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Microsoft says its new developer tools can reduce Xbox’s climate impact



When it comes to reducing gaming’s aggregate impact on climate change, previous research has shown that the energy needed to power the game-playing hardware is responsible for the bulk of the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s especially true for console and PC games, which can draw hundreds of watts of power between the game hardware, display, and speakers.

To help limit the environmental impact of all this gameplay, Microsoft announced Wednesday the release of new tools for Xbox developers to measure and limit the amount of power drawn by their games.

Designing games to be more energy-efficient is not a new concept in the industry, of course. Mobile developers often must be conscious of how quickly a game will drain a limited smartphone battery. On the other end of the spectrum, pushing a PC or console GPU too far could literally melt it.

But Microsoft says its first-of-its-kind platform-level tools are designed to “help understand and reduce the carbon footprint and energy consumption posed by the games that they develop.” And the company says that case studies show increasing efficiency doesn’t have to be expensive in time or money, and “can be entirely imperceptible to the gamer.”

“The toolkit helps developers to leverage precision engineering feedback to help identify and reduce energy consumption in scenarios when a player doesn’t need it, thus ensuring the player experience is not negatively impacted,” the company says.


An energy consumption toolbox

Microsoft Xbox Developer Sustainability Toolkit includes power monitor tools that provide “real-time energy consumption feedback down to the nearest millisecond.” That kind of granular data “can directly pinpoint energy inefficiencies that can be addressed,” the company says. On Xbox Series X dev kits, this information can even be shown directly on the hardware’s front panel for quick access.

Microsoft says it will also be providing certification reports that highlight platform-wide energy consumption averages for common tasks like static menus and loading screens. Developers can also use studio-wide dashboards to get a quick glance at how its games compare to the platform average for energy efficiency.

These tools have already shown results in a small pilot test with a handful of studios, Microsoft says. At Halo maker 343 Industries, for instance, testing found that the game’s pause screen still rendered a 4K image that was invisible to the player. Simply changing this unseen issue reduced the game’s energy usage by 15 percent “with no negative impact to the player experience,” Microsoft says (a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed this savings only applies to the pause screen energy usage).

At Ubisoft, meanwhile, developers are using the Sustainability Toolkit in the development of “player-facing Eco-Mode.” This will presumably let players customize their experience for maximum energy efficiency, much as current console games often let players choose whether to prioritize frame rate or graphical fidelity.

Microsoft says it will publish these and other industry efficiency tips and best practices through its Xbox Game Dev Docs system. And while the Developer Sustainability Toolkit is currently designed for Xbox specifically, the company is urging other developers to apply those lessons to their games “no matter what platform they’re on.”

The launch of these new developer tools comes just a few months after Microsoft rolled out an Xbox update designed to push new users into an energy-saving “Shutdown” mode when not in use. An Ars analysis from 2015 suggested that change could save an average US consumer over $13 in energy costs over a year.

Source: Ars Technica


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