Video Games Shoot Up Energy Bills

  • Playing Sonic on a Wii. The Nintendo Wii uses less energy than Sony's Playstation 3 and the XBox 360. (Photo by Manish Prabhune)

People across the country are firing up one of their favorite gifts they got from the holidays – video games. Mark Brush reports on some surprising results about what home video games can do to your energy bill:


People across the country are firing up one of their favorite gifts they got from the holidays – video games. Mark Brush reports on some surprising results about what home video games can do to your energy bill:

Video games are a quick escape into an alternate reality… (snd up) fortunately with multiple lives.

(snd of gunfire)

There’s a war going on in this basement.

Taurus and his partner Walt are using their M-16s, grenades, and knives to fight off the enemy.


In real life – Taurus is Will Frey.

He’s a sophomore at Michigan State University.

And he’s been working really hard on his overall ranking:

“So I am currently seven hundred and eleven thousandth”

That sounds really bad.

But actually it’s really good.

He’s better than more than 5 million other people playing Call of Duty 4 on their Xbox consoles.

It’s estimated that forty percent of U-S Households have a video game.

And that number is growing.

The games are played for hours and hours – but they’re also left on – even if nobody’s playing them:

“A lot of sports games – you can’t save in the middle of a game – and the games are like usually a half an hour, so if you’re like twenty minutes and you have to leave, you don’t want to lose that twenty minutes kind of thing you know.”

Frey says he has friends that leave their games on all the time.

They never shut them off.

Some don’t want to lose their progress in a game, and some, he says, are just plain lazy.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says some game designers overlook the energy footprint of these things.

They added up the energy used by all the gamers in the country in a year’s time. And found it roughly equals the juice drawn by a big US city in one year.

The report’s authors compared the energy used by the three most popular gaming consoles.

And the big energy winner was the Nintendo Wii.

It uses about 8 times less energy than Sony’s Playstation 3 or Microsoft’s Xbox 360.

That’s because the Wii doesn’t have the same kind of high end graphics and sound as the Xbox and Playstation – those take a lot more power to run.

Nick Zigelbaum is an energy analyst with the NRDC.

He says the games should be designed better:

“What people don’t realize is that video game consoles, although they’re very similar to laptops and computers in terms of hardware, they don’t go to sleep or go into idle mode like a computer would.”

Zigelbaum says the power hungry XBOX and Playstation games do have an autoshutdown option.

That means the games will automatically turn off if nobody’s using them.

But the games are shipped with the option turned off.

You have to manually set it.

And not all games are equal.

For some games it’s easy to save your progress – for others…
you might lose your spot in that twenty four hour car race.

Zigelbaum says that’s where the industry needs to step in:

“That’s the issue is that it’s not really standardized, it’s not really uniform throughout the whole software industry. So it would be difficult to really implement a strong auto-shutdown feature.”

Zigelbaum says a strong auto-shutdown feature would be the biggest improvement game makers could make.

That would mean no matter what – your game would be saved when the device shuts down.

If the industry did that – homeowners could save more than 100 bucks a year on their energy bills.

A Microsoft spokesperson said they encourage their users to turn the games off when they’re done.

Zigelbaum and the folks at the NRDC are hoping Microsoft and Sony will go farther – and do a better job when designing their next gaming consoles.


Will Frey says his friends don’t really think about the energy they use.

How could you when you’ve got other things to worry about?

“Oh my gosh! That’s why the M-4 is the cheapest gun in the game. Next to LMGs.”


That stands for “Light Machine Guns.”

Maybe next year’s gaming consoles will shoot holes in the amount of energy they use up.

For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links