Game On: Apple's Game Center Impressions

Apple Game Center Icon

After being announced at Apple’s iOS 4.0 keynote back in April as a new feature to be included with the upgrade, Game Center has finally arrived.

During the keynote, Game Center was briefly described as a social gaming platform for your iOS device where you’d be able to connect with friends to play games and challenge them for the top spots on the leaderboards. It was expected that Game Center would be one of the features bundled with the rollover to iOS 4.0.

Once 4.0 was released, Game Center was missing. The following smaller updates, 4.0.1 and 4.0.2, were also without the social gaming platform and left us wondering when this feature would see the light of day.

Finally, at Apple’s iPod and Apple TV September 1st keynote, the announcement of iOS 4.1 was detailed and set to release the following week and would to include Game Center - and it did.

So what is Game Center all about?

Once you update to 4.1, Game Center finds itself a home on the lower right hand corner of your main home screen, relocating what was there out of the way

Upon launching it, you are prompted to set up a profile with Game Center by linking a contact email to go with your Apple ID as well as picking out a username. Your username will be used for friends to find you and for leaderboards.You will have to confirm the signup via an email sent to the email address you linked to the Apple ID.

The aesthetic of the app reflects that of a game room. The background resembles green felt and is accented by a wood trim, like a pool table or cards table. There are carnival-esque accents like banners, and some of the fonts and colors to help build a game room atmosphere.

On the bottom, there are four menu icons to navigate through Game Center: Me, Friends, Games, and Requests.

Apple Game Center Me Screen

The "Me" page this is your profile/info screen, listing how many friends you’re connected to, how many Game Center games you have, and number of achievements you’ve acquired. You can also set your status from this screen to broadcast to your friends. Below the status bar is which account you are signed in to, and by clicking on that you can sign out and sign in to other accounts.

Apple Game Center Friend Comparison

On the "Friends" page, each friend is listed with their status and last game played. Tapping on your friends name will bring you to their page, similar your “Me” page, that lists their friend count, number of games, achievements as well as detailing which games are in their library and which ones you share in common. Tapping on the game you have in common will bring you to the Game Center page for the game detailing how you stand against the friends page you are in. If it's a game you haven't downloaded, tapping on it will bring you to the app store. You can also add friends, remove friends or report a problem from this screen.

Apple Game Center Games List

The "Games" screen is what you'd imagine - a list of games you own that support Game Center, as well as a link to the Game Center app store page. Each game is subtitled with how many achievements you've earned and where you rank on the global leaderboard.

The "Requests" menu is predictable as well, as it's simply a page that lists any friend requests that are awaiting your approval. Like the "Friends" menu, you can also add friends from this screen.

Apple Game Center Detail

As you navigate into the individual pages for each game, you will be able to review the leaderboards and achievements. You can see how you stack up against your friends in obtaining achievements, as well as your rank amongst your friends and the entire Game Center network. You can see which achievements you’ve earned, how many points they equate to and what ones you still have yet to obtain.

Apple Game Center Achievements

So that's the rundown of the app, but how is it?

Game Center was developed to build a native social gaming platform on Apple's iOS devices and they do a decent job with connecting you to your friends. It's easy to link up and start seeing what your friends are playing and how your rank against eachother. Apple only provides the platform for the social interaction, but it's also up to the developers of the games to solidify the bridge and create that true social gaming idea.

The opportunity of Game Center lies in the hands of developers to integrate the service with their titles, including how in depth. They have the choice to integrate the leaderboards and achievements, but they can also go more in depth if their game is multiplayer and take advantage of matchmaking.

There are a good amount of games compatible with Game Center, but the variety is lacking as well as the integration of some of the app stores top games. Here's a list of some of the notable games that are compatible along with their prices:

  • Farmville, free
  • Flight Control, $0.99
  • Enigmo, $2.99
  • Enigmo 2, $2.99
  • Fieldrunners, $2.99
  • Touchgrind, $4.99
  • World Series of Poker, $0.99
  • Cro-Mag Rally, $2.99
  • PAC-MAN, $4.99
  • Real Racing, $4.99
  • WordsWorth, $0.99
  • Cannon Challenge 2, $2.99
  • Adrenaline Golf Online, $2.99

There isn't a ton, but there's a good chance you've already been playing one or two. It'll be nice to see when larger and more in depth games build into Game Center, and there is no doubt that as weeks pass there will be more titles added to the lineup.

One thing that Game Center has over platforms like OpenFeint, Plus+ and Crystal, is that it's a native app that you can jump into without having to launch a game to see the platform's content. Also, games that already have the integration with the other already established social gaming platforms can add integration to Game Center as well.

Aside from the adoption of dedicated users, the social platforms still hold features that Game Center does not yet have, such as OpenFeint's upcoming voice chat and cross-platform iOS/Android gaming.

Knowing how Apple rolls things out, it's a safe bet that this is just a simple launch for Game Center. Looking back to the first iPhone, there was no app store, yet now it's overflowing with content. Apple starts with a simple release and builds upon it over time, so as time goes for Game Center we will most likely see more features and benefits to the platform. As I mentioned before, it's also up to the developers to help the platform grow by pairing their titles with Game Center. As long as Apple treats this as more than a hobby, and bigger developers jump on board, Game Center has the potential to become a great staple feature for iOS devices.

Game Center is available now with the upgrade to iOS 4.1.

Well, Ranters, what do you think about Apple's Game Center? Is it what you hoped it would be? What would you like to see different in the social platform? Let us know in the comments!

Follow us on Twitter: @GameRant, @jonlavallee

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