Today, May 21st, Microsoft will announce their new game console. It goes by numerous names on the interweb, but I stick with Xbox NG for now. NG obviously stands for Next Gen.
Of course there's been a lot of speculation already about what it will be able to do and how it will be revolutionary and all, but there are some things missing in the current Xbox that I would like to see in the new one.
In this blog post I'm focusing on those features that I think are the competitive edge of the Xbox 360 over the PS3 and the Wii. Based on what I know, so I might be wrong here and there. And those features I'm singling out are related to me being a parent.
Just for context, I'm a dad of two sons, 6 and 8, and both love the Xbox. They love 'screens' in general and playing games in particular. Since my wife and I are of the opinion that not all games are suitable for kids their age, we've been very conscious about what games they play. This has been the case ever since the oldest turned 4, this is when we started allowing him play games. Nature helped us until then as the controller was too big for his hands, so he couldn't play even if he wanted.
One of the main feats of the Xbox over the competition is the notion of Microsoft that the Xbox will most likely be used in the living room where it will be accessible by all members of the family, including the (young) kids. This means that the Xbox has a set of very comprehensive controls accessible for parents if they want to do so. This ranges from limiting the amount of time the Xbox can be used (on daily or weekly basis) as well as limiting what games can be played. This is based on the age rating of the game. In addition, you can lock the online experience, meaning that you can close down those features of the Xbox that are related to the online functionality, like creating Xbox Live accounts. Related to accounts, you can also nominate an account to be a child account, this is related to the date of birth of the gamer as set in her Microsoft Live account. You're not 18 yet? You're a child and that means you can't just play the games you want... that is if your parents are like that. And both my wife and I are like that.
So what have we set up?
Well the boys can only play for 2 hours a day. We stick with the weekends only, which starts on Friday. And they can play those games that are rated 12 or below. That is, there might be games rated for an older audience that we think suitable for them as well, like Monday Night Combat, which is rated 16. After playing it myself, I added it to the list of games that don't need a code to be entered prior to playing it. Our sons know that if a game requires a code, daddy needs to play it first before they're allowed to play it.
I've also locked down with whom they can friend, meaning that when they're accepting a friend-request, either my wife or myself need to log into our own account and allow the request. The limitation is as far as that they are only allowed to play games online with friends. And they can only accept content from friends. Their profiles are only accessible to friends as well. Are we paranoid? I don't think so. My wife and I feel that kids their age are not fully appreciating the risks of the internet and online communities so some guidance of mom and dad is needed.
Now what would I like to see in the Xbox NG?
1) The single one thing I would like to see is the ability to differentiate between games and media. Currently the time limits are for using the Xbox, so when set to 2 hours as we have, I'm facing this limit even when listening to Xbox Music, watching a DVD, watching a movie on Xbox Video. And it is also imposed when using the Xbox as a Media Center Extender. I want to limit the Xbox' use to games only.
2) Have the parental controls be completely account based, again, especially for the time limits this is important. Like I stated, the limit is for using the Xbox, it doesn't discriminate between accounts. So when I do a workout in the morning playing Nike+ which takes an hour, the time available on the Xbox for the rest of the family (my sons) is only one hour for that day. Same goes for when only one of my sons is playing, he consumes the 'play time' for both of them.
I know you can extend the time once you run out, but that then means that everybody can play more on the Xbox.
Having this ability would also allow my wife and myself to award good (school) performance with Xbox time.
3) Be notified when an account is logged in and keep track of which games the account is playing. We have 3 Xbox's in our home, my sons accounts are stored in the Cloud, so they can play on any of the three consoles and if wanted, they can play at a friend's home with their own account. But I would like to be able to know that they're playing, when they're playing and what they're playing. An email notification would be nice to receive when they log in and an once they log out, an overview of the games they played.
4) Include age ratings to what you can buy on Xbox Marketplace. Currently you can buy anything on the marketplace once you have access and points or access to a credit card. I blocked purchases because of this. I would like to be able to give my sons some MS points that they can spend in the market place on content that is based on the age rating suitable for them. Or in case that I put a game on the list of games not needing the passcode, on content related to that game.
5) Well, see 4. That implies that limitations to game ratings shouldn't be limited to the Xbox but to the account in general. And the white list of games of a older age rating should also be with an account.
6) Add the option to never store an account's password unless a parent approves. This would allow my kids to download their profile on a friend's Xbox and play. But as soon as they log out, the account is no longer usable unless they log in again. In addition, it would be nice if the log in could be handled by the parent remotely. Send an email to the parent with a link, you open the link and the account is unlocked on a remote system. On our own consoles I would be setting it up that the password is stored.
7) Remove the passcode when logging in using Kinect. Okay, this is an odd one. I've set up a passcode for my own account as well as my wife's account after one of my son's friends logged in using my account and later on they ordered Rango and watched it, partially. Although it's a fun movie, this wasn't my idea of having friends over to play games. But now when I log into the Xbox using Kinect's abilty to recognize me, I'm still asked to put in my passcode (note Kinect was already positive that it's me). And using the Kinect to enter the passcode makes the code very obvious. My opinion is that when Kinect recognizes me, it should be good enough.
8) Add age rating limitations to movies played on the Xbox. When I put in a DVD into the console to watch it, it would be nice if the Xbox would go to an online service to retrieve the age rating and if set to something beyond the level of the limit defined on one of the signed in accounts a passcode is needed. This would prevent our kids from "by accident watching The Exorcist". Or at least make it harder for them to watch it.
9) Be able to share my Xbox Music pass with the rest of my family. I don't think it makes any sense to have a full-blown Music pass paid for to just allow my sons to listen to music through the Xbox. But if it would be just my account that has the pass, I need to log on and that means that my account becomes active and therefore accessible to the kids and they can do whatever they want... more or less. The Xbox NG should allow for a more explicit parent-child relationship that makes it easier to share between the services the parent is entitled to towards their kids without compromising the parental controls in place.
10) Actually I couldn't think of a 10th change I hope will be implemented when the Xbox NG is released.
So these are my 10, uhhh 9, things I would like to see with the new Xbox NG. Basically it's all about the way child accounts are managed. Less console centric, more on account level.
Tonight's the revelation of the new Xbox, then we know what we'll be calling the new console and how it fits in the rest of our eco system. I for one look forward to it.