming is not going to cause economic collapse and isn’t going to single-handedly kill us all. These calculations have been pretty rough, much like those I carried out to work out the price of beer in Skyrim. They have been ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, but that isn’t to say they can’t have an illustrative impact. The late David Mackay wrote the excellent book ‘Sustainability without the Hot Air’ with masterful use of them and showed the extent of the UK’s energy dilemma, so if you would like an example of them done right check there!
That said, I have tried to include links to each assumption I have made one way or another and tried to be transparent about the assumptions so if anyone would like to try to get a more accurate number be my guest! Also worth noting before we finish is the initial choice of data sets. Using the estimate I did of around 20 million gamers may have lead to an underestimation, similarly, I have carried through the assumption that got rid of 6-15-year-olds who, though young, still produce carbon emissions. However, overall as we can see in the percentage of emissions that come from gaming, the number is tiny, and I don’t expect even a doubling of the number of gamers to have a significant impact on this. In fact, the only way a significant impact would be made is if we moved to using purely coal for electricity generation and everyone gamed on PC’s with extremely poor efficiency – and even then!
I guess the point is: game away. I mean whilst your gaming you (hopefully) aren’t driving or having children which will cause an average of around 58.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. I guess you could say in that way gaming has been saving the environment for years. For years it was seen as a pretty powerful contraceptive via stereotypes of being a ‘nerd’ so I wonder just how many children that has stopped from existing. I can’t tell if that is a grim thought or one that might save the planet.