The Game Center has been dead almost since it was introduced in Sept. 2010, but some iOS 5 updates could breathe more life into the stale medium. The idea was supposed to be a cross between playing games on Facebook and the social capabilities of Xbox Live.
The execution fell fairly flat, as friends had no way to communicate or really even interact with their friends except to compete with them. The person on the other side might as well have been AI for all the contact you would have with them. Kudos to the person who remembered to brag about an awesome Ms. Pacman victory when they met up with their friend hours later.
Several iOS updates have happened since its release, and none have really addressed the social issue fully. The newest update has actually taken enough steps in the right direction that it might be worth picking up again, or picking up for the first time.
The iOS 5 update makes picking it up for the first time even easier with friend suggestions. Unlike the rather annoying Facebook friend suggestions you’re probably used to, the Game Center’s will actually help you find people you already interact with on a regular basis and let you know which games they regularly play. The days of awkwardly hitting up your co-workers to see if they play Words with Friends are over. After all, gaming may be growing more social by the day thanks to cloud computing servers, but it doesn’t mean you want to have conversations about your Bejeweled addiction in mixed company.
However, in case you really do want to show off your proudest jewel-sorting moments, look no farther than the Achievement Board section of the Game Center. Much like its sister feature in Xbox Live, it will show you all of your high scores and achievements, along with all of your friends. If you choose to be matched up with strangers, it will show you their Board before you begin the match. iPhone gaming isn’t as intense as playing in a pro-gaming environment yet, but it is nice to know who you’re up against regardless. A crushing defeat is lessened if you know you’re up against someone who spends their entire day on their phone.
You can also add a profile picture to your account and find new games from the Game Center portal, which will hopefully encourage more developers to begin using its capabilities.
The remaining issues:
Puzzlingly for an Apple product, much of how the Game Center functions has been left in the hands of individual developers. It’s lacking the rigid, perfection-driven focus of most of Apple’s software. Matching is also left to developers, who may not care to find an even system and instead simply throw together players of whatever skill levels together.
The major improvement that should happen, though, is including some way for friends to communicate with each other. Game Center was supposed to pave the way for mobile social gaming. As it stands, Game Center still is hardly a social experience.