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My 10 year old loves Team Fortress 2 but spend too much time playing it.

I looked for whether Steam has a parental control system allowing me to say "max X hours over the last 14 days", but could not find any. The OS is Windows 7 Pro.

How can I approach this?

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I don't think this question is just about TF2 maybe you should generalize it some to all steam games. –  Joe the Person Jun 24 '12 at 21:10
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I have a feeling that you'll be looking for a third party solution. Also realize that many of these parental controls can easily be circumvented. Software is no replacement for good parenting, but tools can definitely help. –  MBraedley Jun 24 '12 at 21:19
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@MBraedley "good parenting" is harder than it sounds. You are 27 - have you ever had a game you played all you could, for as long as you could? –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 24 '12 at 21:36
    
You might be able to set up your modem to block steam after x hours. You should at least be able to block it so he can only go on at a set time each day for like 2 hours –  Gareth Jones Jun 24 '12 at 21:37
    
Block ports 27000-27050 at your router, maybe. Doesn't help with "After X hours" though. –  Steve V. Jun 24 '12 at 21:51

4 Answers 4

Well, I have been struggling with the same problem over past years. So, I created my own parental control app - PC Screen Watcher. It's free.

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This is hardly an easy answer for most parents, but I looked at your profile and noticed you're a software developer, so here goes:

General idea: Use AutoHotkey to make a script to accomplish this. Use the window finding functionality to know whether TF2 is running.

More details: I'd define a "play session" as a (start time, play duration) pair. Every minute (infinite loop with a wait), check if a window containing "Team Fortress" is alive. If so, start a new play session, or increment the play duration on your existing one. If not, end any existing play session, push it on an array of them. Check the tail of the array, see if current time minus start time is greater than your watch period (e.g. 14 days). If so, drop it from the array. Add up all the durations of play sessions in the array, including a currently running session if it exists. If it's greater than your limit (e.g. 20 hours), use WinClose on TF2, and optionally put up a dialog box that says "I'm watching you, son," or whatever.

Put the script in the startup folder, and use the "no tray icon" option. If he's really clever enough to find the script and kill it in running processes, you may need to adjust permissions to disallow that.

It should be a 30-minute job to write and test the script, or an hour and a half if you haven't used AutoHotkey before.

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Thank you for your suggestion. This will only work on a single computer, which is why I would prefer a server-side solution. –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jun 28 '12 at 21:58
    
Hmm, it goes a little deeper into Windows APIs, but you can probably use Autohotkey to dig the "Hours played" out of Steam's library, or have a script grab it from the Steam Community page for the account. In order to actually stop the process you'd still need a script running on each computer, but the time played would be shared. Of course, if you're going that far and all the PCs in question are on a LAN, you may as well just save the time to a file on a network location. Either way, that gets more complicated, and if you're not on a single LAN, native Steam controls are the only option. –  gkimsey Jun 28 '12 at 23:30

Steam has, at this point in time, no parental controls available natively. You do, however, have a few options.

Windows 7 has a set of limited parental controls. The two relevant ones are time limit, and game ratings limiting. You can get to these by clicking Start > Control Panel > Parental Controls. These are per user, so if they are using your account to login, this won't work.

Time Limiting

Windows 7 Parental Controls - Time Limit controls

This control lets you choose what hours in the day your child's account can use the computer. Any time outside these times, your child will not be able to use their account on that machine.

For you, this could be used to limit the hours in a day that your son/daughter could play, but it wouldn't allow for the 'X hours per week' type of control. It would also mean for things like homework or other related activities, they wouldn't be able to use the computer. You could of course bypass this with using a separate account and the second technique they support.

Game Rating Limiting

Windows 7 Parental Controls - Game Ratings

This allows you to control what type of games you want your child to be able to play. It supports multiple different Ratings Boards rating system (mine is ESRB, as I live in the US, though they support many more) and it allows you to control even down to what type of content should not be allowed (Blood, Nudity, Violence, etc). With this you can limit what types of games can be played.

Coupled with the previous method, this could be used if your son/daughter were to have two accounts. The first would be one where the could play video games, but could only do so for certain times of the day. The second cannot play video games (via this blocking method) and can be used to surf the internet, do homework, etc. It isn't the cleanest solution, but it is built right into the system you already have.

Alternatives

The alternative to the above is to get third party software. I have no experience with any of these pieces of software, but two that came up in a Microsoft help discussion on this topic are:

  • NetNanny supports enforcing allowing only certain windows of time for software to run, and on an allowance system where they get so much time per X (day is all that is listed, but likely week and month are available as well)
  • Cyber Patrol has the same support as above, where it allows time windows or an allowance per chunk of time.
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It is possible to use a router to block ports within certain time ranges. The open source router software DDWRT allows you to create a policy that blocks Team Fortress 2.

enter image description here

As you can see you can select a weekday and a specific time range in which the "service" cannot be used. This way you can still use the internet, but your son cannot play TF2.

The benefit of this approach is that routers usually are quite secure once you setup a good password.

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Secure unless you have a long, thin object ;) –  kotekzot Jun 25 '12 at 3:29
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The good part about resets is that the data is gone. The internet will not work and it is easy to verify if someone tinkered with the router as the password will have changed. –  ayckoster Jun 25 '12 at 8:23
    
..Why would the Internet not work after a reset? All ISPs use DHCP to assign new IP addresses automatically. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jun 6 '13 at 19:24
    
Some ISPs, notably DSL, require your modem/router to login with PPPOE before you get an IP. –  Kexlox Jun 6 '13 at 23:08

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