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PS4 and Xbox One parental controls aren't quite as forward thinking as they could be

The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One clearly represent the future of living room gaming, but the parental controls both consoles offer aren't quite as forward thinking.

Both consoles have revamped how parents can limit the sorts of entertainment experiences they can experience with differing results.

The PlayStation 4's biggest parenting downfall is that consoles with multiple users ( like a family with children), a parent has to create sub accounts for their children. The sub accounts, and all of the content purchased with them, can never be converted into a "master account." Essentially, your children will never be able to grow up on the PS4, not without ditching all of the online content they purchased and starting over.

That aside, the PS4's parental controls are a bit confused. They're all based on a level system. A parent can set up restrictions for games, apps and movie watching, but have to do so using a obtuse rating system that isn't clearly explained. The console uses 8 levels for DVD movie restrictions. It uses an age setting for Blu-ray movie restrictions and 11 levels available for games and apps. Five of those game and app levels line up nicely with the five ESRB ratings which run from Early Childhood (level 2 on the PS4) to Mature (level 9 on the PS4). Those other six levels? There doesn't seem to be any explanation online or on the console about what they do. Parents can go in and view what level a piece of software is by manually viewing it's information, but there's now broad definition, making the process a bit trial and error.

The PS4 does include a number of other options that are a lot easier to understand, though. You can, for instance, disable the internet browser and the ability to log into the console without an account. You can also disable chat, disallow user-generated content, restrict content in the online store and set spending limits.

Ultimately, the PS4's parental controls feels very slapped together and not at all intuitive.

The Xbox One's system, by contrast, has a much more approachable design, but it too has issues. My biggest complaint is what neither the Xbox One nor the PS4 includes: a parental timer or curfews.

This missing feature is more noticeable on the Xbox One because the Xbox 360 has a parental timer and Windows (which uses the same sign-in as Xbox Live) includes a curfew system.

As the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One continue to broaden their reach, both through gaming and other forms of entertainment, it's great to see two monolithic companies thinking about the tools parents can use to help them be better parents.

I pushed Microsoft on this seemingly odd decision to take a step-backwards on their parental controls. Here's what they had to say:

"When you look back at the last eight years, how people consume media and information has changed radically, and you can see that the experiences possible on Xbox 360 have evolved along with those changes. We are continuing that evolution with the launch of Xbox One, but we are also continuing our commitment to give parents tools and resources to make choices about their families' entertainment.

"As we built Xbox One, we also designed our parental controls from the ground up. This gave us the opportunity to explore feedback we've received from parents over the years as we came up with our launch feature set. We'll continue to expand the toolset we offer parents in future updates."

In a nutshell? Not enough people were using the feature to warrant including it. But I think that's more a problem of education than it is of desired functionality.

Sure parents can step in and tell their child when enough gaming is enough, but anything that can remove a point of conflict, through automation, is a great piece of parenting technology.

Microsoft said they also continue to investigate the possibility of integrating parental settings across the Xbox and Windows systems. This would mean that a parent could more easily track usage and set limits for all PC and Xbox gaming from one place.

What Microsoft did right with the Xbox One is come up with an incredibly intuitive, universal system for setting up restrictions on all content streamed through the console.

A parent simply marks an account as a child's account and then they can choose what age-level they believe their child's content should be.

I have a 12-year-old son, but I set his limit to 13. The second I did that the system went through and did the work for me, figuring out that a 13-year-old's game restriction would be teen, but his video restriction would be PG-13.

The system also travels, so no matter whose Xbox One he signs into, those restrictions will be there.

If you have a child 8 or under, the system defaults to the setting for their age. You can change it manually, but I kind of like that it does this for those parents who perhaps don't take the time they should to figure out how consoles work.

As the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One continue to broaden their reach, both through gaming and other forms of entertainment, it's great to see two monolithic companies thinking about the tools parents can use to help them be better parents.

While PlayStation 4's controls seem muddled and confusing, I'm actually more disappointed by Microsoft's deliberate decision to take some of those tools away from parents, at least at launch.

The good news though?

Both systems will absolutely evolve. More than anything, this generation of consoles are about change so a fix could and should be coming.

Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding News Editor of Polygon.

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