What Is Apple’s Game Center, and Should You Use It?

By Matt Klein on April 25th, 2016

If you use an Apple product like a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, then you may have noticed the “Game Center” app…but probably never opened it. Today we want to talk about what the Game Center is, and whether you’re missing anything.

What Game Center Is, and How It’s Supposed to Work

Game Center is a default, pre-installed app on Macs and iOS devices (including the Apple TV), but chances are you’ve never used it. At most, maybe you’ve opened it by mistake. That’s okay, we don’t blame you…it’s not a heavily touted feature.

Game Center is essentially Apple’s stab at an online social network for multiplayer gaming. With it, you can invite friends to play games, start a multiplayer session through matchmaking, track achievements, and compare scores on the leader board.

Basically, it is supposed the same thing gaming platforms for Xbox, PlayStation, and Steam do, but for OS X and iOS. It’s designed to let you share some multiplayer functionality between the two, see achievements, challenge friends to top your high score, and so on.

If you’re using a Mac, then you can find Game Center in the Applications folder. On your iPhone or iPad it should be on your home screen unless you moved it.

Once you’ve logged in, set up your privacy settings, and created a nickname for yourself, you will will be able to add a photo, see your friends, games, challenges, and turns in turn-based games.

If you need help finding games, the Game Center can make suggestions and route you to the App Store to acquire titles.

There are a few settings you might want to familiarize yourself with, so if you head into Settings > Game Center on your iPhone or iPad, then you can make changes to your game invites and friend recommendations. Similarly, you can find Game Center settings on OS X under the “Account” menu.

The Problem: It’s Clumsy and Convoluted (and Doesn’t Do Much Anyway)

Those are the basics in terms of what Game Center is designed to do. But when it comes to actually using it, things get…awkward. Okay, that’s putting it mildly; they get really, really frustrating.

The whole point of the Game Center is to facilitate socialization by allowing you to easily share multiplayer and turn-based games with your best friends, or find new friends with common game interests. When we started this article, we figured we’d maybe prove that it had some valid reasons for existing, but as far as we can tell, it doesn’t.

In fact, Game Center doesn’t even work well with most games…not really. We’d like to show you how to challenge friends and take turns, or even demonstrate its multiplayer chops but we quickly grew flustered.

We tried three different popular iOS games and, despite, our best efforts, couldn’t get any of them to function well with Game Center. We were able to challenge friends, but the process is clumsy and convoluted.

How clumsy and convoluted? In order to challenge a friend, you’d think it might be as simple as tapping on “Challenges”, but no. The challenges screen is for people who challenge you.

So maybe tapping on a friends name in the Friends pane is the ticket? Nope, nothing there either.

Actually, in order to challenge someone, you first have to tap on a game you own (not the actual game, but from Game Center’s Games screen), tap  “Achievements”, and then tap “Challenge Friends”. We only found this because we were determined. A casual user or gamer isn’t going to want to work this hard to figure it out just to “challenge” a friend to get a score of 50 in Fruit Ninja.

And, after we finally sent our friend the challenge, we couldn’t get Game Center to register when he actually completed those challenges.

If this is Apple’s attempt at a social network, it’s a pretty poor one. Most games sold in the App Store don’t integrate into the Game Center at all. Moreover, the ones that do claim to integrate don’t seem to work. The ever-popular Words with Friends, for example, lets you challenge friends…but you have to use Words with Friends’ account system to find those friends. Game Center doesn’t seem to help you connect or play with anyone.

Letterpress actually attempts to use Game Center more fully, handling all multiplayer matchups through your Game Center network. When our friend challenged us to a game, for example, we got an alert that we have a turn and an invitation to play the game

Unfortunately, when we tried to play, we got an error each and every time. This is just too much. Stuff made by Apple is supposed to just work–that, after all, was the company’s rallying cry for many years. Game Center is not one of those things.

Even if Letterpress had worked for us, it’s a big exception in a field of confusion. Most games don’t even attempt to use Game Center the way Letterpress does–they just use their own systems instead, and any connection to Game Center seemed like an afterthought that doesn’t really do much.

So this begs the question: why is this even on our devices? Even if it isn’t taking up a lot of storage, there’s no apparent uses that justify its existence.

If you don’t use the Game Center and have no intention of ever opening it except by accident, you can’t remove from you iOS device, but you can easily disable it on iOS and OS X so you never have to deal with it. Chances are fair to excellent that you’ll never miss it or notice the difference.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and died-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.

  • Published 04/25/16
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