Multiplayer families deserve better game plans

there are several of them love digital games, like being able to buy and download games instantly from my couch. I don’t miss the chasing records or the irritating whirring as they spin in the drive. But sharing digital games is a waste. It’s confusing and unnecessarily complicated.

It’s not uncommon to see my whole family playing video games. The four of us are lucky enough to have a large Steam library, an Ultimate Game Pass subscription, and a stack of PlayStation games. But achieving collective gaming joy requires careful negotiation, because claiming a gaming console or service can exclude everyone. All major gaming platforms lack simple family game plans.

One at a time

Take my Steam library, for example. I’ve spent years building up a tremendous collection of PC games on Steam. I imagined the whole family could enjoy these titles, but it turns out you’re limited to one player at a time.

Although this is also a problem with physical discs, I don’t mind having to buy two copies if my wife and I want to play Rimworld the same time. That’s how discs work. But it seems ridiculous that we can’t play two different games from my digital library at the same time. I can circumvent this to some extent by starting a game on one machine, cutting the internet connection (provided it has an offline mode), then logging into Steam on another machine, but that’s is a flaw and technically against the guidelines.

To add insult to injury, Steam is teasing a Family Sharing feature. Theoretically, this allows you to share your game collection with family members with separate Steam accounts. So can you share a library and play simultaneously? According to its FAQ, no: “A shared library can only be played by one user at a time, including the owner and even if they want to play different games.” How can that make sense?

Confusion of consoles

It’s not just Steam and PC games. Console gaming subscription services are even more confusing. Good luck if you’re a non-gambling parent. Trying to figure out what you actually need to get your kids to enjoy gaming in a multi-console household seems impossible.

I managed to buy a PS5, freeing up our PS4 for what we hoped would be simultaneous gaming. My PS Plus subscription creates separate profiles for each family member, but we’ve found that playing on one console bumps the person onto the other. Turns out you can play a PS5 game on PS5 and a PS4 game on PS4 at the same time, but not a PS4 game on both. Naturally, there is a workaround: you need to set both consoles as primary, install the games you want, then create and sign in to a second PlayStation Network account on your PS4. There’s no way to share like this with two PS4s or two PS5s, though.

The Ultimate Game Pass for Xbox and PC is a phenomenal deal, and we have no problem playing on Xbox and PC at the same time, but Microsoft isn’t making it easy either. I appreciate being able to play on different machines, even when playing the same game co-op, but you have to jump through hoops, designate your “Home” console, and set up Family Sharing. And there are still insurmountable limitations for EA Play titles or xCloud games.

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