Apple’s App Store caters to many different crowds, from the businessman giving a presentation at the office to a mother teaching her child to read. No matter who you are, it seems there is something for everyone. As the saying goes, “there’s an app for that.”

Perhaps one of the biggest industries on the App Store is the infamous game section. The mobile game industry is a growing one, and app producers are continuing to set their sights on them for many reasons: they can be fun to design and produce, they frequently climb high in the Top 100 list, and they make up some of the most enjoyable apps on the market. Apple took notice of this, and in September of 2010 released Game Center, a built-in app focused on creating a social network of sorts with the focus on making gaming on iOS a multiplayer and social experience.

Even with a significant update in October of last year, I am still unimpressed with the service as a whole. Among my friends with iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads, hardly any of them have ever touched the service, much less made use of its (lacking) features.

As what many would consider a hardcore gamer, I’ve had plenty of experience with gaming networks, whether it is Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, or even Nintendo’s often-criticized friend code system. As such, I approach Apple’s Game Center network with an expectant attitude, seeing all the potential that lies within, much of which is inspired by its fellow systems. This wonderful network could be achieved, I believe, with a few simple regulations and changes.

Regulation of achievements. Apple’s approach to achievements is comparable to Microsoft’s with their Gamerscore system. Each game comes with a collection of achievements which, when “unlocked,” yield a certain number of points. The points across all games are added up and reflect the player’s overall score. However, in Microsoft’s system, there are requirements for the achievements within a game: each retail game must have at least 1000 points in achievements, and each arcade game 200 points. Within Game Center’s system, no such requirement exists. Any game, regardless of cost or length, could have anywhere between zero and a hundred achievements, possibly more if the system allows. The guideline for points is just as crazy, with some games awarding extreme amounts, while some give hardly any. Perhaps a player’s overall score would be more impressive and easily comparable to another’s if the games they played existed on an equal field. I know from personal experience that achievements can be an excellent motivation for gamers interested in completing games 100% and improve replay value.

More involved presence. While Game Center links every game, its presence within these games is often kept to a bare minimum, if anything at all. Once again, I’d like to make connections to Xbox Live and PlayStation network, which alert the player with a simple notification that they have unlocked an achievement or trophy. With games on iOS, there is no such thing unless otherwise created by the designer, which may or may not align with Game Center’s achievements to begin with. What I would like to see is a more dominant role within games. Currently, the only sign of it is when you open an app and receive a simple little message welcoming you back to Game Center. This same little appearing bar could easily appear at other times to say something as simple as “Achievement Unlocked – Achievement Name – 15 Points” before disappearing once more. This not only alerts the player of their achievement, but also encourages them to take another peek at Game Center and see what else has happened.

 

Player-to-Player Interaction. Game Center has been described as a social network for iOS gamers. However, the system is lacking in many ways. Friends can be added using their Apple ID or nickname, which then sends a request that must be approved. Once approved, one another’s profiles will become visible, showing what games you’ve played and/or have in common, which achievements you’ve unlocked, your high scores, and who your friends are. A profile picture and short “status” are visible as well. Aside from this, contact is kept to a bare minimum. Some possible suggestions to improve this interaction include community chatrooms for discussions and socializing, chat integration and game invites through iMessage, and possibly some kind of voice chat overlay. Some games have integrated such things, but the vast majority of them have not at all. Player activity would be interesting as well, such as a separate status within Game Center saying which game you’re playing or which games you’ve played recently. This extra spark of human life could bring players back to Game Center time and time again.

Game Center is quite possibly one of Apple’s most underdeveloped presences on the iOS collection. Very few companies such as Apple with devices such as the iPad and iPhone can claim to have established such a unifying system across different platforms. The least they could do with it is develop it more fully. While many of these suggested changes and additions would reasonably be dictated by the player and the developer, they could easily draw much more attention to Apple’s gaming apps and network, increasing both revenue and pleasure for all.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of Colin Halbmaier.

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