This is a big deal. Game Center is an attempt by Apple to create an Xbox live-style service on its iPhone, iPod and iPad devices. It appears with the newest firmware update and exists as a range of services including achievements, multiplayer support and other features very similar to its console counterparts. It’s not exactly Xbox Live or PSN yet, but like those systems it has the potential to grow and expand into something formidable in the future and crucially, other phone manufacturers have nothing similar to stand in its way.
Apple already leads the field in mobile games for non-gaming mobile devices. A look at the titles on HTC’s devices shows that it lags behind substantially in both quality and price. Many titles released on apples devices are half the price due to the large economy of scale offered by its huge number of customers who must use the Itunes store. This closed market has made some very modest games become incredibly popular. Angry Birds is so well-known that a film adaptation is rumoured to be on the way. Don’t laugh, considering the quality of game-film franchises it probably won’t be the worst.
Other than the poor judgement shown with the name (we brits spell centre properly) the whole system is an impressive step in the right direction. It leverages the appeal of achievements, and also displays your scores on global and local scoreboards. The twin appeal of raising your international position on the scoreboard while overtaking your friends is sure to make for a compelling reason to keep playing games you might otherwise tire of quickly. Outwith the achievement system, game center is quite a light offering with none of the more advanced features of Xbox live or psn. That being said, most of those features are available as separate apps anyway.
You can’t help but feel that Apple have been forced into the gaming market by their largely unplanned success. They create good hardware which has almost been co-opted to be a gaming device. They certainly didn’t create it with gaming in mind; it lacks the controls to allow conventional games to be ported and Apple has always been a company that has treated gamers as second class citizens throughout its history.
Maybe it’s the fact that developers have had to adapt to the little soap bar device that has made it so popular. You’re not going to get terrible ports of PS2 games like on the PSP or poor technical performance like on the DS. Developers have had to create new types of games and this has resulted in some very imaginative titles as well as some technically proficient releases. The I-devices are as powerful as a PSP and as innovative as a DS and this makes for a formidable gaming handheld, regardless of Apples apathy towards gamers.
As ever, its the money that talks. With Apple’s protected marketplace acting as a massive revenue generator and titles like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja making serious money despite their measly 59p price tags, no one can afford to overlook us gamers any more. We’ve bought our way into their considerations, but with no other competitors in the marketplace it might be hard to get them to hear us when we suggest changes or additions. The whole Game Center may become a glorified shop front. Hopefully the other phone manufacturers create rival systems to push Apple in the right direction. Apple has a chance to close its grip on the mobile gaming market. Sony found out the hard way that once Microsoft had gamers chasing achievement points on their system they were much more loyal and less likely to chase Sony’s rival trophies. If they are complacent, Apples rivals may learn the same lesson.