GameCycle: creating a circular economy within gaming

Circular Online’s Pete Dennis speaks to Martyn Sadler, the founder of GameCycle, a digital marketplace dedicated to gaming that aims to make gaming more affordable while reducing electronic waste caused by gaming.

The UN regards e-waste as the fastest growing domestic and commercial waste stream in the world.

Europe generated 12Mt of e-waste – 16.2kg per capita – in 2020, according to The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020. From circuits created using mined metals and plastic casings to the energy required to power game consoles, the booming gaming industry is an often unnoticed contributor to the mounting issue of e-waste.

One person who has noticed is Martyn Sadler, founder of GameCycle – an innovative online platform that aims to create a circular economy within the gaming industry.

What is GameCycle?

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Sadler describes GameCycle as a digital marketplace, dedicated to gaming. He said: “Our members form a close community, where they use our virtual point-based system to swap games and gaming items (such as games, consoles, and accessories) back and forth with one another. GameCycle aims to address a number of challenges faced by gamers and their families.”

One of the biggest challenges gamers face is cost. Rising prices mean it’s harder than ever for parents to afford to buy games and consoles for their kids. And even if you can afford the cost, console shortages, such as the recent shortfall of Playstation 5s, mean getting your hands on the games you want to play is just as difficult. Many of us also struggle to find reliable and affordable sources of classic games.

Games represented approximately 50% of all entertainment sales in the UK in 2020. There is a reason gaming is so popular: video games can improve problem-solving abilities and hand-to-eye coordination, as well as have positive effects on mental health. 

However, the real reason why more people are buying games and why the gaming community is continuing to grow is simple: video games are fun.

Growing up, the first consoles I remember playing were the first generation Xbox, GameCube, and Playstation 2 (PS2). Many of my afternoons after school were spent lost in the worlds of Metal Gear Solid 3 and the Batman Arkham series.

I discovered new games by scouring the shelves of Blockbuster – which obviously isn’t an option for the kids in this generation – and Game. Aside from those rare outings, I had no idea what games were available.

Gamers today can go online to not only discover what the latest titles are but explore the catalogue of classic games available across different platforms. However, despite games being easier to buy, the prices of consoles and games are inflating, making the entry point for gamers more and more expensive.

The entry point to gaming can be very high, GameCycle looks to reduce or remove this barrier to gaming while helping to tackle the issue of e-waste

This struggle was the original inspiration behind GameCycle. Only later did Sadler realise the level of waste that gaming produces.

How GameCycle is tackling gaming waste

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“When I first came up with the idea behind GameCycle, it was driven by my frustrations as a father of young gamers that continuously craved something new to play,” Sadler said. “The challenge wasn’t that there wasn’t anything, more that the cost of another new game left a considerable hole in the pocket.

“One vivid memory I had was when trading in a title at a popular high street retailer, only to find out that by the time any commission had been taken I couldn’t afford a comparative game. At the time I honestly thought, this isn’t fair, there must be another way.

“Reminiscing of when I was a kid, my school friends and I would swap games back and forth and both be happy, without it costing a penny! So the initial mission was to reduce the entry point to gaming, after all, nobody should have to go without, especially when the game of your dreams is just sitting gathering dust on someone else’s shelf because they’re done with it!

“The more I grew to understand the community and the industry the more it became clear there was another part to the story. We see it all the time on our social feeds, people are just chucking old gaming goodies in the bin as they have become cluttered and unwanted.”

In March 2022 alone, more than 112,000 game consoles, nearly 2.8 million games and over 700,000 gaming accessories were sold in the UK. At some point, this material will need to be dealt with at the post-consumer stage.

“Charity shops are littered with 15-year-old game consoles and AAA games from every generation all across the UK (AAA is an informal classification for games produced and distributed by medium to large-sized publishers, which typically have higher development and marketing budgets than other titles).

“It became clear there was a problem here that needed a light shining on it and a platform that could help people easily make the right choice when it comes to disposing of these kinds of items.”

The fight against electronic waste

Electronic waste

Sadler says himself that gaming isn’t the main driver of e-waste, so I asked if he felt the GameCycle model could be replicated across other industries.

“Yes, I definitely do think there is scope to extend the model to other e-waste areas, however, one reason GameCycle has been so well received is down to the passion of the gaming community as a whole, it’s a huge global industry that has a massive committed following.

If we were called KettleCycle I think we’d need much more marketing budget to get the message across!

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“As you can imagine there are collectors out there desperate to fill a slot in their PS2 collection so that unwanted copy of Fifa 13 you thought nobody would ever want is actually quite sought after under the right conditions!”

“The community has without a doubt been fundamental in the product we have created, their feedback being taken on board at each new release! From day one we have been keen to engage with any potential audience and I think this has really helped us build up our community.

“The gaming community are a savvy bunch, they know what they want and they will shop around to find it, but it seems they are not always focused on the environmental impact they or others in their communities are having.

“People are starting to want to make better choices, they want to reduce not only their environmental impact but other people’s too. This shift in mindset will drive them toward companies that put sustainability at the heart of their operations.

GameCycle has tapped into a ready-made, already receptive community. Being able to trade games is a big sell for gamers. They can save money and time while getting their hands on the games they want without traipsing back and forth from store to store.

Making users aware that GameCycle isn’t only a digital marketplace but using a circular model can appeal to a more environmentally conscious consumer.

So, how does GameCycle fit into the fight to tackle electronic waste?

“Every time an item on the GameCycle platform is ‘cycled’ from one member to another it’s given a new lease of life, whether it’s a headset, controller or a game console each transaction keeps that item in use and out of the landfill.

“The GameCycle platform rewards its members for passing on their old gaming items and does this in a simple and intuitive way, reducing friction and ultimately making it an easy choice.”

Gaming produces many forms of waste, from game discs and packaging to physical consoles and accessories such as controllers. One way this waste will be reduced over the next few years is the digitisation of video games.

Streaming is often thought of as how people watch movies and tv shows, as well as listen to music but in the future, streaming and downloading video games may become the most popular way to play games.

Removing the need for discs and packaging will cut down the amount of waste the gaming industry produces. However, Sadler thinks there are some technical challenges to overcome before we see a wholesale shift within the gaming industry, the release of the PS5 and Xbox Series X go some way toward demonstrating this as both consoles still retain options for physical media.

Sadler does agree the digitisation of video games is positive when trying to reduce e-waste and move towards a circular economy.

“The reduction in manufacturing and transporting of physical media will have a huge and welcome impact on the industry, we’ve seen it happen with movies or music where physical media has been replaced by a digitised version and I strongly believe the gaming industry will eventually be no different.”

“Media moving from physical to digital won’t necessarily reduce the gaming industry’s impact on the e-waste crisis, with the exception of the laserdisc drives that are needed to read most physical media, the devices required to play games wouldn’t go away or change much at all.

“This suggests that the e-waste problem, in the gaming industry at least, is one that will require companies such as GameCycle to continue to support gaming community members for the foreseeable future.”

How will GameCycle evolve in the future?

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As part of the mission to grow GameCycle, Sadler has launched a CrowdFunder campaign; however, raising as much money as possible isn’t the goal. Sadler says the main driver for running the campaign is to sample the appetite for GameCycle.

The funding target is purposefully low as flooding the company with investment at this time isn’t the goal.

“Any investment received through the campaign will be put into marketing and improvements in the stability of the technology. Our campaign runs throughout May 2022 and any investment offered will be greatly received and help immensely with our more strategic goals.”

“Looking out a little further than the Crowdfunder campaign, we have started to consider other elements we’ll need to put in place to appropriately scale. Initially, we’ll be looking to build out a team to wrap around the product; marketing, finance and technology are the three main pillars we’ll be seeking support with.

“Additionally we are keen to put an advisory board in place, subject matter experts from business, technology, environmental and the gaming industry will be invited to be involved in our journey.”

It’s these memories that fuel my dedication to GameCycle. If I can help one kid feel how I felt by removing the barriers to gaming then I’ll be a very happy man.

Creating a circular model for gaming

GameCycle’s digital marketplace has created a circular model where gamers can trade games and consoles. An advantage GameCycle has is that it addresses a problem an established community has by making gaming more affordable and accessible.

One of the biggest drivers of e-waste – phones – are becoming more and more accessible to recycle; 20% of all materials used in Apple products in 2021 were recycled. Would a digital marketplace where phones are traded back and forth be as popular?

Many people are similarly passionate about and interested in technology, such as computers and smartphones. Making trading tech easier through a digital marketplace like GameCycle may appeal to a wide range of environmentally-conscious consumers who also struggle to find and afford the items they want.

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