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Microsoft publishes Xbox Family Guide to educate parents ahead of Christmas

“It's important parents take an active role in managing their children's access to online content and gaming,” says director Harvey Eagle

Microsoft is ramping up its efforts to attract families and encouraging parents to not only buy their children an Xbox One for Christmas, but also set it up for them ahead of the big day.

The marketing campaign centres around the Xbox Family Guide, a pocket-sized leaflet that covers everything from the console's online capabilities to a brief explanation of Xbox Game Pass.

But, more importantly, the guide include sections on why it's important for parents to set up their offspring with a child's account (and how the family settings enable parents to control what this can access), how virtual currency and online spending works, and the importance of paying attention to PEGI age ratings.

"We hope to give parents peace of mind knowing their kids are enjoying positive and fun gaming experiences on Xbox"

More than 100,000 copies of the guide have been printed and will be distributed throughout December through key UK and Ireland retailers such as GAME, Smyths, Gamestop, WH Smith and John Lewis. Microsoft is working with retail to ensure they're offered to customers buying Xbox consoles - or even considering it - so they are aware of the parental controls available, content restrictions and purchase controls.

Parents will also be advised that it may be beneficial to set up the Xbox One ahead of Christmas Day, installing or downloading any purchased games and setting up both family and internet settings, in order to ensure children can -- at the risk of echoing Microsoft's marketing slogan -- 'jump in' immediately.

The Xbox Family Guide will also be available to download from the family section of the platform holder's website, where more details and 'how to' videos will also be on offer.

Harvey Eagle, Xbox

Harvey Eagle, Xbox director for UK & Ireland, tells GamesIndustry.biz that this family message will be a core pillar of Microsoft's marketing efforts this Christmas.

"We know speaking to families at this time of year is important so they're armed with the right information when considering purchasing a console," he says. "Along with the activity we're doing at retail and online, our new campaign includes a number of family-friendly titles to consider, and will feature across outdoor ads, on-demand and high impact digital and online video live now and continuing throughout December."

We attended a demonstration of the Xbox One's family settings, which Microsoft is communicating around four key pillars: screen time management, content filters, privacy controls and purchase limits.

For the first, parents are able to set screen time limits and schedules via a Microsoft website to control how much time their children spend playing on the Xbox. This can be done for different children's accounts, and the child can even request more screen time from the parent if they run out -- sending a quick email that parents can respond to, remotely allowing more time (if they so choose).

You would think a platform holder would want new customers to be engaged as much as possible, but Microsoft is very conscious on the need for balance when it comes to technology in children's lives.

"We see technology as an advantage for families today," says Eagle. "When used wisely, it is a positive force in the classroom, in personal growth, and in helping spend quality time together.

"However, it's important that children learn how to lead healthy digital lives. Microsoft is committed to empowering everyone to turn screen time into quality time by offering choice and control. We encourage parents to have an ongoing dialogue with their children about healthy technology habits and use settings that are appropriate for their family. We're committed to making gaming a positive and inclusive form of entertainment, and with the use of our family settings, gaming can be a rewarding experience for every member of the family."

100,000 of these guides have been printed and will be distributed to new Xbox customers throughout December

Content restrictions allow parents to (you guessed it) restrict the content their child sees, based on their age, which not only applies to the games they can access but even the titles advertised on the console's menu and store section. In fact, if no-one is signed into the Xbox One, the menus and store pages will only show family-friendly content by default. Meanwhile, the guide also alerts parents to the privacy and online safety settings, which restrict who children can engage with and how they do so (for example, voice chat for friends but messages only for others).

"We see technology as an advantage for families today... However, it's important that children learn how to lead healthy digital lives"

Finally, the platform holder details its purchase controls, which help parents set up a six-digit passkey that they must enter before children can buy anything through their Xbox One.

"By illustrating how these settings can be customised to fit each family's needs, we hope to give parents peace of mind knowing their kids are enjoying positive and fun gaming experiences on Xbox," says Eagle. "For many, the most important step is making sure that kids are using child accounts which parents have control over. There is guidance available on how to do this on our support site.

"We also encourage parents to play an active role in their children's online activities by doing three important things: using advanced parental control settings, talking with kids about their online activities and setting clear household online rules for their families. We recently updated Xbox.com to offer more information about family settings on Xbox and we also updated the Xbox Assist App on console to better guide Xbox owners through the various family settings when setting up the console."

The demonstration we saw is comprehensive, and involves much delving into the Xbox One's settings app - and even a visit to Microsoft's website to tweak those screen time schedules. While the menus were accessible and self-explanatory enough to those accustomed to using games consoles, is Eagle not concerned that the amount of set-up required might be a deterrent for parents?

"We've tried to make the process of setting up a child account and choosing appropriate family settings on Xbox as simple as possible," he says. "Family settings on Xbox are intended to provide confidence and peace of mind among parents, but it's important that parents take an active role in managing their children's access to online content and gaming."

He concludes: "Unlike other gaming platforms, Xbox family settings include tools for child accounts that restrict profile sharing and viewing, restrict interactions to just friends or family, as well as provide multi-platform solutions across console and PC. We also empower kids to have a voice in the process through our Ask a parent feature, which requires parental permission before kids can purchase content on the Microsoft and Xbox stores."