Get ready for LOTS of downloads
The days when game consoles were ready for action as soon as they were plugged in are long gone, I’m afraid. Whether you opted for an Xbox, PlayStation or Switch, your machine will need time to download the latest firmware updates before you can play. anything. Depending on your broadband connection, this can take between one and eight hours, so if you’re a parent, you might want to think about how you’re going to keep everyone entertained until it’s done. If it’s not already nicely wrapped, it might even be worth sneakily unboxing the console and doing that prep work before Christmas morning. If you have a spare ethernet cable (or if you can cut one off on your PC for a day), consider setting up your console with a wired connection to your router rather than Wi-Fi – this usually gives you a connection faster and more reliable.
Also, not only will the console need to be updated, but it’s likely that any games you’ve purchased will also need to download content. Pick the game everyone wants to play and do that one first. A few games will allow you to play offline content solo before the download is complete. You will thank the developers of these games in your prayers.
Finally, you may need to tweak your TV settings to get the most out of the console’s visuals. With a new Xbox or PlayStation, make sure you have high dynamic range (HDR) lighting support enabled and your display resolution set to at least 1080p. If you have a 4K display, your Xbox Series S/X or PS5 will support it.
Be involved from the start
If you’re a parent who doesn’t play games, you might be tempted to leave the kids alone, but if you can stick around and help them set up the console, do so. If your children are under 13, you must set yourself up as the key account holder and add them as minors. You can also set up parental controls that restrict their access to mature content. The brilliant Ask About Games website has a helpful guide to configure these commands on each console. It’s also worth remembering that games have official age ratings, just like movies. An 18-rated game may contain graphic depictions of sex, violence and/or drug use, so it’s worth a visit the Video Standards Council website for more information on the meaning of these notes.
Another reason to get involved is that the console owner will need to enter their credit or debit card details to buy games online or pay for subscription services. And about that…
Consider a subscription
All current game consoles require a subscription if your family wants to play online with other people. PlayStation and Xbox additionally offer premium services – PlayStation Plus and Xbox GamePass – which provide access to hundreds of classic and new games for a cost of around £45 per year. The Nintendo Switch subscription is cheaper at £18 a year, but there’s no equivalent game streaming or download functionality.
Find free games on online stores
All three consoles have online stores where you can purchase and download games directly to your system, and some of these games are “free”. For example, you can download online multiplayer titles like Fortnite, Apex Legends, and Call of Duty: Warzone for free, but you’ll need an online membership to play them. The switch has a bunch of its own free games which do not depend so much on the shooting.
Each of the online game stores also has regular sales, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them over the next few weeks. If you don’t find it too intrusive, you can sign up to receive email notifications about discounts and offers.
Buy a cheap second controller
Unless you managed to get a bundle deal, new consoles come with just one controller, which can cause issues over the Christmas holidays. Definitely worth buying a second cheaper joypad. The widely available PowerA and Nacon models are fine for casual two-player gaming, but my favorites are 8BitDo’s Xbox and Switch controllers – great, durable joypads at a decent price.
A lot of multiplayer games are happening online these days, but at least for Christmas it’s really nice to discover and play new games with the family. Consider keeping the console in the living room for a week before it migrates into someone’s bedroom. That way everyone understands the console and knows what’s playing.
But in addition to the possibility of monitoring your children’s games, it is also fun Play together. I compiled a list of great family games for the Guide newsletter – most of them are available on game consoles and some are cooperative, so you can work together. The old stereotype that game consoles are for isolated teenagers locked in their bedrooms is really outdated and dismisses much of what goes on in game design. So drop all those preconceptions and play around a bit.