Why Xbox Child Accounts Don't Have Cross-play

Image: Alex Walker (Kotaku)

A little while ago, a reader asked me a question. They were trying to play Fortnite with their child, who was playing on Xbox. But they kept running into a weird issue: they couldn't play across systems. And as it turns out, it's actually a common problem.

The problem lies with child accounts on Xbox One, which don't have cross-play enabled. A standard account, or parent account, on Microsoft's platform can enjoy cross-play with the Switch, PC, mobiles or whatever happens to be enabled for that particular game.

But child accounts can't, as many Xbox-owning parents have undoubtedly discovered this year. I asked Microsoft's local team what the situation was, and they helpfully replied the importance of parental controls and "family safety".

"We value parental controls and have invested heavily to ensure that parents have access to a robust set of tools to manage content and community interactions on Xbox Live," a Microsoft spokesperson said over email.

Any Xbox Live-enabled game has access to those tools regardless of the device that a gamer is playing on. As cross network play and communication are coming to more and more titles between Xbox Live and other platforms, we’re evaluating ways we can evolve our parental controls to allow for play, communication and consistency across networks without compromising family safety.

It's an issue that's been ongoing for a good chunk of the year, and Fornite's popularity has only heightened focus on the issue. And while I can understand Microsoft's conservative stance, it's also not an unreasonable request for a parent to say: hey, why isn't this an option I can toggle? The point of child accounts is to give parents more control over the ecosystem in which their kid plays games.

Microsoft didn't note any timeframe as to when child accounts might have cross-play enabled. And over a month ago, in response to an irate user, a Microsoft representative recommended on Reddit that the parent plays on their primary Xbox account, while the child plays via PC:

So if you're looking for a fix, I wouldn't wait. Either decide whether you're comfortable creating another non-child account for your kid to control — and maybe being a little more hands-on to enforce time limits and such.


    I haven't tried crossplay with my son however I have his xbox set up as my tags home and I play logged in on mine. It's a great way to pay for one game but allow us to play together. The child account makes it easy to block his access if he ever beats me as well......

    Microsoft hides behind the "We value parental controls and have invested heavily to ensure that parents have access to a robust set of tools" line.

    But closer to the truth is that they have no idea what they are doing, and tried to save cash by shoehorning all access control (whether PC, or tablet or whatever) into their existing xbox live account system.

    The result is a mess.

    I work as a software engineer and while I might not be smart, I am also not stupid on tech issues. But i've spent literally hours and hours on online chat with microsoft trying to do simple stuff like set up a minecraft realm on one pc with my child being able to access it from another pc.

    In fact most recently, after a 1 hour convo, they couldn't resolve my issue. Minecraft realms are bizarre. They make it near impossible for the (predominantly child-aged) population to access these microsoft-owned servers, while at the same time the 3rd party bedrock edition servers lack essential features (like any mobs at all).

    Microsofts "parental controls" are so crude and blanket-applied and terrible that it is simply not worth a parent's time.

    My advice to parents is to choose one of:
    1) dont let your kids play online games, or
    2) set them up with a dummy web email account and dummy xbox account that is an adult account and not a child account, and let them play without parental controls. Try and handle their access to content using trust, rather than relying on MS's broken and hellish system. It is simply not worth the hassle.

      It took me so much googling and guessing which settings I had to enable so that the 'child accounts' I had created for Minecraft could actually connect to a Realm.
      I also had to create email addresses for both of the child accounts which is just stupid.

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