By Jared Newman | Monday, November 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm
Game Center, Apple’s gaming hub for iOS, was a disappointment when it launched for iPhone and iPod Touch in September, but I always assumed it would get better with age
Today’s release of iOS 4.2 for iPad seems like a good excuse to revisit Game Center. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much as lifeless as it was a couple months ago, and it looks even worse next to Xbox Live for Windows Phone 7, which despite its faults, has a pretty good social layer as a base. Because I know Apple loves hearing unsolicited advice — har har — I’ve brainstormed several ways to make Game Center better.
Add friend-to-friend messaging: Being friends with someone in a video game is pointless if you can’t communicate. Game Center only lets you speak to another player when you first send a friend request. You can’t taunt friends when you beat their scores in Angry Birds or send messages back and forth to coordinate playing times. You might as well be playing with strangers.
More unity: One of the advantages of OpenFeint, a competing friends and achievements service for iOS, is how consistent it is across all games. When you click the OpenFeint icon in a supported game, the same menu pops up no matter what game you’re playing. With Game Center, developers are left to incorporate achievements, leaderboards and matchmaking on their own, and they don’t always do a good job. A related request: Because achievements can have different values, I’d like to see cumulative scores for my friends, not just the number of achievements they’ve received.
More flare: This is hard to quantify, but Game Center still feels kind of dead inside. The app needs something to keep people coming back, like customizable avatars or home spaces, or at least some free game promotions like the ones OpenFeint offers. At this point, Game Center feels more like a static game launcher than a community.
Find my games automatically: I have tons of games for iPad, but the only way to see whether they support Game Center is to open each app individually. This won’t be a problem for future downloads — I’m likely to open a new game as soon as I get it — but it makes a chore out of synchronizing my current library.
Run faster: I’m not sure what’s gumming up the works with Game Center, but simple tasks like switching between achievements and leaderboards produce noticeable lag between input and response. The iPad just isn’t its usually zippy self.