Apple Game Centre – first impressions

When iPhone OS 4 was unveiled, our great and merciful ruler (henceforth known as Steve Jobs) spoke about an upcoming feature called the Apple Game Centre. It looked very much like a cut-down version of Xbox LIVE, with the option to designate players as friends, and compare achievements and high scores.

Well, the Apple Game Centre launched last week with the latest update to the iPhone OS. It is, apparently, not compatible with the iPhone 3G, but if you have a 2nd – 4th gen iPod Touch, iPhone 3GS or 4, you’re good to go.

We’re all friends here

The central point of the Game Centre is to link you with your gaming friends. This is done by sending invites to people via e-mail. Assuming their e-mail address is already associated with their Apple ID, the friend request will show up on the Game Centre. If it’s not, they’ll need to do that first and then accept the friend request. Once that happens, you’ll see their details in your friends list. Erm, great. So what do I do with that now?

What are you playing today?

If you open up a friend’s profile you’ll be able to see what games they’ve been playing. You’ll also get an idea of how good they are at the game as you see how many “achievements” they’ve racked up, and what their high score is. If you’re particularly competitive, you’ll want to top the rankings among your friends for both those things. I have to be honest and say I haven’t used the Game Centre for multiplayer gaming yet, but apparently you’ll be able to challenge your friends in compatible games too. Nice.

Marketing matters

One thing to remember is that Apple is a for-profit outfit. While the Game Centre is going to bring links between gaming friends, it’s also a way of introducing people to new games. I’ve already bought one because I saw a friend playing it, and you can search for Game Centre games from within the app… and most Game Centre games costs money. If you already have a large collection of games on your iPhone you’ll probably find that you have several that work with the Game Centre, but I’d be willing to bet you’ll buy at least one more while playing with it.

It’s possible, too, that Apple are taking the┬áchance┬áto centralise control of social gaming on their iOS devices. There are already a few gaming networks linked with iOS games, and now we see Apple moving into that territory.

Conclusion

The Apple Game Centre is yet another opportunity to make mobile gaming sociable and, while not exactly revolutionary, it’s good fun. If you’ve played games that are Plus+ or OpenFeint enabled you’ll know pretty much what to expect, but Apple’s own offering looks slick and seems to work well. When you consider that it’s a free update (not including cost of games), there’s not a lot to be lost by trying it out.

Have you tried the Game Centre? Do you like what you see, or is it an unnecessary addition give the other games networks already available? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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