Microsoft Corp. today launched the Xbox 360 Family Timer worldwide, available for download via Xbox Live in 26 countries. This is great news for parents because Microsoft research reveals that children’s media consumption and time spent playing video games are universal concerns for families.

A Microsoft survey conducted throughout Europe found that parents embrace the idea of support from the gaming industry, with 75 percent of them welcoming built-in technology or software to monitor the time their children spend playing video games. A similar Microsoft survey conducted in the United States last month found that 62 percent of parents say they would use a timer if it were available to help them manage their children’s interactive entertainment use. Both surveys were the product of the company’s ongoing commitment to responsible gaming and the start of year two of Microsoft’s “Safety is no game. Is your family set?” campaign.

In line with the research, Microsoft today has made available worldwide to Xbox Live users a new Family Timer feature that will enable parents for the first time to set the appropriate amount of gaming and entertainment time on the Xbox 360 console for their kids — on a daily or weekly basis. A list of countries with available Xbox Live service is here.

“As a leader in interactive entertainment, it has been our priority to innovate and improve our Family Settings technology to help parents worldwide manage their children’s video gaming and online experiences,” said Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of Global Marketing for the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft.

In addition, the European study found that content of games and the time spent playing video games are important issues to parents. Similarly, in the U.S., 66 percent of parents have rules about the amount of time their kids can spend playing video games and 86 percent have rules about the type of content their kids have access to.

The Xbox 360 Family Timer is an addition to the console’s existing set of industry-leading parental control features. Similar to the parental controls in the Windows Vista operating system, the new Xbox 360 Family Timer can restrict children’s activity time. Helpful notifications will appear to warn gamers that the session is nearing the end so they have sufficient time to save their game, and the feature will automatically turn off the console when the predetermined time limit has been exceeded.

Although the U.S. survey focused on media consumption and household rules while the European survey focused on habits and attitudes of families on gaming issues, both polls revealed similar results. In Europe and the U.S., video gaming is a family activity, with most parents in both regions saying that they play video games with family members (U.S., 54 percent; Europe, 51 percent). The U.S. public survey polled 800 parents who have a video game console in their home and found that 99 percent had at least some rules about media use. The public poll conducted in Europe surveyed 4,000 parents in the U.K., France, Germany and Italy and found that seven out of 10 parents (71 percent) expressed concern over the content of video games.