Home / Software & Gaming / The environmental impact of used game blocking is huge

The environmental impact of used game blocking is huge

If you're a PC gamer, chances are the majority of your games aren't installed from the disc anymore. Maybe you use Steam, maybe you use GoG, or MAME or play a standalone, downloadable game like League of Legends; whatever your choice though, there likely isn't a stack of game boxes on your shelf, unless they're for older titles. Not so if you're a console gamer. Current generation consoles still use discs aplenty and the next-gen will do the same for a while. The cheapest versions of the machines (which the majority will probably buy) won't come with enough storage to install more than a few games and perform other tasks, and not everyone's download speeds are fast enough for 10 GB+ downloads in a timely manner. This means discs will be here for a while longer, but with all the restrictions on used, are we heading for the biggest gaming landfill in history?

The story of the ATARI 2600 version of E.T., some would say the worst game ever made, being dumped in a pit in New Mexico and buried, is the stuff of legend. The Nerd is making a movie about it and there's a film crew looking to dig it up over the next six months, but it's only a couple of million cartridges at the worst. This next gen could see far more discs buried in the dirt.

The most obvious reason for this, will be that games will not have a resale value under the Xbox One (and depending on how publishers react, the PS4 too), especially the titles without much replay value, like the yearly sports games which frequently dominate used bins. So while gamers might keep them around for a while, eventually they're going in the bin. Which means it'll go in general waste, all the way to the landfill, along with a good chunk of the other 100 million used games sold each year in the US alone.

The most common logo in any future landfill site. For a variety of reasons. 

That figure is from 2009, so it's likely far bigger today as the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles have been bought up in their droves in the past couple of years as the price for them continues to fall. Of course starting out, a new console generation would have comparatively small pre-owned market, but it would grow exponentially as price drops came in and hardware revisions are released – but that won't happen with the next gen in anywhere near the same capacity.

But even those that keep the games, thinking they'll be prestigious, or rare because of the gradual move to digital downloads, could find their games useless after a while, because of the Xbox One's connectivity issues. When the next-gen is released and Microsoft switch off the servers, unless it decides to remove the authentication from the, at that time, “old” console, that again, makes hundreds of millions of discs unusable.

Of course chances are before that happens (we're talking over a decade in the future for a true Xbox One switch off) we'll all be on full digital distribution anyway, which again means a bunch of dead, useless discs. While this was always going to happen with one gaming generation or the other, the fact that it's happening with the one that is trying to kill off used games means the problem is massively compounded.

Granted, we did this before with the last storage generation change, but game discs hold more value than videos. Or at least they do for now. 

This is an environmental problem that the gaming industry has never faced before and one it should take steps to address. In the mean time, if you're an environmentally conscious gamer, have a look through a few disc recycling companies, a lot of them are free and only require you to pay the postage for sending the discs too them.

It's something that most people don't consider, because when their games are old, they trade them in somewhere, but you may not be able to do that much longer. Considering all the non-biodegradeable plastics, petroleum dyes and aluminium in each disc, a dedicated recycling scheme should be at least discussed by the big console makers.

KitGuru Says: Of course all these sorts of issues will be a thing of the past once digital downloads becomes the dominant console distribution path as well, but in the next few years, a lot of discs could be set to dumped in a landfill, or burned, releasing all their toxic innards. 

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