Microsoft lets parents stop the game clock
New Xbox 360 family functions will give parents more control.
By Mike Smith
Concerned about your child's gaming habits? Your life is about to be made easier -- at least, if your family owns an Xbox 360. Microsoft, the console's manufacturer, plans to include a "Family Timer" in the 360's Fall System Update, due to roll out to all Internet-connected consoles on December 4.
The Family Timer, a feature that's unique to the Xbox 360, allows parents to set a maximum amount of daily or weekly time that their kids can use the console. The unfortunate youth will receive a series of warnings as their time expires before being kicked out when the countdown reaches zero. Parents can override the timer if they feel their offspring deserves extra gaming privileges, or disable it altogether if they fancy a little play once the kids are in bed.
Downloading the update will be automatic if your Xbox is connected to a broadband network, and the update process should take less than a minute, Microsoft's Group Project Manager Adam Greenberg told Yahoo!. Once downloaded, parents can find the Family Timer settings by going to the "System" blade of their console's main menu. The timer can be set in 15-minute increments, and you can always ask the kids for help -- although you may not want to let them know what you're planning to do.
The Fall System Update also includes a host of new features intended to improve the console's online abilities and media playing functions. Subscribers to Microsoft's Xbox Live service will be able to browse each other's friends lists, in an attempt to bring some of the social networking functions of sites like Myspace to the Xbox network. The console will be able to play videos in a wider range of formats, including the popular Xvid and Divx codecs. And in a move that's sure to please fans of Microsoft's original Xbox, gamers will now be able to download a handful of complete Xbox games, including the original Halo, Crimson Skies, and critical darling Psychonauts, each for $15.
Greenburg also addressed some shortcomings of the Xbox Live service that the Fall Update won't fix. Currently, subscribers can add a maximum of 50 fellow gamers to their Friends list, allowing them to view each other's online status and other information, and that's not enough for many extroverted Xbox enthusiasts. "Increasing it is not as simple as just flicking a switch," he told us, but work is continuing to allow maxed-out gamers to add more contacts.
Microsoft's update comes amid record sales for the Xbox 360. "A lot of retailers stocked out last week," Greenberg told us: more than 310,000 units made their way home with shoppers over the Black Friday period, and Microsoft-exclusive hits like Mass Effect and Halo 3 are also riding high in the sales charts. The Xbox 360 faces strong competition from Sony's PlayStation 3, which posted a 245% increase over last year's Black Friday sales, and Nintendo's Wii, which continues to be hard to find in many regions over a year after its launch.
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