One of the more confusing and even controversial aspects to Xbox One is its ability to let users share their games with others, on the same console and between consoles. But how does this work? And how does this feature impact a family with multiple users and even multiple consoles?

Note: This article refers to electronically purchased games, not disc-based games unless otherwise noted.

One Xbox One, multiple users

The most common game sharing scenario is a single Xbox One console with multiple users. In this situation, any user can purchase a game electronically through the console, download and install it to the console, and any other user can sign in and play that game, earning achievements, participating in leaderboards, and so on. This works much as you’d expect, and if you think about how an Xbox 360 would work with multiple users and a single copy of a disc-based game, you can see that it’s consistent.

To be fair, Microsoft could very easily have tied an electronic game purchase to a single Microsoft account (aka Xbox Live Gamertag) and then required you to pay for a second copy of the game (perhaps at a reduced price) for an additional user. I suspect the uproar would have been deafening but it’s worth considering.

I assume disc-based games work with the Xbox One in much the same way but have not yet tested this. I will (unhappily). But with a single console, you should be able to share games in the same way regardless of the media type.

Actually, before moving on to the multi-console household, let’s discuss one more thing, and it’s actually pretty magical. If you’re sitting there playing a game, enjoying some entertainment experience, or doing whatever on the Xbox One and a second person walks in the room, one who has previously signed into the console with their own Microsoft account, that person will be signed in automatically and immediately. This feature is nicely demonstrated in this promotional video and it does work exactly as described.

>> Xbox One: His and Hers

Two users, two consoles

So a single console with multiple users is pretty straightforward. But with multiple consoles, things get a bit more hairy.

For starters, you need to deal with an Xbox One feature called “home Xbox,” where each user that is signed in to an Xbox One must have one console that is configured as their home Xbox. (If you only have one Xbox One, then that will be the home Xbox for all configured users.) When you configure a console as your home Xbox, any user that signs in to that Xbox One can play any of your downloaded games without having to first sign in as you.

Read that one again, because it’s important: When you configure a console as your home Xbox, any user that signs in to that Xbox One can play any of your downloaded games without having to first sign in as you.

That means that the converse is also true: On a non-home Xbox One, users will need to sign-in as you before they can play any of your downloaded games.

If this isn’t your home Xbox, others will need to sign in as you to play your games

So here’s the trick, assuming you have two Xbox Ones: Configure the Xbox One you don’t usually use as your home Xbox. The other player will be able to play your games automatically and you will be able to play their games automatically, each on your own console.

It’s that simple.

To make it work, user one signs in to console two with their Microsoft account/Gamertag credentials and configures that console as their home Xbox in Settings, My Home Xbox. User two, meanwhile, will sign in to console one with their Microsoft account/Gamertag and configure that console as their home Xbox.

The Your Home Xbox interface

Once this has happened, any user on either of the consoles can download and install the other user’s games. They appear at the end of the Games & Apps list with little cloud icons on their tiles.

My son’s games appearing at the end of my Games & Apps list

And when you run the other person’s game titles, they work just fine. All you have to do is configure that home Xbox feature correctly.

In real world terms, this is quite interesting. In my home, we have two Xbox One consoles: My console, in my home office, and my son’s, which is in the basement. My Xbox One is configured as my son’s home Xbox, and my son’s Xbox One is configured as my home Xbox. We both have access to each other’s downloadable game library and can play each other’s games, even at the same time, while signed in under our own Microsoft account/Gamertag credentials. We should never need to buy two copies of a (digital) game again, if I’m understanding this correctly.

That is pretty amazing. But it does raise questions about how this might work if we were to add another Xbox One to the mix. After all, we’re going to want one of these things in the living room too.