Quotes from recent press releases:
The Xbox 360 Arcade or 'family' system may succeed in spite of its message, but I think that is quite unlikely because the message is missing a fundamental understanding of what a 'family' is.
...the Xbox 360 Arcade system features the industry leading family settings that allow parents to control what their kids are watching and playing
Nickelodeon delivers three top shows to Xbox LIVE, also available today, including programming for the Nick Jr. hit series "The Backyardigans."
...kids of all ages can download the entire first season of the educational and imaginative, play-to-learn, top-rated preschool series "Blue's Clues."
Also being introduced today are new kid-friendly game titles, "SHREK-N-ROLL" and "SpongeBob SquarePants: Underpants Slam," based on two of the most popular family icons in animation.
The definition of family is: parents and their children, considered as a group [ref: Dictionary.com].
However, the press releases are using the word 'kids' and 'family' as interchangeable. The message is that Sponge Bob is 'family content' and that a 'family' console is one where parents play one thing and kids play something else (and that separation is enforced by 'family settings').
Kids are a part of family and parents are a part of family, but for it to be a family you have to consider them together. Adding kid content to a console does not make it a family console. For it to be a family console, you need to have both kids and parents playing together. (and I'll be real honest with you, I'm not playing Shrek or Sponge Bob)
Consider Wii Sports. It is succeeding not because it is content for only kids or only adults, but because it is content that both kids and adults can play together. It is a family game.
When you think of a 'family' board game, you don't picture kids playing Candyland in the same room where adults are playing 'D&D.' Family is playing together, not having controls to keep the kids from playing what the adults are playing. The fact that you need controls to keep the two separate isn't family friendly, it is an affront to every mother who is involved in purchasing a game system, and if you are looking for a true family system, mom has to be involved in buying it.
Family Controls are something that the core male gamer looks for to keep his kids from playing the 'M' rated games that he is playing. The mother doesn't want the 'M' rated games in the house irregardless of who is playing them. The gamers who are proponents of the idea that blood, violence and sexual content is mature [definition: fully developed in body or mind, as a person], are only further pushing video games into the realm of the juvenile.
Focusing on parental controls and Shrek places the console squarely in the 'OK for my kids' mindset, not in the 'family' mindset.
The misconception that family content is kid content I believe will sink the current Microsoft 'family' campaign. One of the reasons that Pixar movies do well is because they aren't for kids, they really are family content. Adults want to go see them.
In order to create a family platform you need to create something that is enjoyed by both kids and adults together. It is a far from trivial task that Nintendo accomplished with the Wii by focusing on the family and what keeps family members from playing together. The console and controller were designed to make it feel familiar and simple. Nintendo passed on more hard-core designs along the way and have been called crazy by more than a few. Though many will try to take a swipe to get at some of the audience being created by the Wii, any thoughts of it being easy to steal the audience by simply calling something 'family' need to take a better look at the families buying the Wii and the reasons they are buying it.
Kids are a great part of family, and indeed, to meet the definition of family, you need kids. However, forgetting to include the adults while going after the kids doesn't give you any more of a family than you had when you were just going after the adults.