I am ashamed to admit that I don’t blog often enough here despite being part of the weekly Digital Lifestyle Show that Ian has been recording for years. This is a post that I have meant to write ever since purchasing a second Xbox One for the kids to use a couple of Christmas’ ago. Thankfully James Duncan (Twitter: @jfduncan) contacted me to ask how this works so here I am writing this long overdue blog post.
The ability to share digitally purchased games across two Xbox One consoles is a remnant of the original concept that the Xbox team announced at E3 in 2013 which would have required the Xbox One to always be connected to the Internet so that it could “dial home” to verify digital entitlement to games. This would have allowed physical discs to be purchased and played after a one-time insertion of the disc to allow the content to be copied. There was also talk that these games could be “shared” with possibly up to 10 “family” members (I use quotes as you didn’t need to be related to them). The downside is that the disc couldn’t be resold or traded-in as it would be tied to your Xbox One console through some Digital Rights Management. The hope was that game studios would choose to let you re-sell the game, and transfer the digital rights, but since studios dislike the 2nd hand game market (since it is a lost sale with the value going straight to the re-seller) the general consensus was that they wouldn’t opt-in to this.
After a massive backlash from the Xbox community, with many die hard fans defecting to PlayStation, Microsoft had to remove the “always connected” features from the Xbox One prior to launch but thankfully a limited version of this game sharing feature remains and is something that we take advantage of. So enough of the history lesson let’s look at how you can take advantage of this.
You will need to have purchased the games via the Microsoft Store as digital downloads for this to work, disc based titles do not support game sharing as you need the physical disc inserted into the drive, so for us with a slow internet connection the downside is the 2-3 days it can take to fully download a modern AAA title. Any previous purchases will work just so long as they are digital copies.
When you setup your first Xbox One this will have been designated as your “home” console and this means that anyone can play games you have purchased, along with all durable DLC (so single use items like “coins” only belong to the account that purchased them), even if your Microsoft Account (MSA) isn’t signed in. This also applies to subscriptions like Xbox Gold and EA Access so you only need to buy these once too. I should add that this might also apply to the new Game Pass but I don’t have a subscription to test this with so please let me know in the comments if that works too.
The clue here is that your “home” console allows all your digital purchases and subscriptions (Game Pass disclaimer applies) even when you are not signed in. What you can also do, and this is the key to how this works, is sign into another Xbox One console (I’ll refer to this as the “away” console) and use all your digital purchases and subscriptions even if someone else is using them on your “home” console. So you can go around to a friends house and play your games, which would need to be downloaded of course, and they can switch to their profile and play them too just so long as you remain “signed in”. It’s important to note that if someone signs in as you on the “home” console that you will be signed out and the game will stop working on the “away” console.
So how to make it so that games and subscriptions always work on the 2nd console? The trick is to designate this 2nd console as your “home” console and from now on you will only be playing on the 1st console you purchased which is now the “away” console. In our setup the Xbox One in our living room is my “away” console which is the one I play on. This “away” console is set to sign me in automatically every time it turns on. The kids use the “home” console because that allows them to play all of the games I own and take advantage of my subscriptions without me being signed in. They sometimes use one console each but because I’m signed in on the “away” console the digital licences can be used concurrently on both consoles. It does mean that I have to make all the purchases which does sometimes cause issues when games come with single use bonus items but on the plus side any Season Pass purchases work across both consoles.
Sounds good doesn’t it? What if I now told you the “away” console doesn’t have to be connected to the same Internet connection? This means that if you only own one console but know someone that also owns an Xbox One then you can designate their console as your “home” console and they designate your console as their “home” console. Now when either of you purchase a digital copy of a game you can “share” it with just a single purchase and remember this includes Xbox Live Gold and EA Access content (possibly Game Pass content too). Since you are both on your own “away” console you can be playing the games at the same time and so long as you stay signed into that “away” console other users can sign in and play them too.
There has to be a catch right? Well yes there is but it’s insignificant in my opinion. The consoles will need to be connected to the internet so that it can validate the digital entitlement and prevent you designating multiple consoles as “home”. Please also note that you can only change the “home” console 5 times in a 12 month period.
The instructions for setting the “home” console are here: How to designate an Xbox One console as your home Xbox
You’ll notice that the information on that page states “You can share purchased games and Gold with other users only on your home Xbox” but that refers to when you are signed out which is why you are signing into the “away” console instead. So contrary to their advice you are designating the console you use least (or perhaps hardly ever) as your “home” console.
While writing this blog post I’ve noticed that much of the information on the Xbox support pages indicate that this doesn’t work as I’ve described but it’s how we use our two consoles and haven’t had any issues yet. Let me know if you run into any problems but this works great for us with just a single purchase of each game and subscription.